To Sleep, to Sleep

by Friedrich Hebbel | translated from German by Sean Thompson

To sleep, to sleep and only sleep
And never wake and have no dreams!
The bitter woes that made me weep
but half-remembered fading gleams.
So I, when echoes of life’s fullness
Reverberate down where I lie,
Deeper infold myself in stillness,
Tighter shut the weary eye.




by Friedrich Hebbel | translated from German by Sean Thompson

A spring as fine as this I can’t recall!
No wandering breath of wind disturbs the air,
Yet still is heard the gentle rustling fall
Of ripest fruit from branches here and there.
Disturb it not, this, Nature’s sacred rite!
This is the harvest that is self-performed,
The sun alone, with mild and kindly light,
Can lift the fruit from off the trees, soft-warmed.


Original German:

Schlafen, Schlafen

Schlafen, Schlafen, nichts als Schlafen!
Kein Erwachen, keinen Traum!
Jener Wehen, die mich trafen,
Leisestes Erinnern kaum.
Daß ich, wenn des Lebens Fülle
Niederklingt in meine Ruh’,
Nur noch tiefer mich verhülle,
Fester zu die Augen tu’!



Dieß ist ein Herbsttag, wie ich keinen sah!
Die Luft ist still, als athmete man kaum,
Und dennoch fallen raschelnd, fern und nah,
Die schönsten Früchte ab von jedem Baum.
O stört sie nicht, die Feier der Natur!
Dieß ist die Lese, die sie selber hält,
Denn heute lös’t sich von den Zweigen nur,
Was vor dem milden Strahl der Sonne fällt.



Sean Thompson is a medical student from the UK.

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5 Responses

  1. Cheryl Corey

    Sean, the extent of my German is a few lines of Silent Night … but I love your English translations!

  2. Yael

    Fascinating, I had never heard of Friedrich Hebbel before this. These two little poems are nearly impossible to translate while retaining their unique features, such as Fester zu die Augen tu’. But you did a nice job maintaining the rhythms and the story lines, good job.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Both English poems show a fine feeling for rhythm. I particularly like “Spring,” with Hebbel’s unusual attention to the fall of overripe fruit from the previous year. Good choice of poems to show his lyric gift and yours.

  4. Paul Freeman

    Both poems have much to recommend them.

    ‘To Sleep’ is very relatable – we all have those periods where life’s tribulations rob us of our sleep – and has some wonderful turns of phrase.

    As fir ‘Spring’:

    ‘This is the harvest that is self-performed,
    The sun alone, with mild and kindly light,
    Can lift the fruit from off the trees…..’


    Thanks for the reads, Friedrich.


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