For this post, I am referencing Longfellow’s The Poets and Poetry of Europe, a collection of poetry from the rich histories of these European countries. Each chronological section of Europe is introduced by Longfellow with cultural and linguistic history that, in most cases, he observed personally during his travels.
My journey continues with a poet from the late eighteenth century, Christoph Martin Wieland. According to Longfellow,“’It was Wieland who transplanted the lively Athenian spirit to the German forests and Gothic cities’”(German Literature, Vol. II., pp. 379-395). He is best known for the epic Oberon which was later written into the opera of same name by Carl Maria von Weber.
In Poets, Longfellow highlights several European poets from each century. From each list, I choose one or more poets whose works I have enjoyed and, in the case of Wieland, who has been connected with one my favorite German poets, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Wieland would collaborate with Goethe, Herder, and later Schiller, while living for more than twenty years in Weimar.
My interest in Wieland also stems from his proclivity and expertise in translation. Like Longfellow and Goethe, Wieland was an accomplished translator specifically in German, French, and Italian. In acquiring these new languages Wieland was also highly influenced by the works of one of my favorite French writers, Voltaire, which led to his representation of the German Enlightenment.
Wieland was born in 1733 at Oberholzheim. As with many German poets, he entered University to study law but soon turned to literature. After completing his studies at University of Tubingen, Wieland procured an invitation from Bodmer to visit Zilrich and reside with him as his literary companion. For the next few years alongside Bodmer, he studied Greek and became a master of style, both in prose and poetry. According to Longfellow, “his fancy was lively, his invention prolific, and his manner graceful…his works are very voluminous” (263).
“Wieland first restored to German poetry the unrestrained spirit, the free look of the child of the world, the natural grace, the love and desire of cheerful pleasantry, and the power of supplying it”. In his romantic poems, Wieland took for models, not only Ariosto, but also Voltaire and Parny ; in his novels, not only Lucian and Cervantes, but also Crebillon, Diderot, and Cazotte (265). Wieland later founded and became the editor of Der teutsche Merkur, in 1773, which became the most influential literary review in Germany.
At this same time, in early eighteenth century, there was a tremendous enthusiasm for translating texts written in the Classical language. As a skilled poet and Classical scholar, Wieland was able to translate, into the iambic pentameter scheme, the most faithful reproduction of the Roman poet Horace in his Epistles (1782) and Satires (1786). These translations would appear in Der teutsche Merkur.
Wieland would go on to translate the Classics of Aristophanes, Cicero, Euripides, Horace, Isocrates, Lucian, Shakespeare, and Xenophon as well as the projects of other translators. As editor of Der Teutsche Merkur, Wieland did his best to promote translations and also established translation competitions.
How was Wieland able to translate from an ancient into a modern tongue, while maintaining the verse form of the source text or the idiomatic speech? As with any translation, the translator must make certain necessary adjustments according to the type of reader for whom this work will be appropriate. Was Wieland translating to a reading public who was less than adequately versed in other European or, indeed, in the Classical languages? Or was he translating these Classic writings to the domestic literary corpus; or both?
According to Longfellow, Wieland stated in the preface to his translations a universal applicability of the necessity for clarity and accuracy as well as the importance of upholding the grammatical rules of the translator’s tongue. Unlike Wieland, however, Goethe translated many works from the realm of sciences and arts [see post] and therefore, his translations hold the character of commentary in overall impression rather than of strict translation of the original text; its constituent parts make no attempt to resemble those of the original (262). “Either the translator leaves the writer in peace as much as possible and moves the reader towards him or he leaves the reader as calm as possible and moves the writer towards him” (Goethe, Sammtliche Werke III: Berlin, 1838). Wieland would unfortunately receive harsh criticism from Goethe for his translations of Horace (in the satire Götter, Helden und Wieland -“Gods, Heroes and Wieland”).
According to Longfellow, the translations of Wieland refined the German language. I have provided an extract from Oberon which was translated by Longfellow in Poets:
EXTRACT FROM OBERON by Christoph Martin Wieland
Now through the outward court swift speeds the knight ;
Within the second from his steed descends;
Along the third his pace majestic bends:
Where’er he enters, dazzled by his sight,
The guards make way, — his gait, his dress, his air,
A nuptial guest of highest rank declare.
Now he advances towards an ebon gate,
Where with drawn swords twelve Moors gigantic wait,
And piecemeal hack the wretch who steps unbidden there.
But the bold gesture and imperial mien Of Huon,
as he opes the lofty door, Drive back the swords that crossed his path before,
And at his entrance flamed with lightning sheen.
At once, with rushing noise, the valves unfold:
High throbs the bosom of our hero bold,
When, locked behind him, harsh the portals bray :
Through gardens decked with columns leads the way,
Where towered a gate incased with plates of massy gold.
There a large forecourt held a various race
Of slaves, a hapless race, sad harem slaves,
Who die of thirst ‘mid joy ‘s o’erflowing waves !
And when a man, whom emir honors grace,
Swells in his state before their hollow eye,
Breathless they bend, with looks that seem to die,
Beneath the weight of servitude oppressed ;
Bow down, with folded arms across the breast,
Nor dare look up to mark the pomp that glitters by.
Copyright 2021 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Longfellow, Henry W. The Poets and Poetry of Europe: Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1845.