Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Im Herbst"

There are so many charming paintings in "Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century," an exhibition now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The work at the left, however, painted by Anton Dieffenbach (1831-1914) in 1856, reminded me immediately of a poem by Goethe. The poem is "Im Herbst" (In Autumn) and, as in Dieffenbach's painting of Window in Sunlight, describes grape leaves climbing up a trellis outside the window.

Fetter grüne, du Laub,
Das Rebengeländer,

Hier mein Fenster herauf.
Gedrängter quillet,
Zwillingsbeeren, und reifet
Schneller und glänzend voller.

Euch brütet der Mutter Sonne
Scheideblick, euch umsäuselt
Des holden Himmels
Fruchtende Fülle.
Euch kühlet des Monds
Freundlicher Zauberhauch,
Und euch betauen, ach,
Aus diesen Augen
Der ewig belebenden Liebe
Voll schwellende Tränen

("Autumn Feelings": Flourish greener, as ye clamber,/ Oh ye leaves, to seek my chamber,/ Up the trellis'd vine on high!/ May ye swell, twin berries tender,/ Juicier far, -- and with more splendour/ Ripen, and more speedily! O'er ye broods the sun at even/ As he sinks to rest, and heaven/ Softly breathes into your ear/ All its fertilizing fullness, While the moon's refreshing coolness/ Magic laden, hovers near; And, alas! ye're watered ever/ By a stream of tears that rill/ From mine eyes -- tears ceasing never,/ Tears of love that nought can still.)

Goethe wrote the poem in 1775, shortly before he left for Weimar. "Autumn Feelings" of the English refers to the title Goethe gave the poem in 1789, when he first published his collected writings, at which time he also did some revisions to the earlier texts. According to Metzler's Goethe-Lexikon (one of my favorite reference books), the poem is typical of Goethe's early lyric work, especially the "intimate relationship" it suggests between "I" and nature. The "cosmic powers" of the sun and the moon cause the grapes to grow, but also the tears of the poet, watering them with "the creative natural power [Naturkraft] of love." The last word of the poem -- Tränen (tears) -- adds an elegiac note. Though the title of Dieffenbach's painting is Window in Sunlight, a rather dark mood is suggested, which makes we wonder if Dieffenbach knew Goethe's poem.


Anonymous said...

One could write a dissertation on personification using the language in this poem alone. (And it could be turned into a best-seller!) Thanks for translating this remarkable poem.

mikerotheatre said...

Ingenious as the rhyming of the translation is, it completely misrepresents the German, whose power comes largely from linguistic usage that departs decisively from the norm and eschews "conventional" poetic terminology [which the translation, with 'o'er' and 'ye' etc. clearly does not]. To some extent, Goethe derives the freedom to do this kind of thing from Klopstock, who has it from the Bible, and also from Ossian; but quite a lot of the novelty is simply Goethe's own, and I am sad to see it so disguised for readers of English.