Here stand I happ’ly on classical grounds, inspired;
the voices speak distinctly in enchanted tone
from worlds of today and former times expired.
Taking counsel, I leaf through beloved elders’ words,
I write, eager, and startling pleasures conceive.
(But in the nights, distracted by amour I burn.)
However, though merely the half I learn,
blessings doubled from the ancients I receive.

Translation by Carole Mertz

 

Original German

Froh empfind ich mich nun auf klassichem Boden begeistert;
Vor- und Mitwelt spricht lauter und reizender mir.
Hier befolg’ ich den Rat, durchblättre die Werke der Alten
Mit geschäftiger Hand, täglich mit neuem Genuss.
Aber, die Nächte hindurch hält Amor mich anders beschäftigt;
Werd’ ich auch halb nur gelehrt, bin ich doch doppelt beglückt.

 

 

Carole Mertz, a classical musician, worked her Latin in early days and carried home some words from Salzburg, where she studied German and Mozart, among other things. Her first chapbook, Toward a Peeping Sunrise, out soon from Prolific Press.


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8 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    Carole, My German is minimal but the original text intrigues and mystifies me. Although there is no attempt at rhyme, I can easily see the rhythm in the first two and last four lines. The third and fifth lines I can fudge some semblance of shape by slipping the words together and beginning with (what I poorly describe as) double iambs, but that fourth line simply makes no structural sense to me at all and the feminine ending (“alten”) only adds to my confusion as far as rhythmic structure is concerned. Is it just me? Or is this (for Goethe, at least) a loosely-structured poem?

    Your translation, by the way, captures what appears to be a hyper-rhapsodic, passionately emotive reverie concerning a student’s review of notes taken from a university lecture on classical poetry (spiced with a touch of nocturnal testosterone)! Ah, to have the luxury of getting so worked up over such things!

    Thanks for putting it all into English for us and for molding it into a form that seems to be more well-shaped than the original.

    Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is only the first six lines of a twenty-line German original with no rhyme, and which attempts to approximate Latin dactylic hexameter.

    Context does help here. Goethe wrote these Roman Elegies when on a trip to Italy with his new mistress. He was delighted with the treasures of classical learning that he encountered while on the trip, but he also was having a great sexual time with his girlfriend. So the Elegies combine a love for classical styles and techniques from Roman poets like Catullus and Propertius with a frank eroticism borrowed from their poetry. Some of the individual German originals are so raunchy that they didn’t see print till 1914.

    Here’s part of A.S. Kline’s translation of the lines that follow the ones translated above:

    And am I not learning, studying the shape
    Of her lovely breasts: her hips guiding my hand?
    Then I know marble more: thinking, comparing,
    See with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand.
    If my darling is stealing the day’s hours from me,
    She gives me hours of night in compensation.

    Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    I love it when the shadows of my ignorance are exposed to the light! tyvm

    Reply
  4. Ewald E. Eisbruc

    We can certainly be thankful that Ms. Mertz has brought forth a piece from Goethe to remind us of what is at stake in the poetry of our era. As Canadian poet Mr. Gosselin has pointed out, Schiller, Shelley and Keats, too, were striving for a classical line; but for me, Goethe and Hōlderlin strove harder. Goethe is exactly on target:

    “Oftmals hab ich auch shon in ihren Armen gedichtet
    Und des Hexameters Mass leise mit fingernder Hand
    Ihr auf den Rūcken gezählt.”

    One could certainly do worse than to study the German classical period in literature, phliosophy and music (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert), as Ms.Mertz seems to be doing.

    Froh empfind ich mich nun auf klassishem Boden begeistert,
    Vor- un Mitwelt spricht lauter und reizender mir.
    Hier befolg ich den Rat, durchblättre die Werke der Alten
    Mit geschäftiger Hand, täglich mit neuem Genuss.
    Aber die Nächte hindurch hält Amor mich anders beschäftigt;
    Werd ich auch halb gelehrt, bin ich doch doppelt beglūckt.
    Und belehr ich mich nicht, indem ich des lieblichen Busens
    Formen spähe, die Hand leite die Hūften hinab?
    Dann versteh ich den Marmor erst recht: ick denk und vergleiche,
    Sehe mit fūhlendem Aug, fūhle mit sehender Hand.
    Raubt die Liebste den gleich mir einige Stunden des Tages,
    Gibt sie Stunden der Nacht mir zur Entshädigung hin.
    Wird doch nicht immer gekūsst, es wird vernūnftig gesprochen,
    Überfällt sie der Schlaf, lieg ich und denke mir viel.
    Oftmals hab ich auch shon in ihren Armen gedichtet
    Und des Hexameters Mass leise mit fingernder Hand
    Ihr auf den Rūcken gezählt. Sie atmet in lieblichem Schlummer,
    Und es durchglūhet ihr Hauch mir bis ins Tiefste die Brust.
    Amor schūret die Lamp’ indes und gedenket der Zeiten,
    Da er den nämlichen Dienst seinen Triuvim getan.

    Reply
  5. Carole Mertz

    Thank you, gentlemen, for your comments. I learn from all of you. I came to Goethe initially through German Lieder, Schubert’s in particular, during my Conservatory days. It’s only now, in retirement, that I take time to look a little closer. I tried to approach a bit of rhyme in this translation which however, lacks consistent meter. Unfortunately, my translation yielded 8 lines vs. Goethe’s 6. I came against the triangular challenge of meaning, rhyme, and meter, and hoped, the while, to maintain a sense of the whole.

    Reply
  6. ART CAUNE

    GOETHE DID LOT MORE IN SICILY THAN HAVE A FUN TIME WITH HIS MISTRESS. HE TRIED VERY HARD TO HAVE THE ARISTOCRACY AND CHURCH TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF THE PEASANTS. HIS STATURE FORCED IMPROVEMENTS IN THEIR LIVES.

    Reply
  7. ART CAUNE

    GOETHE DID LOT MORE IN SICILY THAN HAVE A FUN TIME WITH HIS MISTRESS. HE TRIED VERY HARD TO HAVE THE ARISTOCRACY AND CHURCH TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF THE PEASANTS.

    Reply

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