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Heine`s Epitaph

by michwo 

Posted: 05 November 2017
Word Count: 85
Summary: An expatriate Rhinelander, the poet Heinrich a.k.a. Harry Heine died and was buried in Paris in 1856.

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Heine’s Epitaph
Where will this weary wanderer I wonder
Finally be laid to rest?
In southern climes a palm tree under?
Or will Rhine lindens suit him best?
Will I in a desert waste
Be buried by a foreign hand?
Or will I on the coast be placed
At the seaside sleep in sand?
It’s all one!  God, when I’m sicker,
Will wrap me in His heaven there as here
And stars like funerary candles flicker
Over me when night draws near.
HEINRICH HEINE (1797-1856)

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 21:23 on 07 November 2017  Report this post
Several new poems have appeared this week, Michael, but I should catch up soon. Meantime, perhaps you could give me the German title of Heine’s original, so that I can find it on the Heine website? I thought my school German might just about allow me to enjoy the two side by side.

michwo at 17:48 on 08 November 2017  Report this post
If you go to the Heinrich Heine page on Wikipedia, you'll  see another translation of this short poem that actually was used as an epitaph for him.  According to Wikipedia the poem is called after the first word in it: Wo? or Where?  The version I came across gave the title as Heines Grabinschrift.

James Graham at 20:36 on 10 November 2017  Report this post
Michael, thank you for the pointer to the German original. I surprised myself, finding that I could summon up enough of my school German to enjoy the poem in both languages. The translation in Wikipedia is awful – it scarcely makes sense and manages to rhyme only once. As a former teacher (not of German) I would put it down as the work of an average A-level student, who might have been able to improve it if a teacher had pointed out a few absurdities such as ‘A sea in the sand’. Needless to say, your translation is streets ahead.
In an amateurish way I will make a few brief comments on your version. Your first stanza is a little more wordy than the original, but it’s partly in order to find English rhymes, and partly that English tends to be more wordy than German anyway.* You lose the neat parallel of
Unter Palmen in dem Süden?
Unter Linden an dem Rhein?
Let me stress, however, that you lose nothing of Heine’s meaning – or indeed feeling. For me the whole English version is very true to the spirit of the original, which is a warm-hearted contemplation of death. ‘Immerhin!’ ‘It’s all one!’
In the second stanza, a minor change perhaps: ‘sea shore’ rather than ‘seaside’. ‘Seaside’ tends to conjure up Brighton on a bank holiday weekend! It would also be a tiny bit closer to ‘an der Küste eines Meeres’.
In the third stanza you had to come up with ‘when I’m sicker’, which isn’t in the original. I wonder if there might be an alternative? If not, your little addition isn’t seriously out of place, and it makes possible your very fine closing lines:
und als Totenlampen schweben
nachts die Sterne über mir.
And stars like funerary candles flicker
Over me when night draws near.
Ever since you began posting translations I’ve wanted to have a go at commenting on them as translations. But you’re the linguist; correct me if I’m wrong about any of the above. The other outcome of this particular piece is that I intend to get to know Heine’s work a bit better. Thank you for providing the incentive.

*More wordy than Latin too. There’s the famous text ‘Fiat lux: et lux erat’ – ‘Let there be light: and there was light’. Is German, like Latin, more economical than English?

michwo at 23:12 on 10 November 2017  Report this post
Thanks, James, as always.
Nietzsche had high praise for Heine's German apparently and I recently purchased his "Romanzero" in the hope of finding some pithy ballads to translate!  I've lighted on two with an English connection:  "König Richard" in which the absentee landlord king comes back to England from being held a prisoner on his way back from the Holy Land by Duke Leopold of Austria in Castlle Dürnstein and the then Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in Castle Trifels.  I don't think it's quite true historically that he came back to England as if he missed it particularly, but King John isn't quite a heroic figure in comparison.  The other poem is a long ballad-type poem about "Schlachtfeld bei Hastings" ["The Battlefield near Hastings"] and how two monks, Asgod and Ailric set out, with the help of Harold's former love, Edith Swanneck eventuallly, to find and give Christian burial to Harold's body under the auspices of the Abbot of Waltham Abbey.  I'm currently in the process of making a translation of it.

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