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Translated and read in English (288KB) by -

- Walter A. Aue

Wilhelm Müller:

Der Lindenbaum

Am Brunnen vor dem Tore
Da steht ein Lindenbaum:
Ich träumt in seinem Schatten
So manchen süßen Traum.

Ich schnitt in seine Rinde
So manches liebe Wort;
Es zog in Freud und Leide
Zu ihm mich immer fort.

Ich mußt auch heute wandern
Vorbei in tiefer Nacht,
Da hab ich noch im Dunkel
Die Augen zugemacht.

Und seine Zweige rauschten,
Als riefen sie mir zu:
Komm her zu mir, Geselle,
Hier findst du deine Ruh!

Die kalten Winde bliesen
Mir grad ins Angesicht,
Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe,
Ich wendete mich nicht.

Nun bin ich manche Stunde
Entfernt von jenem Ort,
Und immer hör ich´s rauschen:
Du fändest Ruhe dort!

Wilhelm Müller:

The Linden Tree

At wellside, past the ramparts,
there stands a linden tree.
While sleeping in its shadow,
sweet dreams it sent to me.

And in its bark I chiseled
my messages of love:
My pleasures and my sorrows
were welcomed from above.

Today I had to pass it,
well in the depth of night -
and still, in all the darkness,
my eyes closed to its sight.

Its branches bent and rustled,
as if they called to me:
Come here, come here, companion,
your haven I shall be!

The icy winds were blowing,
straight in my face they ground.
The hat tore off my forehead.
I did not turn around.

Away I walked for hours
whence stands the linden tree,
and still I hear it whisp'ring:
You'll find your peace with me!

The Linden Tree, with Franz Schubert's melody from Die Winterreise (Winter Journey), is one of the few examples where a great classical composer - two other ones that come to mind are Mozart and Brahms - wrote a song that, perhaps in slightly simplified form, becomes a folk song (Volkslied). There is no greater honor in the German tradition.

Schubert's song cycle Die Winterreise, on texts from the eponymous cycle of poems by Wilhelm Müller, is considered by some the most touching piece of music ever written. Even professional singers have a hard time suppressing the emotions that go with it - particularly in the last song of the cycle, Der Leiermann (The Organ-Grinder). For that, the lyrics of Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) deserve a great deal of the credit.

The two song cycles of Franz Schubert on texts of Wilhelm Müller (the other is Die schöne Müllerin, "The Beautiful Maid of the Mill") are the most perfect examples of unity, of seamless blending between word and music. Müller's (seemingly) simple rhymes proved far less restrictive in this regard than, say, Goethe's just-so-and-nothing-else lines.

My translation does not do justice to Müller's stanzas, and it falls far short of what I hear in my head (the Schubert Lied) when I read the poem. For this I am truly sorry. But how does one translate musical memory? Besides, the simpler and purer the verse, the harder its translation.

I should add that I really wish I could have called the Linden Tree "he", as in German. In fact, it may not be such a bad idea for the reader to replace the "it" in the translation with a "he", just to sample the change in mood. The Linden Tree is as true a person as any human; and one need not identify "him" with Death (as Thomas Mann has done) to make that point.

Incidentally, this website offers translations for about one percent of all the poems set to music by Schubert: this song, Der Lindenbaum, Der Wegweiser and Der Leiermann from Die Winterreise (# 5, 20 and 24 (last), respectively, from D.911, op.89) by (Johann Ludwig) Wilhelm Müller; Wandrers Nachtlied II (D.768, op.96-3) and Gretchen am Spinnrad (D.118, op. 2) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Der Wanderer (D.493, op.4-1) by Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck; An die Musik (D.547, op.88-4) by Franz (Adolf Friedrich) von Schober; and Du bist die Ruh (D.776) by Friedrich Rückert.

Later (October 2009)

I have just become aware of a variety of relevant links - some older, some recent - that are all found on the Literary Translations website of Prof. Chilcott, to whom those of us enamored with weird and wonderful poetry, let alone with Franz Schubert, owe a distinct debt of gratitude.

There are, for instance, Tim Chilcott's own annotated side-by-side and with-full-score two Müller-Schubert song cycles. There is Nigel Nettheim on accompanying Schubert's Der Lindenbaum and a variety of interesting material about the Winterreise on GOpera.


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For comparison, check the excellent
translation by Brian & Anna Cole.

For other poems that have made the grade as German "Folk Songs",
try Eichendorff's In einem kühlen Grunde, or Klesheim's Mailüfterl, or Raimund's Hobellied.

First posted: December 2003
Last updated: July 2010

N.B.: The frame around the poems
shows a sidewalk at Dalhousie University
(where Yours Truly used to teach chemistry).

Want to see the original photograph?

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