Thursday, 9 January 2014

Works by 'Unknown' Authors

I just came across the following poem by the great nineteenth century German poet Heinrich Heine. His most famous poem is ‘Die Lorelei’, about a mermaid luring sailors to their deaths. This was so popular that the compilers of poetry anthologies in Germany during the Nazi era just couldn’t leave it out. Their problem was that Heine was Jewish. So they kept it in but pretended it was a folk poem whose author was ‘Unbekannt’: ‘Unknown’. Couldn’t have happened in England, eh? Well, when Oscar Wilde was arrested for homosexual activities his play ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ was a big west end hit. The show went on, but Wilde’s name was removed from all the posters and programmes. Anyway, the poem:


Der Hals ist mir trocken, als hätt ich verschluckt
Die untergehende Sonne.
Herr Wirt! Herr Wirt! Eine Flasche Wein
Aus Eurer besten Tonne!

Es Fließt der holde Rebenshaft
Hinunter in meine Seele,
Und löscht bei dieser Gelegenheit
Den Sonnenbrand der Kehle.

Und noch eine Flasche, Herr Wirt! Ich trank
Die erste in schnöder Zerstreuung,
Ganz ohne Andacht! Mein edler Wein,
Ich bitte dich drob um  Verzeihung.

Heinrich Heine



I’m not much cop with German, but here’s my attempt at a simple prose translation: 


My throat is as dry as if I had swallowed the setting sun. Landlord! Landlord! A bottle of wine from your best cask!

            The friendly juice of the vine flows down into my soul, and on the way it puts out the sunburn in my throat.

            Another bottle, landlord! I drank the first one absent-mindedly, quite without reverence! Noble wine, I beg your forgiveness.



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