translation by Anna Leader

I do not know what it might bode
That I should be so sad,
A fairytale from long ago
Now will not leave my head.
The air is cool and darkening
Above the quiet Rhine;
The mountaintops are sparkling
In afternoon sunshine.

The loveliest young maiden sits
So beautifully up there,
Her golden jewelry gleams and glints,
She combs her golden hair,
She combs it with a golden brush
And while she combs she sings;
The tune is both miraculous
And overpowering.

It grips the sailor in the ship
With a wild and aching woe;
His eyes are only looking up,
Not at the rocks below.
I believe that in the end the waves
Devoured ship and boy,
And that is what the Lorelei
Accomplished with her voice.


Original German

Die Lorelei

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 ist 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.



Born to American and British parents and raised in Luxembourg, Anna Leader graduated from Princeton University in 2018 and now works in an education nonprofit in Washington, D.C. In addition to literary translations, Leader writes poetry, plays, and novels. She has twice been awarded the Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation (2013 and 2015, under-18 category), and most recently won the 2019 Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize, administered by Penguin Random House, for a prose translation from the original French.


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4 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    A beautiful poem about the Lorelei, and well translated. There seems to be a long tradition in mythology of an evil female spirit that lures persons to their death by water. There are the sirens of Greek legend, the rusalka of Slavic folklore, and la llorona in South American stories.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Anna, Welcome to the SCP. We are honored to have you join us with this straightforward, yet lyric, translation. I have traveled that particular stretch of the Rhine by car, train, and boat on six different occasions. It is not so treacherous as it was back in the day but it is still a formidable “uphill” pull for the larger, heavier-laden ships, most of which were built specifically to be powerful enough to laboriously haul themselves against and through the swift and swirling currents of the Rhine between Mainz/Bingen and Koblenz. It would, I think, take the voice of a true enchantress to tempt and successfully steer a nervous shipman’s attention away from the task at hand! It is a lovely legend, and, while just as lethal, has always seemed to me to be a more tender, romantically tragic tale than that of Homer’s sirens, who were blood-sucking, flesh-eating bad girls to the core.

    In any case, well done, and I look forward to more submissions in the future.

    • Acwiles Berude

      Yes, but for all their treachery, the sirens made the most beautiful music Odysseus had ever heard. What does that tell us about poesy?

  3. Uwe Carl Diebes

    I’m sorry I could not have gotten to this site earlier; the poems pass so quickly before our eyes, and vanish in less than a fortnight. When I lived in Deutschland, Heine was one of my favourite poets, and “Die Lorelei” one of my favourite poems. It still remains so. My own poetic outlook was deeply influenced by his work, along with Classical and Romantic German poets. What I liked most about Heine was his slip into Realism from Romanticism. It is the depth and the simplicity of his poems that so surprised me when I first came upon his works. Because of my history with his works, I am thankful for Ms. Leader’s remarkable translation, as it reminds me again of that time. Of course, the original is what matters, but this is the best translation into English of this poem I have read. I am impressed by her word choice, her meter and her artistry, which is in line with Heine’s own vision. Ms. Leader’s translation reminds me that, as a poet, I need to recapture that breathtaking voice, so exquisite, so simple, so powerful, so real. At times I am so far from that vision, struggling, as I am, through Realism, Modernism, PostModernism, and New Millennial demands.


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