Goethe’s Poems translated by Paul Dyrsen
Although a quick Google search may suggest otherwise, this book is available on the Internet at no cost in free file formats. It includes a wonderful translation of Goethe’s famous “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, here titled “The Wizard’s Apprentice”. You can read it and download it at the Internet Archive. Below I have reproduced “The Wizard’s Apprentice” with typesetting close to original.
“The Wizard’s Apprentice”
Come, old broom! For work get ready,
On two legs stand gravely,
Like a whirlwind he is going
For the magic charm undoing
You, hell’s miscreate abortion,
There he comes again with water! —
Both are running, both are plodding
A review from The North American Review, Volume 126 (1878)
8.—Goethe’s Poems. Translated in the Original Metres by Paul Dyksen. New York : F. W. Christem. 1878. 12mo, pp. xx.–378.
Of the twoscore volumes which make up, in the edition of 1840, the tale of Goethe’s works, Mr. Dyrsen has translated, in the book that lies before us, the whole of the first, except a few pages, of the “Prophecies of Bakis,” and also the “Rhymed Sayings” from the third volume. He has thus given us more of Goethe than what was given us, a few years ago, by the translators with whom he must stand comparison — Messrs. Aytoun and Martin, whose well-known versions included, as their chief contents, the “Poems in Antique Form,” the “Ballads and Legends,” and the “Songs and Lyrics.” Mr. Dyrsen translates, besides these, the remarkable “Roman Elegies” and the “Venetian Epigrams,” besides a number of pieces that the earlier translators passed over; and he has attempted, and with fair success, what they thought hopeless, the “absolute prosodical reproduction” of the originals. The “Roman Elegies,” they said in their preface, “the translators do not believe can be rendered, by any amount of labor and skill, into corresponding English measures with any assurance of success.” But Mr. Dyrsen has handled them, if unequally (which it would take more space than is at our command to show), yet fluently and musically sometimes, as witness these lines :“Then of a sudden she drew a Roman five; and before it,
Quickly, a vertical dash; then, being sure I had seen
All I should, ran line into circle destroying the letters:
But an indelible four burned and illumined my eye.” — (p. 243.)
On the other hand, he offers us too many hexameters, like the first of the following :“In the autumnal chill the fire starts up on the hearth and
Crackles, illumines, and shoots up from the copse and the sticks.”
But the translation in the main keeps closely to the original in sense as well as in form; it is more literal, if less graceful, than Messrs. Aytoun and Martin’s; and it is much more daring in faithfulness to situations and to phrases where the earlier translators were timid; as, notably, in passages of “The Bride of Corinth.”
Mr. Dyrsen’s brief preliminary essay on the translating of Goethe is interesting, but we turn, after all, to the actual performance, of which a few lines more will fairly show the spirit as contrasted with that of the rival translations, and help us to compare the accuracy of the two, Goethe addresses the Alps at Uri in a passage commencing :“War doch gestem dein Haupt nooh so braun, wie die Locke der Lieben,
Deren holdes Gebild still aus der Feme mir winkt!”
Mr. Dyrsen renders this as follows :“Yesterday your summit appeared deep-brown: and my distant
Darling I thought I beheld, looking at me from afar:
Prematurely I see your brown locks changed into white locks,
Changed in a day by the night’s snow and tempestuous storm.”
Mr. Aytoun translates the same passage thus :“Yesterday thy head was brown, as are the flowing locks of love;
In the bright blue sky I watched thee, towering giant-like above;
Now thy summit, bright and hoary, glitters all with silver snow,
Which the stormy night hath shaken from its robes upon thy brow.”
Mr. Dyrsen’s translation, as will be seen, has vigor and a fresh feeling about it; and though it is unequal, and has sadly prosaic spots in it, is done in a faithful and intelligent spirit, and is a real contribution to our knowledge of Goethe.
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