Goethe’s Wandrer’s Nachtlied II (Wayfarer’s Evensong II)

If you have been following our blog for a while, you know we have a thing for Goethe around here. One of my favorite Goethe poems is short and sweet – Wandrer’s Nachtlied II, which I translate as Wayfarer’s Evensong II. I call it an “evensong” to preserve the parallel title with Wandrer’s Nachlied I “Der Du von dem Himmel bist…” even though this one is not as prayer-like as I. Since I have never found a translation I really like, here is my stab at it:

Über allen Gipfeln
ist Ruh;
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Over every summit
is peace;
In every treetop
you now feel
nary a breeze;
The little birds silent in wildwood.
Just wait, soon
you’ll too be at ease.
(c) Jordan Fowles 2010

I love this poem because it is short and relaxing. I say it to myself when I need to relax.

In my translation, I have tried to preserve to the best I can some of the vocalic features in English. I love the playing with the “uh” sound that the German does, so I tried to preserve that in English with the “ee” sound.

I thought about better preserving the syllabic structure of the pentultimate line by having it read “just wait, soon YOU’LL TO” but decided it was more important to end with the “soon”.

What I COULD NOT DO no matter how I tried was to preserve the following:
*the interesting parallel between “Ruh” – a noun – and “du” – a pronoun.
*the ingenious pairing between “Walde” and “balde” – especially where “balde” ends the pentultimate line hanging abruptly and us just waiting for more. Just like this poem.

7 Responses to Goethe’s Wandrer’s Nachtlied II (Wayfarer’s Evensong II)

  1. john f. says:

    Cool — I agree, it’s a great poem. To mirror the “Ruh”/”du” rhyme you could try to somehow incorporate a play on “you” and “too” in the last two lines by ending the final line with “too”. Ending with “too” also carries a similar sense of calm that the German gives by endind with the soft tone of “auch”.

  2. john f. says:

    Something like this:

    “Just wait, you
    Soon will rest too.”

  3. Kristine says:

    The other thing that English can’t get is Ruh–ruhen. “Rest” has the noun/verb duality, but doesn’t really get at the quiet of the single syllable with no final consonant like “Ruh.”

  4. will says:

    Nice translation Jordan. Translating poetry is a notoriously rewarding and impossible exercise. I like how you let the “ee” blow through your translation like a calming breeze. I also like and agree with your enjambed “soon” to mirror Goethe’s enjambed “balde.”

  5. carolyn says:

    For all of us German nerds…have you seen the German version of the Standard Works available for all the various phone platforms? Comes with the English also so you can jump back and forth if you are reading the German in a Sunday school class and are asked to read. Love it!

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