Translation / Übersetzung
by / von Walter A. Aue



Hermann Hesse:

Im Nebel

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Einsam ist jeder Busch und Stein,
Kein Baum sieht den anderen,
Jeder ist allein.

Voll von Freunden war mir die Welt,
Als noch mein Leben licht war,
Nun, da der Nebel fällt,
Ist keiner mehr sichtbar.

Wahrlich, keiner ist weise,
Der nicht das Dunkel kennt,
Das unentrinnbar und leise
Von allen ihn trennt.

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Leben ist einsam sein.
Kein Mensch kennt den anderen,
Jeder ist allein.




This is Hermann Hesse himself, reading his perhaps most beautiful poem in a YouTube video by wordlover:


Some Hesse pictures:


The poem as read by Otto Sander:



WAS ÜBERBLEIBT VOM ÜBERBLOG


Wie gut ist Ihr Englisch? Die rechte Seite, unübersetzt geblieben, erzählt Interessantes nicht nur über Hermann Hesse, sondern auch und vor allem über Übersetzung.

Denn, denken Sie einmal nach, gefällt Ihnen manch' fremdsprachiges Werk, weil es so gut geschrieben ist oder weil es so gut übersetzt ist? (Beides zugleich ist natürlich auch erlaubt.)

Deutschland war mit guten Übersetzern gesegnet. Ist das der Grund warum Shakespeare und "Laotse" in Deutschland zu so großer Beliebtheit gelangten? Wäre das auch mit schlechteren Übersetzern passiert?

Und, noch schlimmer: Lesen Sie den "wirklichen" Shakespeare, den "wirklichen" Lao-Tsu — oder das, was Ihnen ein begabter Übersetzer als solchen anbietet, ganz ehrlich zwar, aber notwendigerweise doch durch dessen Gehirn filtriert.

[Und dabei löst sich auch immer ein bißchen vom Übersetzergehirn auf und gehts durch's Filter. Und meist bleibt auch etwas vom tiefen Grunde des Gedichtes, von seinem Bodensatz sozusagen, im Filter hängen. Nichts für ungut, entschuldigen Sie vielmals, aber die Chemie ist nun einmal mein Hauptberuf.]

Sie meinen ja den Hesse zu verstehen, nicht wahr? Nun, dann sehen Sie sich doch meine beiden Übersetzungen einmal vergleichend an. Die erste ist schon relativ alt, die zweite kam durch einen Gedankenaustausch mit Martin Wissers sehr interessantem und weitreichenden Blog von vor ein paar Tagen zustande.

Was halten Sie denn von dem, was hier ein hinterhältiger Austrokanadier — naja, Wiener halt — den Angelsachsen als ein echt deutsches Gedicht gleich zweimal und in zwei verschiedenen Verpackungen zu verkaufen versucht? Welches, wenn überhaupt, ist denn der echte Hesse?

Vorsicht, Vorsicht: Was Sie sich da jetzt denken, sagt mehr über Sie selbst aus als über Hesse (oder mich)! So wie meine Übersetzungen viel mehr über mich als über die übersetzten Dichter aussagen. Weil's — Pardon, daß ich's erwähne — schon einmal so ist...



Hermann Hesse:

In the Mists

Wondrous to wander through mists!
Parted are bush and stone:
None to the other exists,
Each stands alone.

Many my friends came calling
then, when I lived in the light;
Now that the fogs are falling,
None is in sight.

Truly, only the sages
Fathom the darkness to fall,
Which, as silent as cages,
Separates all.

Strange to walk in the mists!
Life has to solitude grown.
None for the other exists:
Each is alone.



Recently, Martin Wisser was so kind to feature this translation in one of his thought-provoking and far-ranging blogs. But such an honour draws me inexorably into the cursed maelstrom of re-consideration.

Actually, another German reader of this translation had complained about it much earlier, pointing out that I had translated identical lines (i.e. the famous and crucial "Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!") quite differently in the first and last stanzas. And of that there was no denying, was there?

But I tried to point out to him - whether this convinced him or not I do not know, he never answered - that I had done so deliberately. In part, because this wondrously resonating German line, "Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!", for whose sake I translated the poem in the first place, vibrates in so many overtones that I had become spell-bound by its siren call.

Yes, I had been seduced by the rich texture of the score, hoping that the English reader would kindly and patiently set out to recombine the different chords, i.e. my different renderings, wherever or however or whenever his/her brain processes such variegated poetic emotions. For such was music to my ears - and the stuff translator crashes are made of!

Now, just to get off the hopelessly romantic and pander to the freaky literal, I also pointed out that this poem, following a long and glorious tradition, starts out by describing nature and ends up by describing human (most often the author's own) emotions. Thus, "Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!" describes first natural fog enveloping bush and stone, then equates it with mental fog enveloping the poet. In German, that works beautifully with the very same words. In English, however... Well, that's why I doubled back to cover my tracks...

But let's take one more step backward - or rather forward - to Martin Wisser, whose original comments are in German (but who kindly provides a translation into English, in case your German should be a bit rusty). His point was that the second stanza of Hesse's poem must be pronounced very carefully if it is not to become somewhat embarrassing. And that the whole poem seems a bit "immature" (i.e., overemphasizing sentimental self-pity).

And that - here it comes! - my translation gave it a bit more "maturity". Now that was interesting. Me and mature? Martin Wisser must have been kidding!

So let's get one thing straight right away: My translation didn't - couldn't! - do justice to a very beautiful poem, one that many people dearly and justifiably love. Hence I am not sure whether my "maturity" was all that desirable. Whether it wasn't, indeed, somewhat counterproductive. Besides, the contrast of "immaturity" vs. "maturity" reminded me, and disturbingly so, of the contrast of William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" vs. his "Songs of Experience". (In which of these two worlds would you rather live? Not that you would have a choice, of course!) But remember what the Good Book says: "If you do not become like the children..."

Still, Martin Wisser had a point. A very good point. Hesse suffered severe bouts of clinical depression and much of his writing shows it, for instance his "Unterm Rad".And this poem does show self-pity as well — as the translation above clearly conveys.

But it is also true that Hesse was able to analyze psychological states and convert them to morality plays and coming-of-age plots; not to mention that he was drawn to Buddhist philosophy, as his "Siddharta" or his Nobel prize winning "Das Glasperlenspiel" attest to.

But, mature or not, I had still translated mainly along romantic, emotional lines. But what if, despite his suffering, Hesse was not complaining but comparing; what if he wanted to convince us not of his anguish but of his analysis? What if he tried to play cool with his own fate?

The friends that vanished are a case in point. Were they really unfaithful to him? Did they stop to contact him because he was in trouble; or were they around but he could not see them anymore because his mental mists restricted his vision?

I thought the second scenario deserved a hearing. Not for the annals of literary critique, mind you, that's not my prerogative. But for my readers. For them — and for the challenge to myself — I attempted to transpose this cry of a troubled mind from the key of innocence to the key of experience. So, for my second try at Hesse's famous poem, please lower your sights a bit, ahem, I mean, please scroll down...


...


Hermann Hesse:

Im Nebel

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Einsam ist jeder Busch und Stein,
Kein Baum sieht den anderen,
Jeder ist allein.

Voll von Freunden war mir die Welt,
Als noch mein Leben licht war,
Nun, da der Nebel fällt,
Ist keiner mehr sichtbar.

Wahrlich, keiner ist weise,
Der nicht das Dunkel kennt,
Das unentrinnbar und leise
Von allen ihn trennt.

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Leben ist einsam sein.
Kein Mensch kennt den anderen,
Jeder ist allein.



SIE können ja Deutsch, also kann die linke Seite auch (fast) leer bleiben. Trotzdem: Ich würde mich sehr freuen, wenn die zwei verschiedenen Übersetzungen Ihr Verständnis dieses Gedichtes bereicherten. Oder zumindestens zum Anerkennen der Allgewalt des Übersetzers über Anderssprachige führten.

Sie bezweifeln die Allgewalt? Naja, es gibt schon einen Weg, diese Allgewalt zu brechen. Machen Sie sich doch alle Fremdsprachen, in denen Gedichte geschrieben wurden, zu eigen. Denn sonst, wie Hesse sagt, wandern Sie im Nebel. Und sind allein. Und können keinem der Dichter je wirklich begegnen.

Aber daran sind Sie ja schon gewöhnt. Denn sonst hätten Sie sich doch nicht bis hierher durchgeschlagen. Die größte Weisheit, meinte Sokrates, ist zu wissen, daß wir nichts wissen; ist erkennen zu können, daß wir nichts erkennen können in unseren vernebelten Gehirnen.

Doch Erkennen beiseite: Den Nebel erfühlen wir ja alle, auch wenn wir ihn nicht erfassen können. Seltsam, diese Gefühl. Aber das ist doch auch was Schönes, oder nicht?




Später (September 2009)

Liebe Leser, ich muß Sie um Entschuldigung bitten: In das Hesse Gedicht hatten sich mit auf dem Wege der Faulen - als "Copy-Pasten" im Neudeutschen bekannt - zwei Fehler eingeschlichen. "Licht" ist im Original "licht" and das "Dunkle" ist ein "Dunkel". Ich hab's aber schon ausgebessert! (Bessert man nicht immer eher aus statt sich selbst zu bessern?)

Ich darf Herrn Dipl.-Math. Wolfgang Gleiser herzlichst dafür danken, daß er meine Fehler gefunden und sich die Mühe gemacht hat, mich dies auch wissen zu lassen! ("Gehet hin und tuet desgleichen", möchte ich am liebsten meiner Lesergemeinde zurufen!)



Hermann Hesse:

In the Mists

Strange it is, walking through mists!
Lonely are bush and stone:
none to the other exists,
each stands alone.

Many my friends I kept calling
when there was light in me;
now, that my fogs are falling,
none can I see.

Truly, only the sages
fathom a darkness to fall,
that, as silent as cages,
separates all.

Strange it is, walking through mists!
Life has to solitude grown:
None to the other exists:
Each stands alone.



So there you have it. Cool. Perhaps, like a musical theme, a poetic one needs variations, too, to give its all? I am sure there could be many more versions: Perhaps you would like to make this poem your very own by translating it, instead of entrusting it to an old fogey like me?

You first want to know which of my versions is "the correct one"? Oh brother! So you want to know which one of my coat tails to ride on? Well, you see, a translator must be able to exist in different epochs. That is part of his job description.

Poetry, most of it anyway, has a narrative. Just like history. Much of History is His-story. (Nowadays it's an Her and-His story, of course.) But stories, stories they all are. They have to. And while certain things in history rarely change - such as the dates of battles or the names of kings - the way we read and feel epochs changes with the epochs themselves, i.e. with us. Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis, says the poet, 'the times change and we change with them'. And the words of poems, once written, are similarly pretty firm, but the way you read them and feel them changes with yourself and your time... Compris?

But what if you consider yourself an American and a realist, in history and poetry? Ok, then: How did the Americans read the American-Indian Wars a hundred years ago, and how do they read them now? Because, mind you, what was sayable then is not sayable now - and the other way around. Definitely. It defines American society. See what I mean?

[I could give you a few more examples, but they would become increasingly gruesome and I am much too fond of the good American people to do a thing like that. Besides, Americans are not exclusive in their behavior: I could list other countries that are far worse. I just wanted to make a point about poetry. Or history. Or, really, the malleability of the human brain and the resulting malaise of the human mind.]

So, sorry, you will have to learn German for the sake of wandering through Hesse's fogs. But not only that. You will then have to forget all that the term "German" means to you. I mean, really means. Mean, right? And then, for my part, I shall have to forget Hesse's time and Hesse's personality, not to mention my own. Finally both of us will have to make a stand on Hesse's words (as they now stand). But then, Heureka!, dear Reader, then and only then might we be able to have a productive conversation. One in which we could disprove Hesse's contention that "Each is alone". And what do you figure are the chances for that?




Later (September 2009)

Dear Reader, I must confess to correcting two "copy-paste"-imported typos in Hesse's poem: In the original post, his "licht" was incorrectly cited as "Licht", and his "Dunkel" as "Dunkle". Sorry about that — it was entirely my fault for not checking!

Herr Dipl.-Math. Wolfgang Gleiser fortunately saw the error of my ways and kindly took the time to let me know. I am sending him a big Dankeschön! (Go and do likewise says the Good Book to my cherished readers!)

As I commented earlier on, additions to my webpages usually cause collateral damage, i.e. they induce further comments, if not changes to the translations — and not always for the better, I must admit. But that's the way my cookie crumbles.

What comments? Well, the question came up - it always comes up, doesn't it? - which version I consider the authentic one. Of course, the answer to that is easy: Both!

How that could be when there is only one German version? Well, let me spell it out for you. Read them both, carefully. Then choose the one that's right for you.

Not what you meant? You wanted the "original" Hesse? Then learn German! You wanted the English that is closest to the original Hesse? Well, then you'll have to tell me first what Hesse had in mind at the time he wrote the poem!

Yes, of course you don't know — but neither do I! And Hesse himself might well have answered "Both!", just as I did.

Why? Was he of a split mind? Well, that too. But that wasn't the reason. The reason is much simpler than that — and it applies as well to any great piece of art. Or, for that matter, any great myth.

A great poem is greater than the sum of its words, just as a genuine myth is greater than the sum of its narrative. Poems and myths, and great pieces of art in general, are many-splendored things: Different people experience them differently, they read and see and hear different contents.

And not only that. The same person will experience them differently at different stages of his life and differently even in different environments or situations.

The great poem contains all of these worlds of different content and mood that you read into it. It is of the metaphor, not of the definition. It comes from the dark cavern of the soul, not the smooth white walls of a court of assessment.

That is why one never tires of a great piece of art and why one keeps discovering new meanings in it as time passes and minds change: Art, as they say, is eternal. And this is the way it keeps being eternal.

In fact, you could use this ever-changing appearance as the true yardstick of whether a piece of poetry, or visual art, or music is "true" art. Does it walk with you, ever changing, ever offering new insights, new delights? If you find such a piece, then you will know that it is, indeed, art. And then, like your own true love, it will become your companion for life.




You wonder how I could have made such a grievous error as not checking a poem for its correct wording? Well, I just did. But, listen, then I explained. And then I apologized. And then I added some comments that, I hope, even Hesse from his heavenly abode could welcome with a smile. Because he, more than anybody, would understand.

You see — just to let my light shine a bit through the barrel — I don't need that crutch of infallibility any more. Infallibility is an infantile concept, one that you use only when you still have difficulty walking by yourself.

[Although I must admit, after forty-odd years of teaching chemistry, that here is nothing more difficult or treacherous than to teach first-year students that their beloved teacher (or, for that matter, their expensive textbook) can, and occasionally will, be in error. But that needs to be taught, difficult or not. Even if it has to be by example of my very own suffering...]

So that's all for today, Students! Review Hesse in the light of what you have learned today. And please pick up your corrected pop-quizzes by the door as you leave...


...


"Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!"

(Head St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada;
photographed by the translator in June 2009,
straight from his sun- or, rather, fog-deck)



Further poems by Hermann Hesse
Weitere Gedichte von Hermann Hesse

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First posted: November 2003
Last updated: March 2010

N.B.: The frame around the poems
shows a lake on the "Lighthouse Route",
a few miles from our home.

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