Week 92: An Die Entfernte, by Nikolaus Lenau

This lyric by the Austrian Romantic poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850) was one of the first German poems I ever got by heart; it seemed to me to have the plangent sweetness of a folksong .

The translation that follows is my own.

An Die Entfernte

Diese Rose pflück ich hier,
In der fremden Ferne;
Liebes Mädchen, dir, ach dir
Brächt ich sie so gerne!

Doch bis ich zu dir mag ziehn
Viele weite Meilen,
Ist die Rose längst dahin,
Denn die Rosen eilen.

Nie soll weiter sich ins Land
Lieb von Liebe wagen,
Als sich blühend in der Hand
Lässt die Rose tragen,

Oder als die Nachtigall
Halme bringt zum Neste,
Oder als ihr süsser Schall
Wandert mit dem Weste.

To One Far Away

See the rose that I pluck here
In foreign land afar –
Oh, could I but bring it, dear,
To you, to where you are.

Yet, before we met, before
I crossed so wide a way,
Long the rose would be no more
For roses do not stay.

Nevermore must love from love
Adventure in the land
Further than a rose may live
Borne blooming in the hand,

Further than the nightingale
Can bring straws to the nest,
Further than its sweet song fill
The wind out of the west.


Week 76: Herbsttag, by Rainer Maria Rilke

Just before I went up to Cambridge for my entrance examinations in 1962, my headmaster took me to one side. He was aware of my admiration for the work of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and equally aware of my devotion to Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Just a word of advice’ he said. ‘Go with the Rilke. Don’t mention Tolkien!’. I was then as cheerfully ignorant of the OK-ness of writers in academic circles as I am now cheerfully indifferent to it, so I was a little puzzled, but it seemed only polite to talk to other people about things they too were interested in, so I duly obliged. And Rilke really is very good, though I prefer the sensuous, concrete shorter lyrics to the more philosophical ‘Duino Elegies’, just as I prefer Tolkien’s weather and landscapes to his theology (sorry, Cambridge, just had to slip that one in). Here’s one of my favourites. The translation that follows is my own.


Herr, es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südliche Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin, und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Autumn Day

Lord, it is time. The great summer is done.
Let loose the winds upon the meadows, let
Your shadows count the last hours of the sun.

Bid the late fruits to swell upon the vine,
Allow them two more days of southern heat,
Cram the last ripeness into them, complete
Their sweet fulfilment in full-bodied wine.

Who has no house now shall not make a home,
Again; who is alone now long shall be so,
Will sit up, read, will write long letters, go
Along the autumn avenues to roam
Restless, as the leaves drift, to and fro.