by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

How brightly nature
Shines this morning!
What radiant sun!
How the fields sing!

The buds burst forth
From each green frond!
A thousand bushes
Resound with song!

And joy and wonder
Streams from each breast.
Oh Earth! Oh Sun!
Oh joy without rest!

Loveliest of loves!
Fair and golden,
Like morning clouds
On the mountain.

You renew each field
With veils of mist.
And your morning dew
Leaves each field blest.

Oh how I cherish
You, sweetest maid!
How your eyes shine bright
Where love can’t fade.

As morning larks love
To sing and fly,
As springtime flowers
Greet the blue sky,

So do I love you
With all my heart!
The one who inspires
Youth, joy and art;

A mood for new songs,
Dancing lively.
Oh be so happy
As you love me!


read an analysis of “Mailied” here


Original German



Wie herrlich leuchtet
Mir die Natur!
Wie glänzt die Sonne!
Wie lacht die Flur!

Es dringen Blüten
Aus jedem Zweig
Und tausend Stimmen
Aus dem Gesträuch,

Und Freud und Wonne
Aus jeder Brust.
O Erd, o Sonne!
O Glück, o Lust!

O Lieb, o Liebe!
So golden schön,
Wie Morgenwolken
Auf jenen Höhn!

Du segnest herrlich
Das frische Feld,
Im Blütendampfe
Die volle Welt.

O Mädchen, Mädchen,
Wie lieb ich dich!
Wie blickt dein Auge!
Wie liebst du mich!

So liebt die Lerche
Gesang und Luft,
Und Morgenblumen
Den Himmelsduft,

Wie ich dich liebe
Mit warmen Blut,
Die du mir Jugend
Und Freud und Mut

Zu neuen Liedern
Und Tänzen gibst.
Sei ewig glücklich,
Wie du mich liebst!



David B. Gosselin is a translator, linguist and poet based in Montreal. He is the founder of the 21st century poetry website

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6 Responses

  1. Monty

    You may or may not’ve noticed, David, that there was another ‘translation’ on these pages 3-4 days ago (by Mr Coy); and within its accompanying comments, someone posed a pertinent question with words to the effect of: (if a translator decides not to stay true to a literal translation in order to adhere to a certain form in the translated piece) At which point does a translation cease to be a translation.. and instead becomes (for example, as suggested by others) a “poem based on another poem”: or “a version of” that poem: or “a paraphrase” of that poem: or a poem “inspired by” that poem?

    There followed a healthy and fascinating discussion between several commenters about the “at which point” part of the question. WHERE IS that “point” which determines that it’s now gone from a translation to something else? How far can a translator stray intentionally from the original meaning before it should no longer be referred to as a translation? Does that “point” even exist? Suggestions were offered, but no commenter could come up with a definitive answer – and maybe there ain’t one! Maybe there’s no existence of any given or written rules such as an ‘Accepted Etiquette for Translating Poetry’. And if there are no such ‘rules’, then is it the case that anyone who translates a poem is perfectly at will to alter the meaning of a certain segment of the poem in order to insert a perfect rhyme into the translation?

    I ask this ‘coz I noticed in your above Bio that you refer to yourself as a translator; and I wondered if you knew of the existence of any such ‘etiquette’, or if you know for sure that no such thing exists? And indeed, I’d be interested just to hear your general outlook on the matter . . how much flexibility YOU feel translators should/shouldn’t allow themselves?

    I also ask this in view of lines 11 and 12 in the two pieces above. I speak no German, but it’s plain to see, contextually, from the use of the word ‘lust’ in the German that it has the same meaning and spelling in English. Thus, it can be easily seen that the literal translation is:
    Oh Earth! Oh Sun!
    Oh Joy! Oh Lust! . .
    . . which you’ve rendered into:
    Oh Earth! Oh Sun!
    Oh joy without rest! . .
    . . for surely no other reason other than ‘rest’ is a perfect rhyme for the end-word in the penultimate line. (I must also add that I’m not sure of the meaning of that line in its own right: Oh joy without rest . . unless you mean it as ‘endless joy’; with the ‘without rest’ supposedly indicating ‘endless’. If so, that seems a tenuous metaphor to me).

    D’you see what I’m asking? And d’you see what the questions in the aforementioned discussion were asking? Is it acceptable (as you evidently feel it to be) for a translator to place their emphasis solely on producing a perfectly-rhyming translation . . at any cost to the original? And if so, would you agree that when one’s reading a translation from a language with with they’re not in the slightest familiar . . they can do no more than HOPE that they’re reading a true translation . . with no way of being sure?

    Is that how it is in the translation world?

    • Carole Mertz

      As slightly pertinent to your question, Monty–one of the things I really appreciated about W.S. Merwin’s translation of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and Song of Despair was his rather consistently strict adherence to direct translation of the Spanish.
      I like leniency here, in the Goethe. There are times such as at your lines 11 and 12 where the rhyme seems more important. Also, to be lustig in the German means to be energetically “merry” and so Lust here can mean an ongoing merriment, also entertainment or delight, not necessarily the sexual connotation of the English, if I understand correctly.

      • Monty

        Well, I must assume that you speak fluent Spanish, Carole. How else would you be able to refer to the “consistently strict adherence to direct translation” in Merwin’s dealings with Neruda’s poems? I’d be interested to know: Do the translations rhyme fully, partially, or not at all? (Both authors are unknown to me).

        You’ll notice in my last comment that I also pondered over the idea that the “without rest” was meant to indicate “endless”: as in “endless joy”.. or put another way, your “ongoing merriment”. But of all the words we might use for ‘ongoing’ (endless: continuous: never-ending: non-stop: unabated: boundless) ‘without rest’ seemed to me to be stretching it a bit. In speech, we might say: “The girl danced non-stop until the last song of the night” . . but we wouldn’t say: “She danced without rest until the last song of the night”. I s’pose it’s conceivable that we could say: “She danced without ‘a’ rest..” but even that’s unlikely!

        I must assure you and David that I’m not criticising what he’s done above: it’s none of my business. He can write what he likes. I’m looking at the wider question, the FAR wider question concerning translations in general . . and the trust that a reader should or shouldn’t put in receiving a true translation. Or, as Mr Tweedie perceptively pointed out in a similar discussion: If a translator’s more concerned with the appearance of their translation than they are in adhering strictly to the meaning of the original . . should it be accepted etiquette to preface the poem with some some sort of disclaimer such as: ‘This is not a strict translation, but a poem “based upon” the original’.. or ‘”inspired by” the original.

        What do you think of such a disclaimer, Carole? It seems fair to me, ‘coz it immediately puts the reader straight (if they’re not familiar with the language of the original poem). That’s the only possible way for the unsuspecting reader to be aware that they’re not reading a literal translation. Otherwise, they’ve got to hope, or guess, or assume . . . and it shouldn’t be like that.

  2. C.B. Anderson


    Carole can probably answer that better than I am able to, I’m sure, but I will say this:
    It’s devilishly difficult to translate a poem and maintain the form at the same time, and few have managed to pull this off, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that translations should come with a warning label. Everybody understands the difficulty, and if anyone is all that concerned about the problem, then they might just as well go ahead and learn the original language. Easy said, not so easy done. As it happens, I have a smattering of German, so I can follow along, and I feel that Mr. Gosselin has not gone too far astray.

    • Monty

      Your assertion above would carry more weight if the word ‘truly’ was inserted: ‘It’s difficult to TRULY translate a poem and maintain the form at the same time’. And it’s true; in fact, I imagine that it’s nigh-on impossible. But if one decides not to TRULY translate a poem, then it becomes a lot less difficult to maintain the form in the translation (as has been shown on these pages in recent days). And, obviously, the less they stay true to the original, the easier things become.

      The whole thing just seems cheap to me, CB; taking advantage of the fact that most readers will be none the wiser . . and presumably doing so under the banner of a term I dislike: Poetic License. To me, that’s a dangerous term which some authors take as giving them the license to cheat, cut corners, etc.

      The Blue Yonder arrived á chez moi yesterday; but I won’t be involved with it for a while yet. At the end of this month, I’ll be heading out to Nepal for 4 months for my annual sabbatical . . and I’ll take the book with me.

      • Monty p 2

        Dear Monty,

        For a class project would you mind summarizing this poem for me? What is the deeper meaning? I see you are an enlightened individual. I appreciate your help.
        Best, your mom

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