Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries, wrote 143 volumes of collected works including plays and poems of all kinds. He wrote three of the most influential novels in European literature which document his childhood memoirs, travels and essays on scientific subjects. Until recently, I was not familiar with the works of Goethe (pronounced “Gur-ta”). This all changed after I visited Vienna where he is celebrated and cherished.
More recently, I have begun to read his poems in his native language of German. It is difficult to find much about Goethe or his works in the English language. Longfellow introduced the literary community and academia to the German language and the works of Goethe when he was a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard. Longfellow’s religious and intellectual character was broadened, and his courage aroused by reading German poets, Goethe in particular (Chamberlain, 65). Longfellow would infuse the works of Goethe into the American mind and his classrooms and his translations [see post on Longfellow and Goethe]
I began my new adventure of getting to know Goethe through translating his works from German to English. I recently purchased a book of Goethe’s poems and sonnets, Goethe:Klassische Gedich, Hg v. Johann Bergmann (1795), from Abebooks. As I am a novice in the German language, I chose Goethe’s Songs and Sonnets as they are about nature and love and are easier to translate than his novels, such as Faust; oh so daunting a task!! [see post on Longfellow’s translation of Goethe’s Wanderer’s Nightsong ].
As in any linguistic exercise, the translator’s goal is to capture the beauty of the language in which the Poet has given utterance to his thoughts. Is it possible to do this without overlooking the depth of meaning from the original? Will my translation be more of a paraphrase than a translation?
The apex of translating poetry, of course, is to preserve the meter, line for line, word for word and to preserve the poetry in both substance and sound. In this translation of Goethe’s “The Friendly Encounter”, this is my goal. I hope I can do justice to Goethe’s intent.
My English Translation
The Friendly Encounter
With my broad mantle wrapped closely o’er my chin
I trod the rocky path, so steep and grey,
Then down to wintry meadows on my way,
My senses restless, bending my will yet again.
Suddenly the new day seemed to reveal
A maiden who came to gaze at the sky
A woman of perfect design whom poets decry
Has found love. My longing was soon filled.
But I turned away and let her go
And wrapped again in the folds,
As if to warm myself from the cold;
And I followed her, hence. She stood. It happened!
In my cover, I could not hold
I threw it off. She lay within my arms.
Freundliches Begegnen by Goethe
Im weiten Mantel bis ans Kinn verhüllet
Hernieder dann zu winterhaften Auen
Ging ich den Felsenweg, den schroffen, grauen,
Unruhigen Sinns, zur nahen Flucht gewillet.
Auf einmal schien der neue Tag enthüllet:
Ein Mädchen kam, ein Himmel anzuschauen,
So musterhaft wie jene lieben Frauen
Der Dichterwelt. Mein Sehnen war gestillet.
Doch wandt ich mich hinweg und ließ sie gehen
Und wickelte mich enger in die Falten,
Als wollt ich trutzend in mir selbst erwarmen;
Und folgt ihr doch. Sie stand. Da wars geschehen!
In meiner Hülle konnt‘ ich mich nicht halten,
Die warf ich weg. Sie lag in meinen Armen.
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)