Introductory Note

These paraphrased translations represent two short poems composed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a person so well-known that I will pass on offering a biography and only note that he lived 1749-1832.

The first poem, “Der du von dem Himmel bist” (“You Who Are from Heaven”) was written by Goethe on February 12, 1776. It is often referenced with the title, “Wandrers Nachtlied” (“Wanderer’s Nightsong”), a title under which the poem, accompanied by a later, related poem was published in several editions. For a 1789 edition, Goethe altered the text of this poem in two places. The text I have chosen for translation is the original text. It is also the text chosen by Franz Schubert and Franz Liszt for use in each of their well-known musical/lieder settings of the poem.

The second poem, “Sommer” (“Summer”), is associated with the date 1810. The poem’s structure is more formal and appears to have been more carefully crafted than the earlier poem (which, according to Goethe, was spontaneously written while sitting outdoors “on the slope of the Ettersberg.”) To my surprise, I could find no musical setting of this poem. So, in an attempt to rectify the situation, I composed and recorded a lieder of my own to honor the work. An audio of the song accompanies the poem.

 

Two Translations
of
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(From the German)

 

You Who Are from Heaven

You from heaven, hear my plea,
Ease my pain and suffering.
For my double misery
Double the relief you bring.

Oh, so tired! I seek release!
Pain and lust have played their part.
Ah, sweet peace!
Come, oh come into my heart.

 

Der du von dem Himmel bist

Der du von dem Himmel bist,
Alles Leid und Schmerzen stillest,
Den, der doppelt elend ist,
Doppelt mit Erquickung füllest;

Ach, ich bin des Treibens müde!
Was soll all der Schmerz und Lust?
Süßer Friede,
Komm, ach komm in meine Brust!

 

Summer

The summer’s here, with longer, warmer days.
The light entices us to go outside
Where, by the waterfall, on rocks we laze,
With drink and stirring words most satisfied.

As thunder rolls, and bolts of lightning blaze,
A hat-like cave provides a place to hide.
Through flash and crash we huddle close together,
But love is smiling ‘neath the stormy weather.

 

 

Sommer

Der Sommer folgt. Es wachsen Tag und Hitze,
und von den Auen dränget uns die Glut;
doch dort am Wasserfall, am Felsensitze
erquickt ein Trunk, erfrischt ein Wort das Blut.

Der Donner rollt, schon kreuzen sich die Blitze,
die Höhle wölbt sich auf zur sichern Hut,
dem Tosen nach kracht schnell ein knatternd Schmettern;
doch Liebe lächelt unter Sturm und Wettern.

 

 

 

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.


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15 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, is there no end to your talent? These translations together with the musical accompaniment are simply beautiful. I only know high school German, so I’m no expert, but I thoroughly appreciate these translations. Thank you very much for this Sunday afternoon treat.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Susan, I fear my German is not much better than yours! But challenges such as these keep me on my toes. The triple rhyme in Sommer posed a challenge that took some pondering to work out. That’s why I keep to short poems rather than trying to tackle the Aeneid!

      Reply
  2. Mike Bryant

    James, I love both of these translations… but especially the second. I also really enjoyed the song, the piano accompaniment, the rich tenor voice and the sentiment of summer. Since we are still enjoying summer here in south Texas, and since it IS after 12 noon, I’ve listened to the song again in the back yard with a glass of champagne.
    I think I might be feeling as cultured as any Texas redneck ever could.
    Cheers!
    I wonder if you could manage a bluegrass rendition?

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Mike, Bluegrass is hard to recreate on a computer because of the difficulty of scoring parts for the fiddle and mandolin and then getting them to sound right. I have done country and a CD of my own klezmer-style music (with 2 violins, clarinet, accordian and bass) and some fiddle tunes that turned out well, but full-on bluegrass, ‘fraid not. My annual Christmas Eve music creation this year is calypso, so I’m still trying new things.

      Enjoy that redneck champagne. I will assume it came with it own brown paper bag?

      And, of course, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you deemed my efforts to be as cultured as y’all are!

      Reply
  3. Julian D. Woodruff

    Mr. Tweedie,
    Thank you for these sensitive English renderings of Goethe, and for calling to mind the great treasury of German Lieder, which these days one can encounter only via recordings.

    Reply
  4. Yael

    I always enjoy some Goethe, reminds me of the Vaterland, thank you!
    This also reminds me that the German language was probably mainly conceived to keep non-native speakers forever in their place.
    “Ein knatternd Schmettern kracht schnell unter Sturm und Wettern”; that’s where the rubber inevitably skids off the wet and stormy road for the non-natives.
    Someone once told me that the only language as difficult to learn how to pronounce as German is North-Korean, but I have no idea if that’s true or not.

    Reply
  5. James A. Tweedie

    Lol, Yael! As one not fluent in speaking German I practiced that phase dozens of times and had to re-record the music several times before I got it reasonably close to what it is supposed to sound like! I have a German friend who said he could understand what I was singing so that was good enough for me. He also said he liked my translation of the first poem better than he did Goethe’s original! There is some abbreviated meaning there that I had to spell out to interpret what he meant!

    Reply
    • Yael

      You did just fine James. I was able to understand what you were singing too, in spite of the foreign accent. Your poetic translations are very nice and possibly a little easier to understand than the originals. That’s the beauty of Goethe though: he keeps you on your toes. He’s hard to pronounce and hard to follow at times. He makes you work for it.
      I think I can relate to your work. I’ve been trying to speak southern American “English” for the last 35 years and although I get by just fine, most natives can tell right away that I’m not from here. Lots of German ancestry here though, so I have the benefit of being of a well-respected ethnicity, which makes life more pleasant.

      Reply
  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    I thought “You Who are from Heaven” was very moving (though I don’t know German, so can’t comment on the translation.) In “Summer”, I would personally prefer not to use “‘neath” — but otherwise I liked it.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Maybe it’s time for a discussion of contractions, word order, and other poetic “conveniece” that have largely gone by the board. Ms. Erlandspn, Mr. Tweedie, anyone else want to jump in?

      Reply
  7. James A. Tweedie

    Interesting question. I know there are those who do not embrace poetic contractions. Personally, I try to avoid them but will use them on occasion. For some people contractions where common usage has abandoned the apostrophe such as ope, ere, and till, are acceptable whereas to write them as ope’, e’re or ‘’til is not. I find this amusing. Both Webster’s and scrabble affirm that “neath” is a word. If I had left the apostrophe off would that have made the word more acceptable? If so, why? In literature contractions are discouraged in narrative but acceptable in dialogue, especially insofar as they represent common speech, vernacular, or dialects. Consider all the apostrophes in Burns’ poetry!

    As I said, I prefer to avoid them in formal poetry but do not draw a line in the sand to forbid them entirely.

    Reply
  8. Julian D. Woodruff

    ‘gain, ‘pologies for my ‘trocious typing! To me, these poetic contractions can help avoid a certain slackness of expression (sorry I can’t articulate my point any better), as can the avoidance of articles (pace, Mr. Anderson), as long as it’s not overdone. Overdoing is something that can wreck any poem, or almost anything else. Overdoing inverted word order can also cause trouble, but in a milieu where the line or the interior break can help create the sense, it seems to me that resistance to inversion in metered poetry as practiced today is a bit puritanical. What think ye then, my betters?

    Reply
  9. David Gosselin

    James,
    Bless you. I didn’t know you composed music? I think what you did is very important. I’ve been trying to highlight the importance of lieder in understanding the intimate relationship between poetry and music, that they have a common source.
    I know someone who did an original musical setting of a poem by Daniel Leach:
    https://www.thechainedmuse.com/post/an-original-musical-setting-of-poems-unwritten
    I definitely think there needs to be more of this. I try to regularly post new translations of lieder by Brahms, Schubert et al to encourage readers to explore this rich musical tradition.
    I would definitely like to hear and see more of your settings!
    Best,
    David

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      David,

      I have replied to your comment with an email to The Chained Muse.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Reply

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