Week 488: Der Alte Brunnen, by Hans Carossa

I have long loved this lyric by the German poet Hans Carossa (1878-1956) with its slightly mysterious evocation of a starry night, its silence broken only by the plashing of a fountain, and the crunch of footsteps on gravel as a wanderer comes to drink from the fountain’s basin. I’m afraid all I can offer here for the English reader is a fairly literal crib — the language of the poem is not difficult but its structure is very tight, and I did spend quite some time trying to come up with a matching rhyme scheme before deciding that if the poem was to receive true poetic justice, it would have to wait for a better talent than mine.

Der Alte Brunnen

Lösch aus dein Licht und schlaf! Das immer wache
Geplätscher nur vom alten Brunnen tönt.
Wer aber Gast war unter meinem Dache,
Hat sich stets bald an diesen Ton gewöhnt.

Zwar kann es einmal sein, wenn du schon mitten
Im Traume bist, daß Unruh geht ums Haus,
Der Kies beim Brunnen knirscht von harten Tritten,
Das helle Plätschern setzt auf einmal aus,

Und du erwachst, — dann mußt du nicht erschrecken!
Die Sterne stehn vollzählig überm Land,
Und nur ein Wandrer trat ans Marmorbecken,
Der schöpft vom Brunnen mit der hohlen Hand.

Er geht gleich weiter. Und es rauscht wie immer.
O freue dich, du bleibst nicht einsam hier.
Viel Wandrer gehen fern im Sternenschimmer,
Und mancher noch ist auf dem Weg zu dir.

Hans Carossa

The Old Fountain

Put out your light and sleep. The only sound
Is the old fountain’s ever wakeful purl.
Whoever though was guest beneath my roof
Was always soon accustomed to this note.

True, it can happen, when you are in mid-dream
That there will be unrest about the house,
The gravel by the fountain crunch beneath hard footsteps,
The bright purl of the water suddenly cease,

And you will wake – you must not be afraid!
The stars stand in full muster above the land,
Only a wanderer trod to the marble basin,
Who scoops from the fountain with a hollow hand.

He soon goes on his way. And it murmurs as ever.
Oh, but be glad, you’ll not stay lonely here.
Many there are who wander far by starlight,
And many yet are on the way to you.


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