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Proverbial Thursday – Silesian Weavers

I find there to be profound wisdom in proverbs, sayings and quotes and I marvel at the way they are so succinct in communicating messages to the reader. Mostly anonymous, they come to us from past generations and from across cultures. They speak of the experiences of lives lived and lessons learned. Quotes, like proverbs, make us think more deeply about something.

A bad worker blames his tools – Australian Proverb

silesisan weavers woodcut
Wood engraving, c. 1850.

The year 1844 saw the famous “Weaver’s Revolt,” an event that led to the revolution of 1848/49. The revolt of the Silesian weavers, a response to the injustices of the low paying putting-out system, was violently suppressed by the Prussian military, and the situation of the weavers remained unchanged. Heinrich Heine (1795 – 1856), a famous Prussian poet wrote the poem, reproduced below, titled, “The Silesian Weavers. ” Proving to be his most famous work, it is highlighted, along with his portentous quote/s, this week on Proverbial Thursday, due in part because of the proximity of May day celebrations:

Heinrich Heine:

“Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings”. 

and this:

“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged”.

Background:

“The weavers worked for incredibly low wages, and as the industrial revolution gathered pace were gradually made unemployed in ever-increasing numbers. Their landlords also took most of their wages, to the point where they were effectively being treated as slave labor. As a result they rebelled against the state in 1844. The uprising was crushed but marked one of the first times that organized workers really attempted to improve their lot in life by working together. As a result, it still has a huge symbolic significance amongst socialist movements worldwide. The weavers inspired Heine to write the following poem which tells how the workers were  exploited and oppressed by the rich. Heine suggests that a day of reckoning can not be long postponed, and that sooner or later the rich will be forced to make amends. ”

The Silesian Weavers (1844)

weber_1844_11

In light-less eyes there are not tears.
They sit at the loom and gnash the gears.
Germany, we weave the cloth of the dead
Threefold be the curse we weave ’round your head
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

A curse to the god to whom we knelt.
Through the winter’s cold, such hunger felt.
In the past we hoped, we waited, we cried
You’ve mocked us and poxed us and cast us aside
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

weber_1844_12

A curse on the king of the empire,
Who would not quell our misery’s fire.
He took every penny we had to give
Then shot us like dogs with no right to live
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

A curse on the cold, ruthless fatherland,
Where outrage and shame fester by your hand,
Where blossoms are trampled under your boot,
Where rot and decay are allowed to take root.
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

The shuttle is flying, the weaving looms roar.
Day and night we weave with you at our door.
Old Germany, we weave the cloth of the dead.
Threefold be the curse we weave ’round your head.
We’re weaving, we’re weaving.

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In the poem monarchy, religion and nationalism are dismissed as being of little comfort when your family is starving and your rights are crushed underfoot. Heine was familiar with Karl Marx and it was Marx’s colleague and friend, Friedrich Engels, who first translated the poem into English.

As a result of this poem, and the riots resulting in revolution, the king of Prussia was forced to allow his people a constitution. This theme was also treated in a naturalistic play called “Die Weber” by Gerhart Hauptman, inspired by the accounts of Wilhelm Wolff. When first preformed in 1983 in Berlin, the German authority banned it.

 Source: http://ciml.250x.com/archive/events/english/1844_weaver_revolt/weaver_revolt_1844_silesia.html

What do you make of Heine’s quote?

Have we really learned any lessons from the worker’s sacrifice? Is the clock winding back?

trickle down

Something to Ponder About this upcoming May Day