A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Poem of the Day: Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Manche freilich müssen drunten sterben, 
Many, to be sure, must die down there
Wo die schweren Ruder der Schiffe streifen, 
 where the heavy oars of the ship scrape,
Andre wohnen bei dem Steuer droben, 
Others dwell above at the helm
Kennen Vogelflug und die Länder der Sterne. 
and know the flight of birds and the realms of the stars.

Manche liegen immer mit schweren Gliedern
Many lie forever with heavy limbs
Bei den Wurzeln des verworrenen Lebens,
at the roots of obscure life,
Andern sind die Stühle gerichtet 
others have chairs placed for them
Bei den Sibyllen, den Königinnen, 
with the Sibyls, the queens, 
Und da sitzen sie wie zu Hause, 
and they sit there as if at home,
Leichten Hauptes und leichter Hände. 
with light heads and light hands.

Doch ein Schatten fällt von jenen Leben 
Still, a shadow falls from those other lives
In die anderen Leben hinüber,
across these lives, 
Und die leichten sind an die schweren 
and the light and the heavy
Wie an Luft und Erde gebunden: 
are bound together as to the air and the earth: 

Ganz vergessener Völker Müdigkeiten
The weariness of quite forgotten people
Kann ich nicht abtun von meinen Lidern,
I can't shut away with my eyelids
Noch weghalten von der erschrockenen Seele
nor hold off from my horrified soul
Stummes Niederfallen ferne Sterne.
the silent fall of distant stars.

Viele Geschicke weben neben dem meinen,
Many fates are woven next to my own,
Durcheinander spielt sie alle das Dasein,
existence mixes them all up together,
Und mein Teil is mehr als dieses Lebens
and my share is more than this life's
Schlanke Flamme oder schmale Leier.
slender flame or thin lyre.

--Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Hofmannsthal is now probably best known to opera buffs as the librettist for Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Elektra and other opera. But he was a fine poet whose poems have a haunting melancholy about them, a kind of Austrian Weltschmerz. Even his librettos have something of this -- if you know the Strauss operas, think of the Marschallin's meditation on time and aging, Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding, and Ariadne's invocation of death, Es gibt ein Reich.  


cantueso said...

It is one of his greatest poems. I also like your translation, except that I would have said "tied to" instead of "tied together", and towards the end you said "mix together" for "spielt durcheinander", but I cannot find a better translation either. "Durcheinander spielen" could be like several melodies crossing each other without however mixing. Your "mixing" suggests to me some kind of crowding, when Morgenthal's language only seems to mean "hanving nothing to do with each other, remaining unknown to each other".-- German used to be my primary language. I have learned English instead. Hofmannsthal is hard to get.I know nothing about him, though.
It is a great idea to translate these things into prose and so save most of the imagery. Verse translations are nearly always such a bad monkey parody of the original. --

Anonymous said...

Thank you - it is my favorite poem and I think your translation is very good.

Anonymous said...

exceptional translation well done, you've helped an english university student of german greatly, thanks

tiswamat said...

Thanks for this. I cannot wipe off from my eyelids?? You need to put the R onto the ferne. The silent downfall of the distant stars....

Glyphia said...

Beautifully wrought. Many ways to read it. I thought:
...as to air and earth, together bound...
...many histories weave next to mine...
...everything that has been lived, all tumbled together...