Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke: Das Karussell (The Carousel)


Rilke's "Carousel" (1906) is one of the most charming poems in the German language. It tries to capture, through its rhythm and imagery, the fleeting sense impressions a spinning merry-go-round produces—it has become a classic of impressionist poetry. I was reminded of it when I visited yesterday the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, which motivated me to try my hand at a line-by-line translation:

The Carousel—Original and Translation

This is not an exact literal translation. Rilke uses iambic pentameters consistently to render the movement of the carousel. Note especially how the poem picks up speed in the last stanza, and how the impressions get more blurry—this is masterfully done. Since inflected endings are rarer in English than they are in German, English words tend to be shorter than the corresponding German ones so that a literal translation often produces several stressed syllables in a row; that is, Rilke's iambic line gets lost. But I consider it important that English readers get a sense of the poem's rhythm and therefore added a little padding to recreate it (although I had to be content sometimes with fewer than five feet—adding more padding would have created distortions of its own by making the text wordier than the original).

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Gernegroß

Word of the Month: Index

Gern(e) is an adverb that has no exact equivalent in English. It can sometimes mean "gladly" or "readily", as in Ich helf dir gerne – "I'll gladly help you". At other times, it may have to be replaced by a form of to like followed by an infinitive, as in Ich trinke gerne Bier – "I like to drink beer". Note that this is very different from "I gladly drink beer" (when no wine is available)! Groß is an adjective meaning both "big" and "great". For example, "my big brother" becomes mein großer Bruder in German and "Frederick the Great" Friedrich der Große.

Combining the two words, we get a noun (!) indicating a person who has ambitions that his capabilities don't live up to, or a person who sees herself in a better light than others do. A "show-off" or "braggart" comes close, but these terms refer more to the way a person behaves, while being a Gernegroß is, first of all, a state of mind.