Motivated by today's NYT crossword puzzle, I present here, for further discussion, my thoughts on the chances and pitfalls of translating German texts into English--and vice-versa.
Here's the comment I put on the puzzle blog: Der Erlkönig (The Erlking): A Lied (art song) by the greatest composer of such songs in German, Schubert, using as lyrics the perhaps best known ballad by the greatest German poet of all time, Goethe... The ballad/song has not lost its appeal to the present day. Nabokov quotes the first two lines in my favorite Nabokov book, Pale Fire; Hilary Hahn has a wonderful version of it for solo violin; and Kraut Rock is also not immune to its allure.
Among the versions I found on youtube, I liked this audio-only version by the great basso A. Kipnis because of the clarity of his diction. If you do not know the lyrics, here is the German text together with a (workable, if flat-footed) prose translation.
This brings me to the present thread. For starters, please read some of my general thoughts on translation and take a look at my own prose line-by-line translation of this gem by Goethe.
6 hours ago