Hugo von Hofmannsthal
(1874 - 1929)

Two poems in a prose line-by-line translation by Ulrich Flemming

Vorfrühling

Es läuft der Frühlingswind
Durch kahle Alleen,
Seltsame Dinge sind
In seinem Wehn.

Er hat sich gewiegt,
Wo Weinen war,
Und hat sich geschmiegt
In zerrüttetes Haar.

Er schüttelte nieder
Akazienblüten
Und kühlte die Glieder,
Die atmend glühten.

Lippen im Lachen
Hat er berührt,
Die weichen und wachen
Fluren durchspürt.

Er glitt durch die Flöte
Als schluchzender Schrei,
An dämmernder Röte
Flog er vorbei.

Er flog mit Schweigen
Durch flüsternde Zimmer
Und löschte im Neigen
Der Ampel Schimmer.

Es läuft der Frühlingswind
Durch kahle Alleen,
Seltsame Dinge sind
In seinem Wehn.

Durch die glatten
Kahlen Alleen
Treibt sein Wehn
Blasse Schatten.

Und den Duft,
Den er gebracht,
Von wo er gekommen
Seit gestern Nacht.
Early Spring (1892)

The spring wind runs
Through leafless alleys,
Strange things are
In its blowing.

It rocked itself,
Where there were tears,
And nestled into
Ruined hair.

It shook down
Acacia blossoms
And cooled limbs
That breathed and burned.

It has touched
Lips in laughter,
Burrowed through soft
And stirring fields.

It slid through the flute,
A sobbing cry,
Flew past
Darkening dusk.

It flew in silence
Through whispering rooms
And, bending, extinguished
The glow of the lamp.

The spring wind runs
Through leafless alleys,
Strange things are
In its blowing.

Through smooth
Leafless alleys
Its blowing chases
Pale shadows.

And the fragrance
It has brought
From where it has came
Since last night!


Reiselied

Wasser stürzt, uns zu verschlingen,
Rollt der Fels, uns zu erschlagen,
Kommen schon auf starken Schwingen
Vögel her, uns fortzutragen.

Aber unten liegt ein Land,
Früchte spiegelnd ohne Ende
In den alterslosen Seen.

Marmorstirn und Brunnenrand
Steigt aus blumigem Gelände,
Und die leichten Winde wehn.
Travel Song (1898)

Water falls to devour us,
Rolls the rock to crush us,
When on strong wings birds arrive
To carry us away.

But below there lies a land,
Reflecting without end
Fruits in ageless lakes.

Marble head and fountain rim
Rise from fields of flowers,
And the light winds are blowing.


A note: My prose translations are not always strictly literal. I'm willing to deviate from the original a little when this gives me a more "poetic" line, especially when it reproduces the meter of the original. The first line of the third stanza above is a case in point. A literal translation would be "marble forehead and fountain rim"—leaving the "fore" out produces, I believe, not only an easier-flowing line, but one that scans exactly like the original.

But I hesitate to go very far in this direction. For example, the following lines would scan like the first two lines of Reiselied:

Water falls to pull us under,
Rocks are rolling down to crush us...

They reproduce the forward-pulling rush of the original lines, but deviate more from the meaning of the lines because padding is needed to achieve the length of the German lines.

I would accept this, actually prefer it, when I could do it consistently for the entire piece. Indeed, the contrast between the rush of the first stanza and the calm of the second is an essential characteristic of the poem. However, I have not managed to come up with a reasonably close translation that would reproduce the rhythm of the original throughout—readers have to get a sense of it by looking at the original German, preferably by reading it aloud.


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