"teach Mignon the song that was written for her before she was born"

Once again, Mignon is associated with a poem by Goethe in a musical setting by Franz Schubert, or Franz Liszt.  Mignon (1795) is perhaps the most influential of all of these, and has one of the most famous opening lines in German poetry.  Schubert created Lied der Mignon (Mignon's Song) in 1826, whilst Liszt rewrote the music three times in 1842, 1854 and 1860.  


Do you know the land where the lemon-trees grow, in darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow, a soft wind blows from the pure blue sky, the myrtle stands mute, and the bay-tree high?

Do you know it well? It’s there I’d be gone, to be there with you, O, my beloved one!

Do you know the house? It has columns and beams, there are glittering rooms, the hallway gleams, and figures of marble looking at me?  ‘What have they done, child of misery?

Do you know it well? It’s there I’d be gone, to be there with you, O my true guardian!

Do you know the clouded mountain mass? The mule picks its way through the misted pass, and dragons in caves raise their ancient brood, and the cliffs are polished smooth by the flood;

Do you know it well? It’s there I would be gone! It’s there our way leads! Father, we must go on!


The full poem is a romantic reference to Italy, with magical and religious allusions.  Separately, Mignon is also a character in Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, in which she is a young Italian dancer stolen away from her family by the circus.  The hero, Meister, notices her being mistreated by the performers and rescues her, making her his devoted follower.  The novel was made into an opera, Mignon, by Ambroise Thomas in 1866; many of its themes, including secret societies, the stage and circus, and its fantastical elements, are mirrored in Nights at the Circus.