Friday, February 4, 2011

Couldn’t Help Myself!

Here we go again. Once more the stimulus is a Goethe quotation and a translation of it on Laudator Temporis Acti here. The excellent translation Michael Gilleland includes is by R. Dillon Boylan, a nineteenth century author and translator—but coming from that period the rendering has an archaic sound that the German does not have. German has changed much less than English. Formations like knowest, thou, thither, and thee are out of place in modern English while their German equivalents kennst, du, dahin, and dir are very much part of modern German today. Hence I was tempted to give my own translation. It is much closer to the actual literal meaning than Boylan’s except for the last line. There I use the word dwell whereas Goethe uses the still prospective word move.

Herewith the German and then my translation:

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.

D’you know the land where lemons bloom,
Gold-orange glows in dark leaves’ gloom,
Where soft wind from blue heaven blows,
Where myrtle silent, laurel high repose?
You know it well?
O there, O there
Would I, with you, beloved, dwell.


  1. As always, my dear poet, you get it perfectly. Goethe would approve, too, I am sure. And I know that place well...

  2. Wow, translating poetry is a real mystery to me. Creating it is hard enough... but translating poetry while retaining its... essence, now, that's amazing.