Monday, May 02, 2005

"Words"

I translated this poem by Ernst Stadler, an Alsatian expressionist, late last night. I have been thinking about translating his poetry (even though I have no poetic sense and my German sucks). This is not his best poem, but it is typical of how German poets wrote about the discovery of language.

They demonstrated words to us
that overflowed with naked beauty
and foreboding and trembling desire.
We took them, wary like uprooted flowers
that we suspended in our boyhood hideaways.
They promised storm and adventure,
ebullience and danger and fated oathes --
Day after day we stood and waited
for their adventure to carry us away.
But weeks turned barren and aimless,
and nothing came to take away our emptiness.
And slowly the bright words lost their color.
We learned to say them without our hearts beating.
And they were still colorful, tailoring themselves
from everyday life and all ways of living:
They lived somewhere, bewitched, on a tropical island
in a fairy-tale blue peace.
We knew:
they were unreachable, like the white clouds
that gathered above our boyhood sky,
But sometimes it happened
that we secretly and wistfully lamented
their music as it faded away.
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