Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Die Gedanken Sind Frei

A rousing German folk song, suitable for singing around the campfire, is Die Gedanken sind frei (Thoughts are free, i.e. unfettered). It was one of the favorite songs of Sophie Scholl, who was executed on February 22, 1943, at the age of 21, for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. You can find the tune and translation (by Arthur Kevess) in Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, edd. Songs of Work and Protest (New York: Dover, 1973), pp.178-179:
Die Gedanken sind frei, my thoughts freely flower,
Die Gedanken sind frei, my thoughts give me power.
No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them,
No man can deny: Die Gedanken sind frei!

So I think as I please, and this gives me pleasure,
My conscience decrees this right I must treasure;
My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator,
No man can deny: Die Gedanken sind frei!

And if tyrants take me, and throw me in prison,
My thoughts will burst free like blossoms in season.
Foundations will crumble, the structure will tumble,
And free men will cry: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Take the notes by Fowke and Glazer with a grain of salt, though. Most reliable sources date the song to the late eighteenth century, not the sixteenth as they do, and I can't find any play by Schiller that quotes the song, despite the claim of Fowke and Glazer that he did.

I put both tune and translation on a separate web page. Here are the gyrations I went through to get the tune into a viewable format -- I found a version in ABC notation by John Chambers, which I modified slightly. I then used Steve Havelka's excellent web-based ABC to Staff Notation Converter to convert from ABC notation to a .png file. Finally I used Adobe Photoshop to crop the image and convert it to a .jpg file, since older browsers don't handle .png. Maybe there was a simpler way to do this, but I don't know of one.

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