Archives for posts with tag: translation

Yesterday, I resolved to finally throw myself into translating as part my much greater project of improving my German.  The poem selected (which I mentioned in my post yesterday) was a sonnet by Bertolt Brecht: “Entdeckung an einer jungen Frau” (or roughly “Discovery on a young woman”).  Here’s why this project is stupid and will surely be a disaster:

1. My German is so rusty, but it was once really good.  This means that my brain often gives me cues that it “knows” a word or a phrase, but it doesn’t really know why.  So many words seem familiar, but are often merely close to the correct word I want to use.  Idioms/turns-of-phrase are the worst because they aren’t easy to find in a dictionary and often can only be explained in context.

2. This poem is a sonnet (a Petrarchan sonnet), which means it has requirements regarding not only a rhyme scheme, but also the meter and pace of the poem.

3.  I have read some Brecht, but not a whole lot.  So I need to do a little research into his style of writing to make sure I’m making the appropriate decisions in terms of word choice.

4.  I can’t find an English version of this anywhere, so there’s nothing to check my work against.  For instance, even after translating closely, I’m still not sure I know what the last line means.

Today I completed the first step of the process, which is doing a word-by-word translation to see what I’m up against. It looks confusing but is very helpful.  I welcome any suggestions as I muddle through this experiment:


Title: [Discovery/Detection/Spotting]  [on /at]  a young woman

1. Des Morgens nüchterner Abschied, eine Frau

The morning’s [sober/down-to-earth/rational/plain/unemotional/objective]  [farewell/parting/resignation (as in from an employer)/discharge/Goodbye/], a woman

2. Kühl zwischen Tür und Angel, kühl besehn

[cool/calm] [(between door and hinge) I recall learning that this has a figurative meaning  related to being in transition. ], [cool/calm] to look at/look at oneself

3. Da sah ich: eine Strähn in ihrem Haar war grau

[Here/then/so/there] saw I: a [strand/streak] in her hair was gray

4. Ich konnt mich nicht entschließen mehr zu gehn

I could me not [decide/ determine/ resolve] more to go

5. Stumm nahm ich ihre Brust, und als sie fragte

[Silently/dumbly/mutely] took I her breast, and as she  asked

6. Warum ich, Nachtgast, nach Verlauf der Nacht

Why I, Nightguest (will have to look up whether this has some meaning as an idiom), after the course of the night

7. Nicht gehen wolle, denn so war’s gedacht

Not leave want to, when [such war/so was] thought/expected

8. Sah ich sie unumwunden an und sagte

Saw I she frankly on and said

9. Ist’s nur noch eine Nacht, will ich noch bleiben

It is only still [one/a] nicht, want I still to stay

10. Doch nütze deine Zeit, das ist das Schlimme

[But/Afterall/Any way/All the same] [use/be useful] your time, that is the worst

11. Daß du so zwischen Tür und Angel stehst

That you so between door and hinge stand

12. Und laß uns die Gespräche rascher treiben

And let us the [conversation/discussions/dialogues]  [faster/rapider/swifter/hastier] [drive/rush/push/pursue/carry on/have/create/commit/to beat/make rise/to bring]

13. Denn wir vergaßen ganz, daß du vergehst

Then we forget [completely/wholly/entirely/really], that you [to pass/die/fade]

14. Und es verschlug Begierde mir die Stimme

And it [staggered/lost] (?) [Desire/longing/yearning/burning] me the [voice/register/vote]


From time-to-time, I take a look at the news from a German perspective.  Today’s topic, the cultural trend of “photo bombing” as captured by Der Spiegel.

I can haz photo bomb

Here’s what I learned about this crucial issue:

Photobombs gibt es in allen möglichen Varianten. Manche entstehen zufällig, weil im Augenblick des Auslösens ein Murmeltier vor die Linse springt, der betrunkene Onkel durch die Szene taumelt oder der Fotograf selbst Dinge im Bildhintergrund nicht erfasst hat. Andere entstehen absichtlich, weil es allzu oft jemanden gibt, der die angestrebte Idylle stören, sich selbst in den Vordergrund spielen möchte – oder schlicht glaubt, mit albernem Verhalten besonders erfolgreich Balzen zu können (ein besonders häufiger Irrtum).

In other words:  There are many variations to photo bombs.  Often they occur by accident, for instance when in the moment of the lens click, a small animal springs into view, or a drunk uncle stumbles into the background as a blur.  Others happen on purpose because there are jerks who want to ruin your pretty pictures with their silly games.  This is so irritating!

Ingeborg Bachmann (June 25, 1926 – October 17, 1973) was an Austrian poet who is also known for her novels and work with radio.  Bachmann was a member of the prominent post-war European  literary circle known as Gruppe 47 (if you can name a German post-war writer, chances are they were in this group).   Although not as well know to English-speaking audiences as some of that group’s other luminaries, Bachmann’s poetry is an important study of the roots of language and its value to contemporary society.  The question behind Bachmann’s poetry: how can something as “delicate” and as aesthetic as poetry ever address the inhumanity of war?

Here’s an example of her poetry, as translated by duchess (that’s me):

No Delicacies

Nothing pleases me anymore

Should I
outfit a metaphor
with an almond blossom?
crucify syntax
upon a stage effect?
Who will break one’s skull
over such superfluous things—

I have come to an understanding
with the words
that are there
(for the lowest class)


With the un-purged sob,
with despair
(and I still despair before despair)
over such destitution,
the sick situation, the cost of living—
I will manage.

I don’t neglect writing,
but myself.
The others know
to help themselves with words.
I am not my assistant.

Should I
take a thought captive,
lead it away to an illuminated sentence-cell?
Eye and ear fed
with mouthfuls of high-quality words?
explore the libido of a vowel?
ascertain the collector’s value of our consonants?

Must I
with a weathered head,
with a writing-cramp in this hand,
under the pressure of three-hundred nights
tear apart the paper,
wipe the floor with these annotated word-operas,
exterminate as such:  I you and he she it

we you all?

(Should do.  The others should.)

My share, it should go missing.