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Interpretation of “Edelweiss” by Dimitris Mitropanos

Dimitris Mitropanos had one of my favourite voices of all time. While there are tens, if not hundreds, of songs that demonstrate his remarkable ability, I have decided to comment on a more subtle opus: Edelweiss. It is nuanced, much like the flower it references. Yet, like the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, its meaning is lost to those not attuned to its subtlety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buNp2fJth3w.

I couldn’t find an official recording so this will have to do. In the video’s introduction, Dimitris (I presume) says that he had no father growing up and that his mother worked tirelessly, assuming the role of both parents in raising her children.

Below are the original lyrics, my translation of them, and my philosophical commentary.

Εντελβάις (Edelweiss)

Εμηνεία:  Δημήτρης Μητροπάνος
Στίχοι:   Άλκης Αλκαίος
Μουσική:  Μάριος Τόκας


Σ' ένα κόσμο γυάλινο κι αποστειρωμένο
ήσυχα τις μέρες μου περνώ
Πάνε χρόνια που έπαψα να σε περιμένω
Πάνε χρόνια που για σένα ζω

Σε παράδεισους ανθίζω
και σε θερμοκήπια
ονειρεύομαι κι ελπίζω
και πεθαίνω ήπια

Σε παράδεισους ανθίζω
και σε θερμοκήπια
ονειρεύομαι κι ελπίζω
και πεθαίνω ήπια

Όταν σε συνάντησα άρχιζεν ο Μάης
Φόραγες λουλούδια γιορτινά
έκοψα απ’ το στήθος σου ένα εντελβάις
και δε σε συνάντησα ξανά

Σε παράδεισους ανθίζω
και σε θερμοκήπια
ονειρεύομαι κι ελπίζω
και πεθαίνω ήπια

Σε παράδεισους ανθίζω
και σε θερμοκήπια
ονειρεύομαι κι ελπίζω
και πεθαίνω ήπια
Edelweiss

Singer:   Dimitris Mitropanos
Lyrics:   Alkis Alkaios
Music:    Marios Tokas


In a glass and sterile world
I pass my days quietly
It's been years since I stopped waiting for you
It's been years since I've been living for you

In paradises I blossom
and in greenhouses
I dream and hope
and always die mildly

In paradises I blossom
and in greenhouses
I dream and hope
and always die mildly

When I met you May (the month) was starting
You were wearing festive flowers
I picked an edelweiss from your chest
and never met you again

In paradises I blossom
and in greenhouses
I dream and hope
and always die mildly

In paradises I blossom
and in greenhouses
I dream and hope
and always die mildly

To me, this is a sad song with no happy ending. It speaks of an ephemeral experience that engendered powerful emotions; emotions which eventually left the person dead inside.

The poetic “I” clings on to the past. They are trapped in that moment which evoked happiness. They cannot move on. There are no delusions here. There is full knowledge that the past will not be reenacted. Yet this insight makes no difference: it brings no consolation.

Our protagonist is likened to a flower, which although it can blossom in many places, always withers away without going anywhere or asking for anything. It passes its days quietly and dies mildly, as the lyrics describe.

Perhaps you know what it means to pick an edelweiss and never see its origin again. This is a metaphor for a special occasion followed by a sudden end. Every unexpected loss feels like an open wound in our heart. It never heals and will hurt forever. Just how one remembers for the rest of their life the puppy they so loved yet lost too early all those years ago.

Our humanity grants us faculties of emotion and memory. There are cases where those operate against our present self. They pin us to a world that is no longer relevant and cannot exist again.

The hasty answer to put an end to suffering is to renounce emotion and to do whatever it takes to practice forgetfulness. I think this involves a process of dehumanisation. We are essentially treating the problem as innate to our humanity and thus want to do the impossible of becoming non-human while still being human.

Our nature does not give us only emotion and memory. It also endows us with reason and the potential for wisdom. With those we learn not to try to hide from our human condition. We understand its inevitability, while we recognise that the transfiguration of all presences in the cosmos is inexorable. There is nothing we can do about it.

[ Read/watch: Cosmos, Logos, and the living universe ]

This apparent dispassionate treatment is merely normalising the state of affairs. It removes the value judgements from it. Instead of thinking of this or that as good and its opposite as bad, we admit to the spontaneity of it all. We are but a tiny factor in a system of systems. The complex associations between all those factors are outside our control. Both the seemingly good and the ostensibly bad. Nothing is ours.

Suffering is ultimately the product of our falsehoods. We believe in permanence and we have an innate sense of justice. We feel betrayed when something is taken from us without notice. We remain firmly rooted in the dogma that we can own stuff and that there is such a thing as “taking away”.

Wisdom tells us otherwise: the cosmos is not ours and everything that can be associated with us remains alienable—it is not inherent to our presence. We may worry, cry, blame ourselves or the gods, go to the greatest lengths… No matter our course of action, ownership is unattainable, strictly speaking.

Why live in the present though? What’s so special about it? Why not cling on to the past, to those good times before calamity struck? In a sense, there is no reason to focus on the present. We do not know if there is a meaning to living or dying, or living while being dead inside, and so on. We can speculate and make deductions, but we have no unequivocal statement that “this is”.

I think that living in the present is not a matter of preference. It is not “better” in the ordinary sense. It simply is the only option. Even when we don’t let go of the past, we do so as being present: we do not occupy some world of yore.

I cannot ask anyone—or convince myself—to choose life over death, because I have no means of assessing their respective values. From our perspective, life marks a beginning and death signals an end. For the cosmos, there is none of that: it is all part of an incessant process of transfiguration. Circles everlasting. You die, you live. There is no difference in an ever-present order.

Presence, then, is not a judgement call. It just is. We will always be in a given present. And we will always do what our condition renders possible in that situation. Nothing stays with us. Sorrow and bliss are not truly ours. The opposites collapse into themselves as we move from the particularities to the abstractions.

[ Read: Comments on the meaning of Yin-Yang ]

Is there nothing left behind? In a sense, nothing. In another, everything. The cosmos always is. What about wisdom then? What does it give us? Perhaps the wiser we get the less we take. It should ultimately give us nothing. It should merely remove what we think is ours. All those beliefs and dogmas that burden us. Wisdom brings aloofness, the kind of lightness that the admission of non-ownership entails. Then, maybe in an unexpected turn of meanings, the song has told us everything we need to know: like blossoming flowers we shall pass our days quietly and die mildly. What comes next? Nothing. Everything. There is no difference.