Monday, April 28, 2008

Zum Geburtstag Viel Gluck, Papi!

My dad is 75 today. Amazing. Partly amazing because I don't think of myself as someone old enough to have a parent who is 75, but there you go. One of my favorite stories/memories about my dad is that he melted his wedding ring in the chemistry lab. Looking at the weirdly shaped ring and hearing the story was always a treat for us. I also loved hearing about how the only time he really felt like punching someone was after my middle sister was born. My dad was asked if they were planning on giving me back (I'm adopted). He's a great dad, and a super-duper grandfather. His deep voice puts both of his grandchildren into a relaxed stupor.

That's partly how I chose the poem for today. Goethe's "Erlkönig" is a popular poem for school children to memorize in Germany. Or it was. I remember my father reciting this poem to us, and I think we had a recording of it as well. It was very eerie. Being my righteous self, I was always angry that the father seemed to ignore his son's pleas to save him from the Erlking. Now, being a parent, I see that the father just wants to calm his son and keep him safe (while quelling his own worries) while they ride to the doctor's abode. This translation is not nearly as beautiful and haunting as the German, but it tells the story well enough. The link to the poem (see "Erlkönig" above) has some interesting ideas as to the origins of the poem, and it also guides an interested reader to other stories and connected literature. The illustration is by J. H. Ramberg.

For the few locals that know German, I'll post in both German and English. (It's much more beautiful in German.) Happy Birthday, Papi!

Erlkönig Erlking
von J.W. Goethe Translation by Hyde Flippo

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? Who rides so late through the night and wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind; It's the father with his child;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm, He has the boy safe in his arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm. He holds him secure, he holds him warm.

«Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?» – “My son, what makes you hide your face in fear?” –
Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht? Father, don't you see the Erlking?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif? – The Erlking with crown and flowing robe? –
«Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.» – “My son, it's a wisp of fog.” –

«Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! “You dear child, come along with me!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir; Such lovely games I'll play with you;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand, Many colorful flowers are at the shore,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.» My mother has many a golden garment.”

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht, My father, my father, and do you not hear
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht? – What the Erlking promises me so softly? –
«Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind; “Be quiet, stay quiet, my child;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.» – In the dry leaves the wind is rustling.” –

«Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn? “Won't you come along with me, my fine boy?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön; My daughters shall attend to you so nicely.
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn, My daughters do their nightly dance,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.» And they'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep.”

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort My father, my father, and do you not see over there
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort? – Erlking's daughters in that dark place? –
«Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau: “My son, my son, I see it most definitely:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau.» It's the willow trees looking so grey.”

«Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt; “I love you; I'm charmed by your beautiful form;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.» And if you're not willing, then I'll use force.”
Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an! My father, my father, now he's grabbing hold of me!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan! – Erlking has done me harm! –

Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind, The father shudders, he rides swiftly,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind, He holds in (his) arms the moaning child.
Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not; He reaches the farmhouse with effort and urgency.
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot. In his arms the child was dead.

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