Thursday, January 5, 2012

Heinrich Heine - Lorelei


The German poet Heinrich Heine (1799-1856) wrote some lovely poetry  -  it is almost impossible to translate. The Loreley was later followed by a beautiful melody, which is rather wellknown.
I have added two translations into English , so you can see how varied they are.

The Heinrich Heine poem is a little New Year's greeting to Michael from Liechtenstein, who's one of the nicest people I have met on the internet.  His favorite German poet is Heinrich Heine.

Heinrich Heine
Lorelei (1822)
Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten,
Dass ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft is kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fliesst der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt,
Im Abendsonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar,
Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme,
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewalt'ge Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe,
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh'.
Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn,
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
Die Loreley getan.


translated by Tr. Frank 1998

I cannot determine the meaning
Of sorrow that fills my breast:
A fable of old, through it streaming,
Allows my mind no rest.
The air is cool in the gloaming
And gently flows the Rhine.
The crest of the mountain is gleaming
In fading rays of sunshine.

The loveliest maiden is sitting
Up there, so wondrously fair;
Her golden jewelry is glist'ning;
She combs her golden hair.
She combs with a golden comb, preening,
And sings a song, passing time.
It has a most wondrous, appealing
And pow'rful melodic rhyme.

The boatman aboard his small skiff, -
Enraptured with a wild ache,
Has no eye for the jagged cliff, -
His thoughts on the heights fear forsake.
I think that the waves will devour
Both boat and man, by and by,
And that, with her dulcet-voiced power
Was done by the Loreley.

New translation by A.Z. Foreman

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening's final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
Unwittingly wondrous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She's combing her golden hair.

The comb she holds is golden,
She sings a song as well
Whose melody binds an enthralling
And overpowering spell.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He'd rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song's sheer power
Fair Loreley has done.

Images from Kunst und Mystic 1933.


Li said...

We read this in German class in high School - I think the first translation is closest to the version we were given :-) It's really beautiful.

Thyra said...

Hello Li!
I also prefer the first translation.
We read the Lorelei in school also, and we did sing it too! I wonder if it's on YouTube.
I have never been on the sailing trip on the Rhine, but those who have been there tell me that it's a special moment when they pass the cliff of Lorelei.
It's a beautiful legend and a beautiful poem - and a beautiful melody. Perfect harmony!
Grethe ´)

Evelyn Smith said...

I have a 1955 copy Best Loved Poems that was my mother's. This is not the translation that appears in this publication.
Apparently, there is more than one translation of this German poem, though I don't believe the meaning changes.

Thyra said...

hej Evelyn, the first translation is the oldest and closest to the German original

- as Li says in the first comment.
Maybe I should add the German version.


Thyra said...

Well Evelyn it's late here, and I was a little sleepy.

I really have added the German version - of course. The original text is so beautiful.
Grethe ´)

michael scuffil said...

This must be one of the most misunderstood poems of all time (and the musical setting doesn't help). Heine was a (fairly) assimilated Jew. The poem is about the rejection by Germany even of assimilated Jews. The boatman is the man of no fixed address, a member of the nation without a home, i.e. he symbolizes the Jews. The Lorelei is the blonde and beautiful German, giving the boatman the come on. I.e. saying to him: come and join me, German society. It's great. So he does, and he's shipwrecked. The invitation to the Jews to assimilate is totally insincere. When the Germans sing this on Rhine tourist boats (and elsewhere) they sing the last two lines in a totally matter-of-fact way, not least because the music is pretty upbeat. But you must be pretty dull not to discern the bitterness of these lines. The only way to read these is to stress Lorelei in the last line (not 'getan' as the music does), and then turn and symbolically spit on the floor.