Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Heinrich Heine - how my heart was aching

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai

In May, the magic month of May,
When all the buds were breaking,
Oh then within my heart
The fires of love awakened.

In May, the magic month of May,
When birds were merry-making,
Oh then I told my darling
Of how my heart was aching.

Why, it's May right now. This poem is almost relevant. That's the whole poem, another one from the 1820s. If you can pronounce German, in the first line, italicized above, you can hear why so many songs were built on Heine lyrics. Seven vowel sounds in eight syllables.* Aaron Kramer's translation also sounds like a song, but a quite different one.

Wenn zwei von einander scheiden

The last farewell of lovers
  Is whispered as they stand
With tears they cannot conquer,
  And hand in trembling hand.

But when we two were parted
  We did not sigh nor moan.
We had all life before us
  In which to weep alone.

This one may verge on the ridiculous. In some ways, Heine occupies a place in German comparable to Keats or Shelley in English, but I'm not sure either of those two, or anyone else, was such a prolific source of this kind of brief lyric poem, where the bittersweet substance of it just barely exists. Not pure music, but close.

Heine wrote a heap of poems like this, but it's hardly his only mode. Tomorrow, a look at the acid-tongued Heine.

* Hear how the types of vowel sound alternate in the German: i/u/e/ö/e/o/a/ai. The English can't replicate this, but can at least keep all of the "m"s.

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