I am a Rose
Symbolism in "Ich bin eine Rose",
a poem by Conrad Beissel (1691-1768)
by Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A.
The rose is perhaps the most mystical and beautiful of symbols to Rosicrucians. The rose possesses both beauty and pain; one can not have the fragrant blossom without the accompanying thorns. This concept of dual nature pervades the writings of both the Kelpius settlement of 1694 and the Eighteenth-Century Community of the Solitary at Ephrata. At both settlements Rosicrucian symbolism and concerns were part of the organized belief structures of the members. As with the rose, so too in life we must take the good with the bad, the cross with the crown, the dark with the light, the pain with the joy.
A most beautiful and symbolic poem on the rose was written in the mid-eighteenth-century by Conrad Beissel, known as Vater Friedsam, Father Peaceful.
"The Community of the Solitary" was established by Georg Conrad Beissel  along the Cocalico Creek in central Pennsylvania about 1730. Beissel, a Pietist, was born in Eberbach, traveled to Heidelberg, and had a circuitous route across Europe until settling in Germantown in 1720. At first he visited the Kelpius settlement, but found that many members, learning that the awaited millennium was not yet at hand, had joined the burgeoning life of colonial Germantown and Philadelphia. They left only a few elderly men who lived as hermits in the area that once boasted a school, botanical garden, Tabernacle or meeting place, and huts for the members. Both Kelpius and Beissel were influenced by the Inspirationists, who examined portents and signs to discover hidden wisdom and predict the "time before the end time" as foretold in the Book of Revelations.
Beissel became a member of the Church of Brethren established by Alexander Mack, and moved to Conestoga to serve as preacher; his fiery preaching drew many followers. He became increasingly dissatisfied, and wanted a more austere life. He moved westward to the Cocalico and took to a hermit's cottage. Soon others joined him, and coalesced into a large group of Solitaries. Needing a name for the settlement, they chose "Ephrata", an ancient town near Bethlehem. Buildings were built and torn down, other buildings rose in their place. The community was in a constant state of flux. Eventually, about 1741, it settled into a house for celibate sisters (Saron) and one for the celibate brothers (Bethania). Married Householders also contributed to the economy of the settlement, and worshiped together with the Solitaries in a large Saal on Zion Hill.
The life was rugged and austere, with boards for beds and blocks of wood for pillows, a way of mortifying the body to free the spirit.
Visitors to the area remarked on the monastic-like white habits and very-ordered life of the Solitaries, and called it der Kloster, the Cloister. Beissel and his followers, however, never used the term "Cloister". The sisters, however, did call themselves "Roses of Sharon".
Beissel wrote numerous religious and philosophic tracts. He preached a neo-Platonist belief of descent from an androgynous first person, included elements of Jakob Boehme's mysticism, and wrote of a double fall from grace. First, the androgynous first human, who had been espoused to the Virgin Sophia (the feminine aspect of God; God's Divine Wisdom), fell asleep and out of favor. This caused God to split the nature into two human natures, male and female. These two, Adam and Eve, were still eternal in nature. When they ate the forbidden fruit and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, they became finite, and to continue their species now had to propagate in a physical way, as did the lesser animals. However, Beissel's goal for himself and his followers was to deny the divided part of the nature, to remain celibate in order to become espoused once again to Sophia. One cannot be joined to both human and divine; thus, all his followers were urged to embrace celibacy.
Throughout his writings, symbols reminded his followers of the lessons he had taught and of ancient wisdom. Beissel penned hundreds of hymn texts, some published as early as 1730 by Benjamin Franklin. A decade later, the Cloister established its own print shop, and published collections of original hymn texts. These included the Zionitischer Weyrauchs Hügel (Zion's Hill of Incense), 1739; das Gesäng der einsamen Turtel Taube (the Song of the Solitary Turtledove) editions of 1747 and 1749; Nachklang (echo) in 1762, and Paradisisches Wunder Spiel (the Wonder-Play of Paradise) with favored selections from earlier collections) in 1766.
In addition, as is well known, Beissel composed original music for the community in four-part harmony. There are extant two (possibly three) large presentation volumes made for Beissel by the brothers, who added an addition bass line; two large source books in four parts (Die Blume Saron, and a companion volume missing the title page, which might have been called Die Blume Bethania); and a multitude of song books or gesängbuchs in four-part harmony for use in the community, some with ornate decorations of flowers and birds and other symbols. Many of the texts for these songs were written by Beissel himself; some were written by the sisters and brothers. Many had more than ten verses; some had as many as forty.
Ich bin eine Rose
Ich bin eine Rose is a song text by Beissel consisting of fourteen verses in its original German. The text, as reproduced here, is in the original spelling. Transcription and translation is difficult for many reasons. Many of the Solitary came from the Palatinate area of Germany, with its own dialect. Some words were spelled as they were pronounced in that dialect. Sometimes syllables were omitted to fit the meter of the poem, with no apostrophe as indication. Punctuation is rare and inconsistent. There are copying and printing errors. The poems were written some two hundred fifty years ago!
In the nineteenth century, with the unification of Germany, there was a major overhaul of the German spelling. Words like Hertz lost the t; some double consonants were made single and vice versa; y became i, and so forth. In Beissel's day the archaic gothic lettering was still in use.
I have left the original spelling throughout most of the poem.
- Ich bin eine Rose, niemand sich anstosse. Wann darbey der dornen-Stich, dass er nicht geh hinder sich.
- Mein Geruch muss geben, denn Genuss zum Leben: Meine Schönheit muss der Schein, aller andrer Schönheit sein.
- In der Winter-Tagen muss ich es ertragen: Dass ich bleibe gantz versteckt, und mit Kält und Frost bedeckt.
- Dunkelheit und Regen muss mein Hertz bewegen: Dass ich wurte unter sich, obern ist der Dornen-Stich.
- Wann die Sonne Scheinet, so wird ganz verneinet: Was mich hat gemacht so kalt, finster, grob, und ungestalt.
- Ihre Schönheit giebet, was mein Hertze liebet: Der Genuss von ihrem Schein, macht mich froh und freudig seyn.
- Thut sie höher steigen, muss es mir antzeigen: Dass die rauhe Zeit dahin, wo ich hin gesessen bin.
- Sie thut meiner warten, dass in Gottes Garten Mein Gewächs sich schön ausbreit in des Geistes Niedrigkeit.
- Bleibt ihr Glantz verborgen, schalff ich bis an Morgen. So geht auf ein neuer Schein, dass auch nichts kann schöners seyn.
- Will mich was erschreckten, Thut ihr Glantz mich decken: Dass ich froh in ihrem Licht, Und bleib stehen ausgericht.
- Wandle ich im Kühlen, unter den Gespielen, Muss ihr Schatten mir ein Schein, voller Süssigkeiten seyn.
- Bleib ich ihr gepaaret, Belibt mein Hertz bewahret: Dass kein falscher Glanz noch Schein kann dasselbe nehmen ein.
- Ob ich schon mit Dornen, Hinten und von vornen, Bin umgeben: es kann nicht shaden mir ein Dornen-Stich
- Weil ich eine Rosen, die alda ensprossen: Wo die Dorn mir schenken ein, dass ich kann so schöne seyn.
Those readers familiar with the German language already see some of the beauty of the symbolism. Beissel's writing often contained many layers of meaning.
Translation and meaning
The first verse states that "I am a rose" and that no one should brush up against me, lest they be hurt by thorns. We all have some protective mechanism, as the rose has its thorns. There is a secondary meaning here: the rose was the symbol of the Solitaries. Just as one should not touch the rose, one should not touch a Solitary by engaging in sexual relations, lest the striving for spiritual perfection be lost, and the rose be harmed by this divisiveness of nature.
In the second verse, the rose says that its fragrance gives enjoyment and beauty to life. Again, there is a secondary meaning. The rose symbolizes the people and their beliefs; by being true to the quest symbolized by the rose, one's life will be filled with beauty and joy.
The third verse reads "In the winter days must I bear it, that I remain completely hidden, covered with cold and frost". Like the rose covered by the whiteness of snow and frost in the winter (the dark times), the Solitaries covered themselves in the white robes of initiates. Not only their physical nature was hidden by these robes, but also did they keep their hidden learning to themselves.
In the fourth verse, the rose declares that dark and rain force it to send down its roots. Its life-supporting roots are below, while above are only the thorn's prick. Here again is the symbolism of hiding the source of life, or wisdom, and of showing to the world only that which will deter enemies: the thorn.
Beginning in verse five, there is an allegory of a relationship between the sun and the rose. The two are joined in a kind of spiritual marriage; they are partners in a mystical relationship. The sun banishes anything that had threatened the rose: darkness, cold, danger. This implies to us that the light of truth protects us from adversity.
In verse six, the rose states that it enjoys the very presence of the sun, which makes it joyful. The next verse explains that as the sun rises in the sky, difficulties are over. In verse eight the rose says that the sun makes her wait, so that in the Garden of God (eternity) she will spread out in a most beautiful way, but "in lowliness of spirit".
In the ninth verse, the rose cautions that if the sun's rays were hidden, the rose would "sleep until morning". The next verse continues this thought: if something should frighten the rose, the glow of the sun will cover and protect it, and the rose will stand aright. Here we see the deeper meaning implied by this symbolism, this coupling of the sun and the rose. The rose is dependent of the sun for sustenance, as we are dependent on truth and light. We will stand, or remain steadfast, if the light of the sun maintains us.
Verse eleven offers a strange posit: should the rose wander among its companions, the sun's shadow will remain a sign of sweetness. A rose cannot actually wander, but we can! Even should we be led astray by companions, our relationship with the light of truth will refresh us.
In verse twelve the rose says that its heart remains preserved if it remains coupled with the sun, so no falseness can deceive it. This anthropomorphic vision of a heart in the rose simply recalls to us that we are the roses, that this poem is not about flowers, but about those who seek the light of truth. As long as we attach ourselves to this light, we will not fall into deceit.
The penultimate verse offers a wonderful consolation: even if the rose is surrounded by thorns, the thorns cannot harm the rose. Indeed, we know that the thorns are there to protect the rose. The thorns are part of the rose and cannot harm its own self. Beissel here tells us that even the darker side of our natures may fend off others, it cannot harm us if we are bathed in the light. We cannot harm ourselves if we follow in the truth. That which we utilize to deter danger, deceit, or evil, cannot in turn harm us.
The final verse summarizes that because the rose is strongly rooted and sprouting, with the thorns to discourage those who would harm it, it is so very beautiful.
The last of the Solitaries died in 1813, and the Householders incorporated into the German Seventh-Day Baptist Church. While the religious aspects remained, the mystical were lost. In 1941 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired the grounds, and restored them. They continue to maintain and present them to the public in tours and special activities. Recently, due to extensive research by the Museum Educator Michael Showalter, the house originally thought to be Beissel's has been re-labeled and the more accurate choice is now shown as the Beissel House. All the buildings have been given interior renovation (dishes, utensils, etc) so that now it is more obvious to visitors that people actually lived within.
The last surviving original Householder is Marie Kochel Bucher, now (2003) past her 90th birthday.
While we no longer accept Beissel's reasoning about celibacy, still, the mystical image in this and other writings can be a source of inspiration and comfort to us. Sheltered by cool shade of meditation, warmed by the sun of truth, protected by the thorns of justice and strength, we too are roses in the mystic garden.
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Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A. was appointed by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission as "Scholar in Residence" for the Ephrata Historic site, where she transcribes the music into modern performing editions. She was also Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. One of her topics, done in costume, is "Meet Maria Eicher of the Roses of Saron". She has just completed the first draft of a book on Ephrata's music for the American Musicological Society's AR-MUSA series: Music of the Eighteenth-Century Community of the Solitary at Ephrata, with translator-collaborator Dr. Jeffrey A. Bach.
Copyright © 2003 bv Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A.
 In publications, his name was given as Johann Conrad Beissel, and his birth year as 1690. Recent discovery of his christening certificate in Eberbach Germany shows that his name was actually Georg Konrad Beissel, and the year was 1691. He seems never to have used the "Georg", and to have Romanized the "K" to "C". 1691 would be correct given the inscriptions on his tombstone as to the number of years, months and days he had lived.
 A great deal of the monastic organization among the Roses was done by Maria Eicher, prioress of the sisters from about 1740 until 1763. Roses are predominant in the floral images in Ephrata decorations.In Catholic symbolism, Jesus' Mother Mary was referred to as "rosa mystica" alluding to the virgin birth. Maria Eicher stated that she was named for Mary.