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Rain Song

by Klaus Groth (1819-1899)

Pour, O rain, pour down to earth,
Give my childhood dreams rebirth,
When in reverie I roamed
Shores where sand with moisture foamed.

When the summer sun’s hot rays
Idly vied with crisper days,
And the pale leaves dripped with dew,
And seeds sprouted darkest blue.

What bliss then when surf would greet
Bare and eager waiting feet!
Grass that grew for sweep of sole,
Hands for snatching foam from shoal;

Or else on those burning cheeks
Catch the cooling rainy streaks,
And to every new-borne scent
See that youthful breast was lent.

Like the chalices that dripped.
Freely breathed the soul and sipped,
Like the flowers with fragrance drunk,
In the dew from heaven sunk.

Shudd’ring did each drop impart
Cooling deep within my heart,
And the web creation wove
Toward my inmost essence strove.

Pour, O rain, pour down to earth,
Reawaken songs of mirth
And of gladness that we sang
When without the raindrops rang!

Murmuring so sweet and moist,
If I heard I would rejoice,
And my soul softly bedew
With the awe my childhood knew.

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Original German

Regenlied

Walle, Regen, walle nieder,
Wecke mir die Träume wieder,
Die ich in der Kindheit träumte,
Wenn das Naẞ im Sande schäumte!

Wenn die matte Sommerschwüle
Lässig stritt mit frischer Kühle,
Und die blanken Blätter tauten,
Und die Saaten dunkler blauten.

Welche Wonne, in dem Flieẞen
Dann zu stehn mit nackten Füẞen,
An dem Grase hin zu streifen
Und den Schaum mit Händen greifen,

Oder mit den heiẞen Wangen
Kalte Tropfen aufzufangen,
Und den neuerwachten Düften
Seine Kinderbrust zu lüften!

Wie die Kelche, die da troffen,
Stand die Seele atmend offen,
Wie die Blumen, düftetrunken,
In dem Himmelstau versunken.

Schauernd kühlte jeder Tropfen
Tief bis an des Herzens Klopfen,
Und der Schöpfung heilig Weben
Drang bis ins verborgne Leben.

Walle, Regen, walle nieder,
Wecke meine alten Lieder,
Die wir in der Türe sangen,
Wenn die Tropfen drauẞen klangen!

Möchte ihnen wieder lauschen,
Ihrem süẞen, feuchten Rauschen,
Meine Seele sanft betauen
Mit dem frommen Kindergrauen.

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Untitled

by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

My love, lay your hand here upon my heart;
Oh, hear how it throbs in its innermost part!
There lodges a carpenter foul and vile
Who’s building my coffin all this while.

There’s pounding and hammering all night and day;
It has long since driven my sleep away.
Oh, carpenter, do more speedy be,
So that sleep soon may come to me.

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Original German

Lieb Liebchen, leg’s Händchen aufs Herze mein;
Ach, hörst du, wie’s pochet im Kämmerlein,
Da hauset ein Zimmermann schlimm und arg,
Der zimmert mir einen Totensarg.

Es hämmert und klopfet bei Tag und bei Nacht;
Es hat mich schon längst um den Schlaf gebracht.
Ach! sputet Euch, Meister Zimmermann,
Damit ich balde schlafen kann.

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Julian D. Woodruff, who contributes poetry frequently to the Society of Classical Poets, writes poetry and short fiction for children and adults. He recently finished 2020-2021, a poetry collection. A selection of his work can be read at Parody Poetry, Lighten Up Online, Carmina Magazine, and Reedsy.


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18 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    What delightful poems! My mother had a German stepmother who taught her similar ones, including one which began (in English) “A, B, C. The cat loves the snow. When the new snow comes quickly, the cat has white stockings on.” It goes better in German. Both poems have inner levels; the second darker than the other.
    Thank you, Julian, for a reminder of
    better things and the inevitability of it all.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Sally
      It was a challenge doing these. I’ve never attempted verse translations of German before.
      I found your nursery song, with complete lyrics: A B C, die Katze lief im Schnee. I also found a tune for it, with a conventional “hammer stroke” beginning, just like Bach’s for his E major violin concerto. I wonder if Bach sang it to his kids. From the whole 1st phrase of the tune it’s just a short hop to the start of “Hi-diddle-de-dee,” from Disney’s Pinocchio.

      Reply
  2. Paul Freeman

    Crikey, what a contrast.

    ‘Untitled’ I found amazingly frank, assuming the author is old and infirm and wishing death would come swiftly. The imagery is fantastic.

    ‘Rain Song’ really captured the essence of youth, and rather than being melancholy recollections, becomes a joyous celebration of childhood. Wonderful – or should I say, ‘Wunderbar’.

    Thanks for the reads, Julian.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Hi, Paul
      Thanks for the supportive comments. I wonder if my “all this while” in [“Lieb Liebchen”] threw you off: I don’t think the speaker is old, rather love-lorn. I risked straying from Heine in this rhyme, since Heine writes “es hat mir schon laengst …” (it has long since …).
      Groth’s poem is one of a nostalgic longing that I can only begin to suggest.

      Reply
      • Paul Freeman

        I read too quickly first time – it was around 2 in the morning, according to my insomnia.

        It all makes perfect sense now, though it’s far darker than I originally thought.

        Thanks for introducing me to Heinrich Heine.

  3. Brian Yapko

    Julian, both of these are wonderful! I especially loved the Untitled poem which has such great a combination of unusual images. I will long remember the work of the carpenter!

    I very much enjoy the rain poem as well but wonder if you intended line four to be “shores where sand with moisture foamed” which twists the syntax in a minor way but preserves your otherwise rigorous rhyme scheme? Either way, I love the imagery — especially the spiritual connotations given to the rain. The restoration of innocence, the web of creation, the chalice, the soul softly bedewed with awe… All paint a splendid, almost theological picture, of purification. At least that’s what I’m reading into it.
    Well done on both, though Untitled (the Carpenter) is my favorite of the two.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you very much, Brian. The carpenter is indeed a memorable image-character.
      You’re right about “shores where sand with moisture foamed”: it’s very Germanic in word order, & detracts a bit form the ease & directness of Groth’s original. And his lazy, wistful feminine line endings I simply couldn’t recreate. I settled for alliteration as a kind of parallel.

      Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    “Rain Song” is a wondrous summer poem, Julian. And I mean the English, as I haven’t tried reading the German yet. It’s also a breathtakingly lovely song. Both translations again reveal your skill at poetic flow (more recently visible in adaptations of Broadway numbers or popular hits). Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you so much, Margaret, for your praise and encouragement. I hope to do more verse translations from German, including a stab at one or more of Groth’s poems in dialect.

      Reply
  5. Julian D.Woodruff

    For any who might be interested, “Regenlied” was set by Brahms as one of his Lieder Op. 59. Brahms later used the song as the basis of the finale of his First Violin Sonata, about which I posted a sonnet here some time back.
    Heine’s poem is from a cycle that Schumann set as a whole and published as his Op. 24. It is the 1st of 2 Liederkreise he wrote to texts by Heine, the other being the more familiar Dichterliebe.

    Reply
  6. Yael

    Nice translations of some wonderful, basically un-translatable German poetry! As a native German speaker I do appreciate the originals more, of course, because they create lovely sounds which are so uniquely German. Considering the near impossibility of your chosen task though, I think you did a great job. If anyone would like to hear the beautiful rhyming sounds in these poems I can post a plain reading of them. To my ear, the operatic vibrato style which some singers like to apply to Regenlied only distracts from and covers up the beauty of the rhymes, but that’s a matter of personal taste.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Yael, for your kind, discriminating words. The sounds, at least the vowels, of German are as alien to the English speaker (perhaps especially the American English speaker) as are those of French. (Have you ever sat in on a hs or lower-division German class for American students?) So Groth, in cadence, vocabulary, and syntax, is inimitably simple & direct. I did my best, & gained a lot of respect for this poet in the process.

      Reply
  7. Cheryl Corey

    “Rain Song” is absolutely beautiful. You had me at the first line. Thank you for introducing me to the work of Groth. Was he a major poet? Is yours the first translation of this piece?

    Reply
  8. Julian D. Woodruff

    Thank you, Ms Corey. Groth’s poem seems to have had the same effect on you as on me. I would say he was a minor poet, but important in that most of his work was in dialectical German. I have to believe he stands out in that field.
    Since G’s poetry was set by Brahms (a friend), there must be several singing translations out there. I consulted at least one in composing my translation (see IMSLP), but by giving up on replicating G’s feminine line endings I gained a little freedom for alliteration and vocabulary.

    Reply
  9. C.B. Anderson

    Both translations were delightful, Julian, and I got a chuckle where you translated dunkler as darkest blue. Of course, a translator can only use the available rhyming words at his disposal, but I tried to think of a plant that produces blue seeds. Ampelopsis came to me with its small berry-like blue fruit in which the seeds are contained.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thanks for chiming in, CB. (Glad I checked back here to: my comment notification has failed.) On “blue,” maybe I copped that from another translation–I can’t recall. Maybe I’ll think about a fix there.

      Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      David,
      Sorry to respond late to your complimentary note. (I don’t get email notifications of comments anymore, so I have to keep checking the post directly.)
      I’m delighted to find someone else interested in the Lied repertory and German lyric poetry. This is my 1st go at translating any of it, so I assume you’re way ahead of me.
      The recording of “Regenlied” to which you provide a link is lovely. There is a quality of innocence about it that I miss in other versions. As is almost always the case, I wish the piano were a bit more prominent most of the time.

      Reply

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