Translations

From the German and Russian

 

 

 

 

Sam Gershman

 

2001-03

*

Stuttgart/Berlin/Vienna/Chicago

 

 


Rainer Maria Rilke

 

1875-1926

 

 

Fall Evening

 

Wind from the moon,

Suddenly shaken trees,

And a fallen leaf.

Between the intervals

Of faint lanterns

Moves the distant black landscape

In the irresolute city.

 

All flags were raised higher.

 


Hugo von Hofmannsthal

 

1874-1929

 

 

Do You See the City?

 

Do you see the city as it rests there,

Quietly snuggling in the clothes of the night?

From the moon pours down upon it

A silversilk flood in magical splendor.

 

The mild night wind blows her breath here,

So ghostly, issuing a faint sound:

She cries in the dream, she breathes deep and hard,

She lisps, mysteriously, temptingly anxious.

 

The dark cry, it sleeps in my heart

With brilliance and fire, with painfully colorful magnificence:

Yet its reflection hovers flatteringly around you,

Subdued to a whisper, gliding through the night.


 

Paul Celan

 

1920-1970

 

 

Evenings, in Hamburg

 

Evenings, in

Hamburg, an

Unending shoe strap – on

Which

The ghosts chew –

Binds two bloody toes together

In an oath of companionship.

 

In the Path through the Crack in the Shadows…

 

In the path through the crack in the shadows

Your hand.

 

Out of the four-finger-furrow

I rummage through the

Petrified blessings.

 


Herman Hesse

 

1877-1962

 

Love Song (1892)

 

Betty, pretty waitress,

Do not laugh so mean!

You ought to be a demon less

And come and be my queen.

 

Ah, you don’t know how I regret it,

When with gestures and words,

You refuse to extend my credit

In front of the customers!

 

If today you don’t respond,

But act even stricter and still less sunny,

Know that you must carry on

Without your friend and without your money!

 


I Had Asked You Why

 

I had asked you why your eyes

Like to rest in mine,

Like a star refined

In a dark-flooded sky.

 

For a long time you had

Looked at me as one gazes at a child,

And then said with a smile:

I am good to you because you are so sad.

 

 

How the Days are…

 

How the days are filled with misery!

No fires to warm me have been left,

No sun to smile at me,

Everything is empty,

Everything is cold and merciless,

Even the lovely clear stars

Are as desolate as I,

Since I discovered that in the heart

Love can die.

 


I Love Women…

 

I love women who for a thousand years

Were beloved of poets and praised to all ears.

 

I love cities whose empty walled rings

Are entrusted to the ancient lineages of kings.

 

I love cities that will one day be bought

When those living today fill their graveyard plots.

 

I love women – slender, without peer,

Those unborn who rest in the lap of years.

 

They will some day with their pale starry gleam

Compare to the beauty of my dreams.

 

 

Please

 

When you give me your little hand

That conveys so much you never say,

Have I ever asked in any way

If you love me, if you can?

 

I don’t desire love from thee,

Only that I know you’re near

And that once in a while dear

You softly and silently give your hand to me.

 


Softly as the Gondolas…

 

Down the clear canals, shining in the morning light,

The gondolas glide in delicate flight,

As our love in perfect balance sways

Upon the blue sea of day,

As the hours flow through our hands

Easily and without end:

One that sparkles from the delight of laughter,

One that darkens in the dusk thereafter,

One that overflows with song,

One that bleeds in sweetened calm.

We fall silent and behold the horizon,

Its beautiful setting and rising,

Drops from the oar wiped off our hands,

Our fingers entwined in a sisterly band,

Rarely can just one kiss repeat

This hushed bestowal and receipt…

And so the hours through our hands

Flow easily past us without end.

 

 

One Discontented

 

Look, I understand your swearing;

But the world will remain as you see it there,

Your hatred will not change a hair.

Man is a spoiled brute,

But are you yourself good – are you such ripe fruit?

I would attempt it through love and caring.

 


New Love

 

Often I felt tired and in decline,

Now my full youth again blazes strong

And foams upward like younger, sweeter wine

And laughs and pursues and sings love songs.

 

In yearning I go about my daily chores

And greet every passing cloud in the blue

And in the evenings climb alone up the mountain towards

That distant house to look upon you.

 

How can you sleep when outside your window

The spring wind blows so heavy and calm
And my love songs below

And my trembling love asking for alms.

 


The Pilgrim

 

Always was I on my feet,

Always a pilgrim,

Little did I save to eat,

Fortune and pain together grew slim.

 

Unknown was the logic and aim

Of my travels,

A thousand times I fell down lame

And raised myself from the gravel.

 

Ah, it was the star of love

That I left to seek,

That hung in the heavens above,

A divine and distant streak.

 

As long as I kept that goal in sight,

I traveled with ease,

I lusted after great heights,

I was easy to please.

 

Now I hardly know the star,

It has reached too late an hour

It has since migrated far

Away, blown by with the morning showers.

 

The colorful world now bids farewell

That I loved with all my soul.

If I missed the point, then tell

Them the journey was nonetheless bold.

 


Love Song (1920)

 

I am the stag and you are the doe,

You the bird and I the tree,

You the sun and I the snow,

You are the day and I am the dream.

 

At night, out of my sleeping mouth

Flies a golden bird to you, true south.

Colorful are his wings, his voice strong,

He sings to you the song of love,

He sings to you my song.

 

 

 Portrait

 

Arrogant, sublime and mysterious,

Mouth full of scorn, forehead full of pride,

Glance scintillatingly serious –

And your heavy golden locks

Hanging at your side.

 

I’ve seen you happy and without a care,

I’ve seen you rise in the nighttime

From your humid bed with your tousled hair,

I’ve seen you a hundred times before, but this time

Arrogant, mysterious and sublime.

 


On a Chinese Singer

 

Down the quiet river in the evening we sailed,

Rosily glistened the acacia tree,

Rosily beamed the clouds. But you did I hardly see,

I saw only the plum blossoms in your hair.

 

You sat smiling in the fore of the dirty boat,

Holding the sound in your practiced hand,

You sang the song of the holy Fatherland,

While in your eyes youth shimmered afloat.

 

I stood at the mast and made a silent demand

For these glowing eyes to be condemned

To listen in blessed torment, in eternity hemmed,

In the happy play of your blooming, tender hands.

 

 

Butterfly in the Wine

 

A butterfly has flown into my cup of wine,

Drunkenly he surrenders to his sweet demise,

Rowing weakly and willing to die;

Finally my finger pulls him from the brine.

 

Such is my heart, your eyes blind to its dire straits,

Fatally sunk in the scented cup of love,

Willing to die, drunk with the wine of your magic grove,

When a mere movement of your hand could decide my fate.

 

 


Love Song (1921/22)

 

Where would my home like to be?

My home is tiny,

Moves constantly,

Takes along my heart in captivity,

Makes me joyful, makes me blue;

My home is you.

 

 

Like the Wind Moaning

 

Like the wind moaning through the night

My desire storms for thee,

Every yearning wakes in fright—

O you who is my blight,

What you know of me!

I extinguish my late light without a trace

And stay feverishly awake for hours after,

And the night has your face,

And the wind, which speaks of love in its howling bass,

Has your unforgettable laughter!

 


The Lovers

 

Another leaf falls from my tree,

Another petal withers from my flowers,

Oddly, at uncertain hours

My life’s confused dream is revealed to me.

 

All around the void gazes at me darkly,

But in the center of the vault, all through the night,

A constellation laughs with consoling delight,

Drawing its path more and more starkly.

 

My good star, that sweetens the night along,

That pulls my destiny nearer and nearer,

Do you feel how my heart waits wearier

And greets you with muted song?

 

You see, my glance is still filled with solitude,

Only slowly am I allowed to wake to you,

Allowed to cry again, laugh again too

And put my faith in your certitude.

 


Alexander Blok

 

1880-1921

 

from Dances of Death

 

Night. Avenue. Street lamp. Drugstore.

The light dim and deranged.

Even if you live 25 years more

All will be the same, nothing changed.

 

If I die today – I’ll begin once more

And repeat everything, like before:

Night, icy ripples on the canal floor,

Street lamp. Avenue. Drugstore.

 


Sergei Yesenin

 

1895-1925

 

 

Birch

 

White birch

By my window

Covered itself

With silver snow

 

On the downy branch

Tassels unfurl

A snowy border

With fringes of pearl

 

And the birch stands

In silent repose

As the snowflakes burn

In a flame of gold

 

And the afterglow lazily

Turns around,

Sprinkling the twigs

With new silver gowns.


 

Osip Mandelstam

 

1891-1931

 

 

Untitled (Oh heavens…)

 

Oh heavens, heavens, I will dream about you later

It can’t be that you’ve gone blind as a bat,

Who once burned in the day like a white sheet of paper

A little smoke and a little ash!