Tag Archives: J W von Goethe

… ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. My English translation …

Last month I shared my translation of one of R M Rilke’s Sonnets. Following on, I dug up the poem ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by Rilke, thinking that after our dark moon phase, we could do well with connecting to the Carmen spirit so powerfully expressed in the flamenco dance. When translating poems from German I mainly disregard form & rhyme, instead I try and lift the feeling and essence I experience while reading.

The wonderful image is from a 2014 photo exhibition I saw in Amsterdam. So sorry, I don’t have the photographer’s name.

SPANISH DANCER

As a match, struck by the hand, white,

before turning to flame, breaks out

into flickering tongues, so within

the circle of close onlookers begins,

quickening, bright and hot, her spiral

dance to flicker and catch.

And suddenly it is flame, fully flame.

With one glance she ignites her hair

and in an instant swirls with daring skill

her entire dress into this ardent blaze

from which, like startled serpents, her

naked arms dart alive, rattling.

And then: as if the fire might relent, 

she gathers it all in and casts it off,

imperious, with a gesture of contempt,

and sees: there, raging on the ground

it lies flaring on and will not submit.

But victorious, assured, with a sweet,

hailing smile she raises her face

and stamps the blaze, with small, firm feet.

Spanische Tanzerin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Neue Gedichte, 1907

Translation: Ashen Venema

Spanische Tänzerin

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzündholz, weiß,
eh es zur Flamme kommt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiß
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plötzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem: Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als würde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmütiger Gebärde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht -.
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem süßen
grüßenden Lächeln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
Und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Füßen.

Aus: Neue Gedichte (1907)

Also, seven years ago I shared here my English translation of Goethe’s Zauberlehring, an ever relevant theme, now more so than ever. https://courseofmirrors.com/2014/10/09/the-sorcerers-apprentice/

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… the sorcerers apprentice …

Goethe in Roman Campagna (1786) by J H W Tischbein

Goethe in Roman Campagna (1786) by J H W Tischbein

Science arose from poetry … when times change the two can meet again on a higher level as friends …   J W von Goethe

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

It’s my day – since for once

The old one has gone

So now the spirits shall live

And do exactly as I say

I took note of the words

The custom – the spells

So with strong resolve

I’ll work miracles as well.

Rise up and surge

Across the gap

To the end that

Water may flow

And in rich effusion

Fill the tub for my bath

Come old broom,

Take those tattered rags

Slave you’ve been for aeons

Now let my will be your task!

On two legs stand

With a head atop

Get on with it – hurry

With the water pot!

Rise up and surge

Across the gap

To the end that

Water may flow

And in rich effusion

Fill the tub for my bath

Look – he’s running to the shore

Indeed has reached the river

And with lightning speed

Returns to pour once more

A second time already!

How the pool is brimming!

How each new pail

With water fills!

Stand still!

You’ve done your lot

Richly measured

Were your favours!

Stop! Stop! Oh woe!

The word – I forgot

Oh – the word that in the end

Will make him what he’s been!

There he runs and nimbly drags!

Would you be the broom of old!

More floods he rapidly relays

In quick succession

A hundred rivers

Rush at me

No! I can’t allow

This any longer

I’ll seize him!

This is malice!

I’m growing fearful now

What mien! What scowl!

Oh you hellish brainchild

Shall the whole house drown?

Over every sill I see

Floods of water surging

What a hideous broom!

That will not listen!

Rod that you’ve been

Stand but still again!

So you won’t quit?

I’ll catch and grab you

And with a sharp axe

I’ll swiftly split

The parched wood

Neatly down the middle!

Look – dragging he returns!

I’ll throw myself at you – sprite

Promptly you’re down

Crushing sinks the smooth blade

Bravely aimed indeed!

Look – in two he’s broken!

Now I can hope

My breath is freed!

Oh woe! Oh woe!

Both parts

Stand up in haste

As slaves

Complete and ready!

Help me – oh mighty powers!

And they’re racing on! Awash

Are hall and staircase

What an abysmal span of water

All the wise – hear my plight!

Oh – the old one comes – at last!

Great is the need!

The spirits I have called upon

I cannot now release.

‘Into the corner

With you Brooms!

Be no more!

Since as spirits

For their purpose

Only the wise call you forth.’

*    *    *

‘Der Zauberlehrling’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.                                                                                                      Translation: Ashen Venema, November 2006

*    *    *

I grew up with Goethe’s work and it still inspires. Occasionally I attempt free translations of German poems. I work on them forever, never satisfied. Those who know other translations of ‘Der Zauberlehrling’ may enjoy the subtleties. The poem is timeless. There are two kinds of ‘Will’ – the personal and the universal, to harmonise them is a lifelong task.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe

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