Verse Translations From Modern German Poetry -- By: James Lindsay
BSac 59:233 (Jan 1902) p. 162
Verse Translations From Modern German Poetry
It was no less a man than the late Mr. Gladstone who wrote, that “the whole of German literature may be said to lie between the years embraced by the life of Goethe.” A strange judgment! How much it overlooks, including Heine and the noble host of modern lyrical poets of Germany! And poetry has no purer form of being, than when it is lyrical. Head and chief of that brilliant host stands Heinrich Heine. For brevity, wit, pathos, subjectivity, brilliance, and nameless charm, Heine is absolutely without a peer. Latest in time of the Romantic poets of Germany, he is first in rank. The Romantic School was, he tells us, “nothing else than the re-awakening of the poetry of the Middle Ages, as it had been manifested in song, in painting and sculpture, in art and life. But this poetry sprang directly from Christianity; it was a passion-flower that had its roots in the blood of Christ.” Intensely self-conscious was Heine—self-exhibitive to the last degree— amid his poignant griefs. But yet he was not without love that linked him to humanity, even when he was most cynical and scornful. This love he enshrined in his poetry in ways so lyrically pure as to excel the works of Byronic art.
“So ever on I went for love, and ever,
And still for love, yet Love approached me never.”
Heine’s diction is simplicity itself; his expression precision itself; his melody perfection itself; he has a fondness for strong antitheses and sharp transitions. The weird
BSac 59:233 (Jan 1902) p. 163
and the melancholic are often found in him, and, as might be expected, a vein of German idealism is sometimes present. But in Heine there is passion, too, at times without any proper lyrical place. The following are characteristic of Heine. The tiny poem, “Like a Flower Thou Art,” may be thus rendered: —
“Ah, like a flower to me thou art— So sweet and fair and pure in grace; I gaze on thee, and in my heart A sadness strange creeps on apace.
“For ‘tis to me as though mine hands Were on thy head in blessing laid, I pray that of God’s love the bands May keep thee pure and fair and staid.”
The same simplicity and subjectivity, and the like individuality, mark Heine’s little poem, “Thou Lovely Fisher Maid”:—
“Thou lovely fisher maid,
Thy craft draw here to land;
Come, sit as in a glade,
And talk we, hand in hand.
“Lay on my heart thine head,
And fear thee here no more;
Thy trust as free from dread
As when thee billows bore!
“My heart is like the sea,
Hath storm and ebb and flood...
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