Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Heinrich Heine - besides that, he's a poet

from Seraphine

Night has come with silent footsteps,
  On the beaches by the ocean;
And the waves, with curious whispers,
  Ask the moon, "Have you a notion

"Who that man is? Is he foolish,
  Or with love is he demented?
For he seems so sad and cheerful,
  So cast down yet so contented."

And the moon, with shining laughter,
  Answers them, "If you must know it,
He is both in love and foolish;
  And, besides that, he's a poet!"

I was planning to move on to Heine's satirical poems, but I am enjoying the lyrics too much. This one at least has a joke at Heine's own expense. I don't have the German handy, so I have no idea what Louis Untermeyer may have done here - my guess is the translation is pretty free.

The metaphors are all simple, excellent examples of the pathetic fallacy: night's "silent footsteps", the waves' "curious whispers", the moon's "shining laughter." A lovely poem, and a good joke.

I've ignored Heine the ballad-writer, too. His complicated version of the Tannhäuser legend sparked the interest of Richard Wagner. Here's a simpler example:

There was an aged monarch,
  His heart was sad, his hair was grey;
Alas, poor fool, he took him
  A wife that was young and gay!

There was a handsome page-boy,
  Light was his heart and gold his hair;
The silken train he carried
  Of that queen so young and fair.

Dost thou know my story,
  So sweet, so sad to tell?
Death was the lovers' portion
  Because they loved too well.

I especially like Heine's refusal to tell the story. You already know it. Poetry can get away with this.

All tranlsations so far have been from The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine (1948), edited by Frerick Ewen, which uses a variety of translators.

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