Home | Search | About | Fidelio | Economy | Strategy | Justice | Conferences | Join
| Calendar | Music | Books | Concerts | Links | Education | Health
What's New | LaRouche | Spanish Pages | PoetryMaps
Dialogue of Cultures

Translations of Poetry and Music

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Poems by Goethe (below):
America, You've Got it Better (Amerika, Du hast es besser)

Becalmed at Sea (Meerestille) tr. by Daniel Platt

Calm Sea (Meerestille) tr. by Karel Vereycken

Prosperous Voyage (Gluckliche Fahrt) tr. by Karel Vereycken

May Day (Mailied)

Article about Mailied

Other Poetry Translations

Education Page

May Day Celebration (MAILIED)
by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Translation by John Sigerson

How grandly nature
Shines upon me!
How glistens the sun!
How laughs the mead!

From countless branches
The blossoms thrust,
A thousand voices
From underbrush,

And joy ecstatic
Fills everyone.
O sun! O earth!
O risk! O fun!

O love, oh, lovely,
So golden fair
Like morning cloudlets
On that hill there!

You prosper grandly
The dew-fresh fields
With breath of flowers;
The whole Earth yields!

O maiden, maiden,
How I love thee!
Your eye's a-sparkle--
How you love me!

Just as the lark loves
Singing and sky,
And morning-blooms thrive
On heav'n-mists high--

So do I love you,
With throbbing heart,
Who give me the youth,
Joy, courage, art

To fashion new songs,
New dances free.
Be ever happy,
As you love me!

Becalmed at Sea
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Translation by Daniel Platt

Deepest silence rules the waters,
Not a motion stirs the sea,
And the sailor views the glassy
Surface so uneasily.
Not a breeze from any quarter,
Dreadful silence, still as death.
In the vast, appalling distance
Not a ripple shows itself.

America, You've Got it Better
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Translation by Daniel Platt

America, you've got it better
Than our old continent. Exult!
You have no decaying castles
And no basalt.
Your heart is not troubled,
In lively pursuits,
By useless old remembrance
And empty disputes

So use the present day with luck!
And when your child a poem writes,
Protect him, with his skill and pluck,
From tales of bandits, ghosts and knights.

Commentary on Goethe's MAILIED

In 1771, the brilliant, 22-year-old poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe composed the poem Maifest (``May Day Celebration''), which later came to be popularly known as Mailied or Maigesang (``May Song''), because of the title which Ludwig van Beethoven assigned to his musical composition of the poem.

Up to the final two lines, the poem presents a steamy picture of the exuberant youth, bursting with creative ideas, but still so immature as to believe that he requires doses of below-the-belt stimulation in order to continue to create. The implications of the ceremonial dance around the Maypole are, of course, obvious, as are the springtime blossoms, thrusting from their buds. The sentiment is further reinforced by the numerous exclamations of ``O ...'' and ``How ...'' (In the German original, the word for ``how'' is the much more explosive wie, pronounced ``vee.'')

Beyond these, shall we say, hormonal features, the lines leading up to the final couplet show the selfishness of one who is, in Shakespeare's words ``in love with love.'' Unlike with mature love, he loves the maiden not for her own creatire potential, but merely for how she is useful as a goad to his own creativity.

The final couplet, however, lifts poem, reader, and audience out of this moist banality. The poet exhorts the maiden to be eternally happy, in the way she loves him. The only way that the maiden could be eternally happy in this way, is to love that in the poet which is eternal, i.e., his creative works. So, one is suddenly shifted out of immaturity, and into the adult realm of self-conscious love, in which the poet sees his immortality reflected through the eyes of the beloved.

Our English translation somewhat dulls the full impact of these final two lines, which in the German are: Sei ewig glücklich,|/ Wie du mich liebst. Sei (pronounced like ``zigh'' to rhyme with ``high''), is the imperative tense of the the German verb for ``to be,'' and has a similar, but even greater verbal impact than the earlier repetitions of the German exclamation wie. Then, wie comes at the beginning of the next, and final, line--but no longer as a mere exclamation, but as a means of clinching the paradox between the final couplet and all that precedes it.

The metaphor of the poem--the solution to the paradox--transforms all that has gone before. Again, the original German is more precise in its means to attain that end: The final line in the fifth strophe, ``How you love me,'' is Wie liebst du mich, while the poem's concluding line, ``As you love me,'' is accomplished by simply rearranging the word order, into Wie du mich liebst--something which no English translation could ever fully capture.--John Sigerson

(For additional discussion of ``Mailied,'' see, ``Some Simple Examples of Poetic Metaphor,'' by Kenneth Kronberg, in ``Symposium: The Creative Principle in Art and Science,'' Fidelio, Vol. III, No. 4.)

Thank you for supporting the Schiller Institute.
Your membership and contributions enable us to publish FIDELIO Magazine, and to sponsor concerts, conferences, and other activities which represent critical interventions into the policy making and cultural life of the nation and the world.

Contributions and memberships are not tax-deductible.


The Schiller Institute
PO BOX 20244 Washington, DC 20041-0244

Home | Search | About | Fidelio | Economy | Strategy | Justice | Conferences | Join
| Calendar | Music | Books | Concerts | Links | Education | Health
What's New | LaRouche | Spanish Pages | PoetryMaps
Dialogue of Cultures

Copyright Schiller Institute, Inc. 2001. All Rights Reserved.