Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Das Glück ist eine leichte Dirne,
Und weilt nicht gern am selben Ort,
Sie Streicht das Haar dir von der Stirne
Und küßt dich rasch und flattert fort.

Frau Unglück hat im Gegenteile
Dich liebefest and Herz gedrückt;
Sie sagt, sie habe keine Eile,
Setzt sich zu dir ans Bett und strickt.

Happiness is a giddy girl
And always disinclined to stay;
She pats your head, gives you a whirl,
Kisses you quick, and flits away.

But Lady Sorrow now! Don't worry,
She's just the very opposite:
She holds you fast-- she's in no hurry--
She sits down by your bed to knit.

~Lamentationen (Lamentations from Romanzero, Book 2, Lamentations), Heinrich Heine

I'm currently reading Ernst Pawel's The Poet Dying about the great German poet Heinrich Heine's last years of life as an exile in Paris.  The poor man suffered from an agonizing illness which left him in a state of almost total paralysis and blindness and kept him confined to his "mattress tomb."  Amazingly, he remained prolific during this time, and produced really beautiful work.

And a note on translation-- after studying German at Middlebury College last summer, I'm mostly able to read the poem in its original form.  I find it interesting to see what words the translator uses, and how different in some ways the original is from the English.  I guess it's something I'd never thought about before and being able to read both versions gives me a new appreciation for the artform of translation.

Lastly, I like Heine's image of Lady Sorrow sitting by the bed to knit.  The poem paints a sad picture, but I think it also offers a glimpse of Heine's wit and humor which helped carry him along through his long illness.

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