Translation by David B. Gosselin

 

If I from this darkened valley
Where the gloomy vapors creep
Might by some wonder swiftly flee
My soul could blessedly weep!
Gazing upon this pure serene
Eternal hills through heaven fare,
Had I wings to climb this scene
My spirit would scale the air.

I hear those melodious strains
Descending in soothing streams,
While the restoring breeze and rains
Carry the heaven’s sweet dreams;
Luscious fruit there ripening hangs
On never wilting branches
Flowers there don’t fear the fangs
Of the winter’s ravishes.

Oh! How sweet it must be to dwell
Under the eternal sun
How the sanguine airs must softly blow
Through the woods so frolicsome.
But the foaming waters stifle
My frail attempts at crossing
And my frightened soul can but toil
Before those torrents frothing.

See! A lonely bark is rocking
And it seems no helmsman’s there,
Sails are open, waves are foaming,
But should a mortal soul dare?
Then its courage and faith alone
Must direct it – not God’s hand;
Only magic carries a man
To that magic wonderland.

 

Original German

Ach, dieses Thales Gründen,
Die der kalte Nebel drückt,
Könnt’ ich doch den Ausgang finden,
Ach, wie fühlt’ ich mich beglückt!
Dort erblick’ ich schöne Hügel,
Ewig jung und ewig grün!
Hätt’ ich Schwingen, hätt’ ich Flügel,
Nach den Hügeln zög ich hin.

Harmonieen hör’ ich klingen,
Töne süßer Himmelsruh,
Und die leichten Winde bringen
Mir der Düfte Balsam zu,
Gold’ne Früchte seh ich glühen,
Winkend zwischen dunkelm Laub,
Und die Blumen, die dort blühen,
Werden keines Winters Raub.

Ach wie schön muß sich’s ergehen
Dort im ew’gen Sonnenschein,
Und die Luft auf jenen Höhen
O wie labend muß sie seyn!
Doch mir wehrt des Stromes Toben,
Der ergrimmt dazwischen braußt,
Seine Wellen sind gehoben,
Daß die Seele mir ergraußt.

Einen Nachen seh ich schwanken,
Aber ach! der Fährmann fehlt.
Frisch hinein und ohne Wanken,
Seine Segel sind beseelt.
Du mußt glauben, du mußt wagen,
Denn die Götter leihn kein Pfand,
Nur ein Wunder kann dich tragen
In das schöne Wunderland.

 

David Bellemare Gosselin is a student in classics and languages in Montreal. His poetry, translations, and essays can be read on TheChainedMuse.com

 

 

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11 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    David, What a lovely choice for a translation. You have done a remarkable job in capturing the rhythm and rhyme of the original. I am struck by how similar in sentiment it is to his ode “To Joy” set to music by Beethoven in the 9th Symphony (a poem which, by the way, follows the same rhythmic/rhyming scheme as this one).

    My only question has to do with the final two lines where Schiller pairs the word “Wunder” with “schöne Wunderland.” You chose to translate this as “magic” and “magical wonderland.” I’m curious as to why you did not preserve the more literal meaning by simply rendering the words as “wonder” and “lovely (or beautiful) wonderland.”

    I ask this out of ignorant curiosity since my knowledge of the German language is minimal and I am not fluent enough in any language to even attempt such an ambitious translation as you have accomplished here with Ach, dieses Thales Gründen.

    Reply
    • David Gosselin

      Hi James,

      Well in general, the idea is that I see a lot of people try to “translate” a poem to present the original, and so they will often try to express the same literal thought in the other language, but the irony is that, while they are attempting to stay close to the original, they’re actually gettting further and further away from it, because the same phrasing or unit doesn’t work or sound the same way in translation.
      Since it says “a wonder” a wonder carries man, I’ve never heard of a wonder used that way. Wonder is just not the first word that one thinks of. And then the next line says beautiful wonderland, so that the same word “wonder” shows up again. So the idea was to maintain that same congruence of idea, but with an expression that sounds more true to English, “a wonder” does not.
      The poem is ultimately about the power of creativity, how creativity works in essentially transcending boundaries. To be creative is to overcome a current state, by introducing a higher state, seemingly “out of nowhere.” So this idea of beauty and of creativity is often associated with the idea of being almost magical, other worldly. When I read a translation, I look to see if the translation captures that magic, “the magic” of the original, that creative spark that animates the poem. Without that magic, it’s not really a real translation of the poem – only magic carries a man to that magic wonderland.

      Reply
  2. E. V.

    Translations must be inherently challenging because one must preserve the original meaning while still working with rhyme and meter. This was a pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing your work.

    Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    Thank you for sharing how the mind of a creative translator deals with such a matter. There were, no doubt, a thousand such decisions to be made and I again commend you for producing such a “wonder”-ful translation.

    Reply
  4. Leo Yankevich

    Ah, because of Thales,
    The cold that pushes mist,
    Can I take leave, find vales,
    So happy in its midst!
    I mark the lovely hills,
    Forever green and young,
    Had I wings, wings air fills,
    I’d wait, on hills be hung.

    Reply
  5. Leo Yankevich

    Ah, because of Thales,
    The cold that pushes mist,
    Can I take leave, find vales,
    So happy in its midst!
    I mark the lovely hills,
    Forever young and green,
    Had I wings, wings air fills,
    I’d waft the hillside scene.

    Reply
  6. Uwe Carl Diebes

    I can see several reasons while Schiller’s “Sehnsucht” would appeal to Mr. Gosselin. That yearning for an ideal was not only endemic to the German Romantics, and the Weimar Classicists, but it appeals to those associated with the Schiller Institute as well. What appeals to me about Schiller generally is his excellent metrical power and his music, and what I most deeply admire about Schiller’s poem here is its ballad structure. I have tossed my fate in with it, for better or for worse. For over two years I lived in Baden-Württemberg, where Schiller spent his youth, and even then, when I was stationed in Heilbronn, one of my closest intimate friends thought the World of Schiller. I can never think of my time there without wonderful thoughts, and it was to there I fled in the 1970s, when I was out of sync with American culture.

    Mr. Gosselin’s translation of “Sensucht” attempts to capture some of the rapture of Schiller’s vision in a similar rhyming pattern, if not with Schiller’s exacting metric. In stanza one, I am not surprised to find Keats’ “pure serene”; for I know Mr. Gosselin, in his striving after a Classical Romanticism, places Keats there as well. Interestingly for me both poets died relatively early of tuberculosis and both had medical training. In the second stanza, Mr. Gosselin’s line “Luscious fruit there ripening hangs” reminds me of Hölderlin, the German Romantic-Classicist who has most informed my own poetry, also from Baden-Württemberg. I am sure Mr. Gosselin meant to divide the third stanza from the fourth. If his translation is not as “free-flowing” as his Goethe-esque “I Know Why the Red Rose Weeps,” still it shows his attempt at greater power and control over the German Shakespeare’s remarkable poetic lines.

    As nothing more than an aside, in the manner of Mr. Yankevich, here is a poem from last year, as to the kind of writing I am striving for.

    Hölderlin

    Who knew of him back then in Heilbronn, Baden-Württemberg,
    along the Neckar, flowing northward, up past Heidelberg?
    Those were the heady days when he was at Tübingen Stift,
    along with Schelling, Hegel, and his mind began to drift…
    from Klopstock to Susette, he met the Schiller-Goethe team,
    and passed Novalis on his way down his Romantic stream,
    at Stuttgart working on translating Pindar’s pure extreme,
    and later at Bordeaux what will endure remembering.
    He walked back home on foot, exhausted, reaching Nürtingen,
    and physic’lly and mentally dissolved at Tübingen.
    Ernst Zimmer and his family, there cared for Hölderlin,
    the only mourners at his death, that thought quite sobering.
    His patrimony left him by his father at age two,
    his mother kept; so he died rich; although he never knew.

    Reply
    • David B. Gosselin

      You’ll be happy to know I messaged Evan to fix the glitch at the end, it was just a mistake in the post.

      I submitted two slight alterations as well to make the poem flow slightly better, as line 3 in stanza 2 had originally been slightly too short, which made the next line sound awkward.

      The greatness of this poem is that its subject, never explicitly stated of course (like any good poem), is the process of creativity itself. There is no deductive way to approach writing a poem, or solving any real scientific paradox — all great scientific discoveries are characterized by creative “leaps” i.e. insight. Here, the nature of that process is the subject. After all, science draws its quality of insight from the poetic imagination. Poetry is the root out of which the scientific exploration of the universe outside us can be approached. Poetry is concerned with the one, although the laws of the internal and external one are coherent, thus making such creative leaps possible. Without poetic insight i.e. creative imagination, there would be no possibility of discovery, only the drab cataloguing of facts and statistics. Unfortunately, much of science today has sunk to that level. A new generation of scientists would be well advised to get acquainted with the creative process involved in poetry. The world would be a better place!

      Reply
  7. Uwe Carl Diebes

    Schiller states explicitly the subject of his poem—Sehnsucht—from sehnen (to long) + Sucht (anxiety; sickness; addiction), “krankheit des schmerzlichen verlangens”. Schiller not only focused on lyric poetry, but also on science, history, and drama. As per Peter Watson’s “The German Genius”, a recent read of mine, in a letter to Goethe, Schiller “contrasted his own critical-analytical approach to reality”, with Goethe’s own “organic belief in the simplicity of nature…” But neither of those Weimar classicists were all that simple-minded, were they?

    Reply
    • David

      Most scholars cannot understand Schiller because Schiller operated from a higher sense of identity. Schiller saw himself as a world historical individual, and was dedicated to creating a nation and world of historically self-conscious acting citizens.
      As for lyric poetry, Schiller himself admitted he very seldom took up lyric poetry, and referred to Goethe as the master of that realm. Schiller’s mind tended to gravitate towards some big idea, often historical and/or philosophical. His Cranes of Ibykos, The Ring of Polycrates and the Pledge are prime examples of his sublime approach to history; The Walk, The Song of The Bell, The Artists as his more philosophical. He wrote a paper “What is and to what end do we study universal history” where his thinking on these kinds of questions and the impetus for his style of poetry was laid out very clearly.
      Sehnsucht here is an exception, a very wonderful exception. However the question remains, sehnsucht for what? Schiller was not someone with much of a Romantic disposition, but almost always philosophical and moral. So sehnsucht for what? I think the secret of Schiller lies exactly in this kind of question.

      Goethe was a very talented poet, yet conceptually he was definitely wanting when put beside Schiller. His best stuff arguably came out of his friendly competition with Schiller in 1797, known as the year of the ballad. I think here is where the genius of both can be seen on full display, yet also the difference between the them.
      https://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_97-01/981_ballad.html

      Reply

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