Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Die Lorelei

I was fortunate enough to sail down the Rhine Gorge, past the notorious Lorelei Rock, the scene of numerous wrecks. As we approached, the ship's loudspeakers began to play the lilting Lorelei Waltz, which is a folk song setting of the famous 1822 poem by Heinrich Heine.

When I got home, I looked for a translation of the poem, but could not find one that I really liked. I doubt in fact that a pure translation that retains the poetic beauty of the orginal is possible. Since my German hovers somewhere on the weak side of feeble I needed help from various sources, but I eventually produced my own version. I immediately confess that it is a paraphrase rather than a translation, and I certainly would not claim for it the artistic merit of Heine's poem, but maybe it makes a small contribution to an understanding of the work in English.

Since it is a waltz, the poem is in dactylic metre. All ballroom dancers know that the basic waltz goes ONE two three, ONE two three etc. So does this, and it also fits the tune.


by Heinrich Heine (1822)
paraphrased in translation

I know neither rhyme nor yet reason
Why the sight of this rock frights me so,
Unless I'm caught up out of season,
In a tragedy here long ago.

The air murmurs soft in the gloaming,
As Old Father Rhine makes his way
Through this cavernous gorge, rapids foaming,
Whilst the high peaks catch sunshine's last rays.

But wait, does that glow hide a maiden
All artlessly combing her hair?
Oh see, clothed in fine golden raiment,
She glistens and glimmers up there.

And hark! As she combs out her tresses,
She's singing a sweet faerie song;
Its melody softly caresses
A doomed man that it draws along.

Lo! There in his ferry the boatman
Enthralled can do nothing but sigh;
His skill will not keep him afloat when
His gaze is directed on high.

Oh boatman, have care of the river
Lest it swallow both you and your boat!
Ah no! You are captured for ever
By the whisp'ring rock's magical note.