Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hofmannsthal's poem Vorfrühling (Early Spring)

The Viennese poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) is perhaps best known outside the German-speaking countries as the librettist of many Strauß operas, notably Der Rosenkavalier. What's less well know is that he also wrote some of the most beautiful and haunting poems in the German language. My favorite is his Vorfrühling (Early Spring), which is one of the three German poems I love most. Here it is, together with a prose line-by-line translation by me.

In response to a reader's comment, I've added since a second poem by Hoffmannsthal at that link, Reiselied (Travel Song).

8 comments:

foodie said...

Ulrich, I can tell this is lovely. I hardly have any German vocabulary, so your translation helped immensely. But I know enough about sentence structure that I was able to reconstruct them once I knew the words that went into each. I also can hear the pronunciation, so I can tell that in German it's very melodic! I can see why you would love it.

Ulrich said...

Thanks for the comment--I was wondering if anybody had looked at this. And I admire your diligence in trying to figure this out.

An (unforced!) ABAB scheme made up of very short lines is very difficult to maintain over several stanzas in German, which doesn't rhyme as easily as other languages (Hoffmannsthal abandons it at the end in the last two stanzas). As you say, it produces lovely melodic lines. They convey, in addition, memorable images and moods, all connected to the wind. It is this, to me, perfect match of form and content that makes this poem a favorite of mine.

ArtLvr said...

Welcome back, Ulrich! I enjoyed your poetry selection too -- but echo foodie's comment on my lack of much German vocabulary. I was serious about singing at one point, so because of voice lessons I also squeezed in courses in German, Italian and a bit of Russian while a French major -- mainly for the pronunciation! Result: breadth but not much depth... But it's fun to dip into again with a connoisseur like you!

∑;)

Ulrich said...

@artlvr: Thx.

I'm so busy sorting gazillions of pictures that I have little time for anything else, blog, puzzles... Everything should have settled down by the end of the week, and my slide show will be a treat, I hope.

mac said...

Beautiful poem, Ulrich! I had probably had 5 years of German in Highschool, but didn't realize the beauty of the German language until I lived there for three years in the early 90's. A journalist friend constantly gave me little books by wonderful 18th and 19th century writers.

Welcome back! I hope you had as much fun on your trip as I did.

Ulrich said...

@mac: Welcome back yourself! I wish I could return the compliment by mentioning my learning Dutch in high school--but no dice...

Marlene said...

Oh my goodness. This is gorgeous. I'm actually astonished that your translation is in prose and yet seems to be as evocative as von Hoffmansthal's rhymed poem. I say "seems" because my German is rusty and I might be missing some of the finer nuances of the original.

Either way, what I like about both is the way they catch that odd feeling of a spring wind that seems so filled with possibility it's almost anxiety-producing. "Strange things are [ indeed] in its blowing."

I don't know much of anything about Hoffmansthal except, I think, that he was part of or an influence on the Viennese cultural explosion at the turn of the century. Can you say more about him? Even better can you translate another one of his poems?

Ulrich said...

@Marlene: Thx, but you're putting too much on my plate:-)

There are several other Hoffmannsthal poems I like, but none comes ven close to Vorfrühling. One has to remember about Hoffmannthal the poet that he started to publish poems--in the best magazines, no less--when he was still a teenager and stopped writing poetry in his mid-twenties--he wrote Vorfrühling when he was 18! He was, in other words, precocious, and this precocity does emerge sometimes in his poems, but not to the degree that it underlies the "lyrical dramas" he wrote at the same time, which tend to depict youths of a rather unsufferable kind: We are so beautiful, and we have seen it all, and we are so weary of this world. Or, as he describes them in his "Prologue to Schnitzler's Book Anatol":

frühgereift und zart und traurig (precocious and tender and sad)

I like the prologue nevertheless b/c it succeeds again in evoking moods through images. But I don't have the time right now to attempt a translation (I have given up looking to the web to find good ones). I will add, instead, a shorter poem, Reiselied (Travel Song) to the page that contains Vorfrühling as soon as I find the time. This one evokes, in strong images, the exuberance of youth, the sense that nothing can hurt us and that the world is beautiful, there to be discovered (I'm clearly influenced here by my recent experience in Polynesia, certainly not by my youth!)