Carl Theodor Körner (1791-1813) was a German poet and soldier. Born in Dresden, the son of the consistorial councilor. After his education, he chose mining as an occupation. Moving to Vienna, he befriended Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Prussian ambassador, Karl Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel, and other eminent literary and scientific men.
Here, within the short space of fifteen months, he produced a succession of dramas, operas and farces, as well as several small poems. The success of his works obtained him the appointment of poet to the court. He left Vienna in March, 1813 and joined the Lützow Free Corps (a voluntary association whose uniforms were black) which Major von Lützow was then forming. In the midst of the most active campaigns, Körner continued to write poetry. From 1813, “Lützow’s Wild Band.” Translated by Herman Montagu Donner.
LÜTZOW'S WILD BAND
What gleams through the woods in the morning sun?
Hear it nearer and nearer draw!
It winds in and out in columns dun,
And the trumpet-notes on the roused winds run,
And they startle the soul with awe.
Should you of the comrades black demand--
That is Lützow's wild and untamed band.
What passes swift through the darksome glade,
And roves o'er the mountains all?
It crouches in nightly ambuscade;
The hurrah breaks round the foe dismayed,
And the Frankish sergeants fall.
Should you of the rangers black demand--
That is Lützow's wild and audacious band.
Where the vineyards flourish, there roars the Rhine;
There the tyrant thought him secure;
Then by thunder-crash and lightning-shine
In the waters plunges the fighting line;
Of the hostile bank makes sure.
Should you of the swimmers black demand--
That is Lützow's wild and foolhardy band.
There down in the valley what clamorous fight!
What clangor of bloody swords!
Fierce-hearted horsemen wage the fight,
And the spark of freedom's at last alight,
Flaming red the heavens towards.
Should you of the horsemen black demand--
That is Lützow's wild and intrepid band.
Who with death-rattle there bid the day farewell
'Mid the moans of prostrate foes?
Of the hand of death the drawn features tell,
Yet the dauntless hearts triumphant swell,
For his Fatherland's safe each knows!
Should you of the black-clad fallen demand--
That is Lützow's wild and invincible band.
The wild, fierce band and the Teuton band,
For all tyrants' blood athirst!--
So you who would mourn us, be not unmanned;
For the morning dawns, and we freed our land,
Though to free it we won death first!
Then tell, at your grandsons' rapt demand:
That was Lützow's wild and unconquered band!
Portrait (1813–14) by Emma Sophie Körner.
On 28 May, 1813, Major von Lützow had determined on setting out on an expedition towards Thuringia, with four squadrons of his cavalry, and fifty cossacks. Korner earnestly entreated permission to accompany him, and he was appointed adjutant by Major von Lützow, who highly esteemed him, and wished to have him near his person.
The expedition passed in ten days through Halberstadt, Eisleben, Buttstadt, and Schlaitz, to Plauen, though not without encountering the enemy, who were dispersed throughout these districts, but, also, not without effecting some important results. Intelligence was procured, ammunition was captured, and prisoners were taken. As a result, the French emperor planned to destroy the corps, and the 1813 armistice provided an opportunity for putting it in practice.
Major von Lützow had received official information of the armistice at Plauen. Without expecting to meet with any opposition, he chose the shortest route to rejoin the infantry of his corps, having received assurance of safety from the enemy’s commanding officers, and proceeded, without interruption, to Kitzen, near Leipsig; but here he found himself surrounded and menaced by a very superior force. Körner was despatched to demand an explanation; but, instead of replying, the commander of the enemy struck at him with his sword, and ordered a general attack be made on the three squadrons of the Lützow cavalry.
Several were wounded and taken, and others dispersed in the surrounding country; but Major von Lützow himself was saved by the assistance of a squadron of Uhlans, who had been in advance with the Cossacks. He reached, with a considerable number of his troops, the right bank of the Elbe, where the infantry of his corps, and a squadron of its cavalry, were already collected.
Körner received the first blow, which he was not prepared to parry, as he approached the enemy’s commanding officer to deliver his message, and was severely wounded in the head. He managed to escape on his horse to a nearby forest. After he had assisted a wounded comrade, he noticed an enemy troop that was in pursuit of him, and called with a loud voice, “Fourth squadron,—Advance!” His ruse succeeded—the enemy drew back, and he was able to retreat farther into the forest. The pain of his head wound had become very severe. It was in this position that he composed the sonnet Farewell to Life.
Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm Freiherr von Lützow