Then it will be quiet

There’s a Soviet joke – probably of Russo-Jewish origin like many Soviet jokes – that goes this way, approximately (the original Russian is grammatically imperfect):

Let go of Daddy’s foot, kids, and stop swinging! He didn’t hang himself for this, but for quiet in the house!

Emil Draitser has a longer version in Shush! This joke sounds to me like a grotesquely deflated version of a Romantic trope. To give an example, one of Joseph von Eichendorff’s best-known poems ends with almost the same figure of speech. I’ve translated the first and last stanzas:

In a cool valley
a mill wheel goes around.
My beloved has disappeared,
she who used to live there.

When I hear the mill wheel going round,
I don’t know what I want.
I’d most like to die –
at once, it would be quiet.

It’s not clear to me whether “it/es” in the last line only refers to the water wheel (das Mühlrad), is strictly a dummy pronoun (it would be quiet/wäre es still), or can be understood in both ways. Some translators go for first option, others for the second, yet others for the last. Also, “valley” is only a rough approximation for “Grund” in the first line.

These subtleties aside, wishing for death as a permanent respite from the noise of the world was a common Romantic theme, hardly limited to this 1813 Eichendorff poem (which soon became a popular song). It contrasts, for one, with the notion of death as a brief rest, such as in Klopstock’s 1758 hymn.

On a side note, bastardized Romantic motives are common in Russian urban folk songs.

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