#91-92
Translation

A LOT OF THOUGHT
in English & German

GEDANKENREICH
in Deutsch & Englisch

by Renée von Paschen

 

These poems all have their origin in the interface between writing and translation or transcreation. They were mainly written in German (often in rhymes) and transposed into English (likewise rhymed). All of the poems examine the creative process of thought that finds its expression in writing and translation. The author has re-created the unique phrasing and wordplay of her German verse in the English versions of her poetry.

 


 

Worte lauern

 

Worte lauern

in den Windungen meines Gehirns.

 

Sie treffen meine Gedanken,

schwemmen sie weg, wie eine Welle.1

 

Im Kielwasser

folgt ein taubes Gefühl.

 

Taue lösen sich und

Schranken fallen.2

 

Es gibt doch etwas, das wir

sagen wollen.3

Words Are Lurking

 

Words are lurking

in the nooks and crannies of my cranium.

 

They wash away my thoughts

with a whoosh like a wave.

 

In their wake

a numb feeling follows.

 

Ties are loosened and

barriers fall.

 

Perhaps there’s something to say

after all.

1 From the onset of this poem about thought, I am playing with alliteration in German, as well as with metaphors. The repeated use of the « w » in the second line of the second stanza evokes waves or « Wellen. » And this hooks onto the previous verse, which also starts with a « W » in « Worte » or words and leads to « Windungen, » literally meaning whorls or twisting coils. Also note that « Gehirn » (brain) has the same prefix as « Gedanken » (thoughts) in German. The English version reflects the German alliteration of the « w » in its second stanza in « with a whoosh like a wave », however it also plays with the repetitive purring sound of « words » and « lurk. »

2 The next two verses are also about water as a medium of transport, once again reflecting thought processes. « Kielwasser, » which is literally the « wake » that follows a moving boat, leaves behind a calm area of water in its midst. The German « taubes Gefühl » (numb feeling) and « Taue » (ties) allow for a pleasing alliteration, which is re-created with the English « feeling follows » and « fall. »

3 The final verse in the German version ends in « wollen, » which forms an imperfect rhyme with « fallen » in the previous verse, as well as reflecting « Welle » at the end of the second verse. In the English version, I recreated the rhymes in the final two verses using « fall » and « all. » Nowhere does the meaning of the verses undergo any significant change, which certainly presented the most difficult obstacle in this « constrained translation. »

 


 

Grenzgänger

 

Wenn sie die Grenzen

seiner Vorstellung überschreiten,4

 

Fahren ihre Gedanken

auf den Schienen5

seines Verstands,

 

Stoßen auf ihren Umlaufbahnen6

zusammen mit den Planeten

der Entrüstung,7

Besinnung

und Verurteilung.

Crossing the Limits

 

Crossing the limits

of his imagination,

 

Her thoughts cruise

along the highways

of his mind,

 

Colliding in their orbits

with the planets

of consternation,

contemplation

and condemnation. 

4 « Grenzgänger » literally means « border crosser » and basically deals with gender issues, while more specifically indicating thought processes and prejudices found in most societies. It highlights the preconceived ideas that some men may have when attempting to see the world from a woman’s perspective, pointing out that our minds need to remain flexible, if we wish to understand each other better as men, women, and LGBT.

5 « Schienen » in German are literally « tracks » in English, evoking a train of thought or « Gedankenzug » in German. However, in English we « cruise » along « highways, » making for a slightly different take in the English translation.

6 The composite word « Umlaufbahnen » encompasses the word « Bahn » or « train, » which is reflective of the train tracks in the first German verse. However, « Umlaufbahn » literally means « orbit » in English, perfectly fitting for the rest of the verse that refers to planets.

7 The German terms of « Entrüstung, Besinnung und Verurteilung » all have the same suffix, whereas the contrasting English terms of « consternation, contemplation and condemnation » all have the same prefix and suffix, allowing for the German alliteration to be replicated as a rhyme in the English version, while simultaneously maintaining the meaning of the original.

 


 

 Eingeengt

 

Ich lasse mich

weder einengen8

 

Noch in die

Ecke drängen.9

 

Darf ich nicht schreiben,

was ich denke,

 

Verzichte ich drauf,

bevor ich mich verrenke.10

Reined In

 

I refuse to be reined in

by constraints,

 

Or hedged up

against a wall.

 

If I cannot write

what I think,

 

Then I’d rather not

write at all.

8 This poem is about « social constraints, » as well as « constrained translation, » a term from translation studies used to designate a form of translation that must simultaneously conform with multiple factors, such as the translation of rhymed poetry. This requires the translator to loyally replicate the meaning of the original, as well as the form of the original, including the line divisions, rhythm, and literary devices, such as alliteration, rhymes, metaphors, wordplay, etc.

9 « Drängen » (to force) rhymes with « einengen » (to constrain) in the first German verse. In the English version, the German rhymes are compensated by the rhyming lines in the second and fourth verses: « wall » and « all. »

10 The German word « denke » literally means « think, » and it rhymes in the German version with « verrenke » (wrench or dislocate) in the final verse. In the English version, it proved impossible to use the same rhyme scheme as in the German, which is often the case when translating rhymed German-language poetry into English. The reason being that the German language has far more rhyming words on account of its common suffixes. In this sense, German is somewhat similar to French, whereas English is comparatively poor in rhymes. Even Shakespeare wrote primarily in blank verse.

 


 

Die Oberfläche11

 

Ihr wollt nichts

als die Oberfläche

sehen,

 

Aus Angst

vor dem, was

dahinter steckt.12

 

Macht ihr

doch einen

näheren Versuch,13

 

Könntet ihr

mich lesen

wie ein Buch.14

The Surface of Things

 

All you see

is the surface

of things,

 

For fear

of what’s

hidden beneath.

 

If you only

cared to take

a close look,

 

You’d be able

to read me

just like a book.

11 The title of this poem « Die Oberfläche, » or « The Surface of Things«  in English, is used as a metaphor for the outer appearance of a person. It refers to the tendency of people to judge others by their attire or the first impression they make instead of delving deeper.

12 Here, I’m explicitly remarking on humankind’s innate fear of what Sigmund Freud called « Tiefenpsychology, » (depth analysis) or the profound workings of the mind.

13 This verse animates the reader to overcome his/her initial angst and look more closely at the person in question. »Versuch » (attempt) rhymes with « Buch » (book) in the next verse.

14 The final verse exposes the dual meaning and uses the metaphor of a « reading a book » (in contrast to looking at its cover), as the discovery of the depths of a personality. The two final verses of the English version also incorporate a true rhyme: « look » and « book. »

 


 

Wortwerker15

 

Ich arbeite mit Wörtern.

Ich bin ein Wortwerker,

ähnlich einem Handwerker,16

weil ich Werke

aus Wörtern herstelle.

 

Werke zum Genießen,

Verachten, Loben

oder um zu provozieren.17

 

Du hast die Wahl!

Wordworker

 

I work with words.

I’m a wordworker,

somewhat like a woodworker,

in that I craft

an object out of words.

 

An object to be enjoyed,

scorned, held in high esteem,

or to provoke.

 

Take your pick!

15 « Wordworker » has previously appeared in Slate & Style, the American literary journal for the blind, which is published in braille. This poem thematizes what a poet undertakes when creating a literary work of words.

16 I purposely avoided using « wordsmith, » and coined « wordworker » to match « woodworker » on account of the task of creating braille, which can also be made by punching holes in wood. The English term « woodworker » is roughly equivalent to the German « Handwerker, » which has a broader scope and could also include a person making braille. The similarity between « wordworker / woodworker » and « Wortwerker / Handwerker » is a play of words known as an annomination.

17 In keeping with the physical task of creating braille, the German term « Werk » is rendered as « object » in the English version. The interpretation of the « object d’art » remains with the reader, who will see it in his/her own eyes, and may even feel « provoked, » which allows for a nice alliteration with the final line in English: « Take your pick! »

 


 

Trümmerbruch18

 

Komm mit

meiner Rechten

nicht mehr zurecht.19

 

Leider bleibt

die Linke

linkisch.20

Shattered Bones

 

Can’t write

with my right

hand.

 

Yet

the left

is all that’s left.

18 This short poem came into being soon after a nasty accident I had in 2017, while teaching a class in theater at the University of Vienna. Actually, my students were giving conference participants a tour of historical theater sites in old Vienna, when I fell and shattered my righthand wrist. The poem was born of frustration and is thus compact, since it was impossible for me to use my right hand at the time.

19 The first verse of the original German version plays with the meaning of « zurechtkommen, » which literally means « to get along. » This composite German word incorporates « recht, » meaning « right. » In English, no similar word is available, so the translation makes use of the pun on the words « write » and « right. »

20 In the German version, the second verse once again plays on another meaning of the German word « Linke » or left. In this case, it is the negative connotation of « linkisch » or awkward. Whereas the English translation uses a different meaning of « left » instead, namely that of being « left over. »

 


 

Spontane Verbrennung21

 

Meine Gedanken

blitzen wie Funken.22

 

In meinem Kopf kreisen

Wörter auf Gleisen,23

 

Um jedem, der will

und sei es nur still,

 

Etwas zu sagen,

um den Tag zu ertragen.24

Spontaneous Combustion

 

Spontaneous combustion

creates an eruption

 

Of words in my head

waiting to be read

 

By anyone willing

and needing a filling

 

Of thought for the day,

or something to say. 

21 Once again, this poem takes a closer look at the workings of the mind during the creative process. It uses « Spontanne Verbrennung » (Spontaneous Combustion) as a metaphor for the synapses firing in the brain.

22 The first verse employs an end-rhyme known as « schmutziger Reim » in German or consonance (analyzed rhymes) in English: « Gedanken » and « Funken » are not a true rhyme, yet they sound very similar in German. The English version also uses consonance in the first verse: combustion and eruption.

23 In the German version, the second stanza plays with the metaphor of tracks or « Gleisen, » upon which words are circling (kreisen), whereas the English takes advantage of the rhyme in the past tense of « read » and « head. »

24 In the final German verse, the poem ends with the rhyming words « sagen » (to say) and « ertragen, » to endure or sustain. The first line of the final German verse « Etwas zu sagen » becomes the last line of the final English verse, « or something to say, » on account of the different syntax in English and German.

 


 

Kreative Kräfte25

 

Kreative Kräfte sind wieder im Gang.

Ohne mein Wissen kam der Anfang.26

 

Bevor sie versiegen

muss ich abbiegen,

 

Doch weiß ich nicht mehr

wohin und wo lang.27

Creative Juices

 

The creative juices are flowing,

they started without my knowing.

 

When I think they might end,

there comes a bend,

 

And I no longer know

where I am going.

25 This poem about creativity is written in the form of a limerick and strictly follows its rhyme scheme in the German original, as well as the English translation.

26 In order to preserve the rhyme scheme, there are slight differences made in the order of thought or syntax in the English version, such as in the second line of the first verse. A literal translation of that line from the German would read: « without my knowing, the beginning came. » Whereas the English turns around the syntax to read: « they started without my knowing, » which rhymes with « going » in the first line.

27 The last line of the final verse in the German original plays with « wohin » and « wo lang, » allowing for alliteration, which is compensated in the first line of the final English verse with an internal rhyme « no longer know. »

 


 

Guten Schabbes!28

 

Wenn keine Wörter mehr tropfen

von der Spitze29

meiner Feder,

 

Wohin mich sonst wenden,

wohin Gebete senden,30

 

Wenn ich solche

Zores hab?31

 

Amen! 

Guten Shabbes!

 

If words will not drip

from the tip

of my pen,

 

Then where else might I go,

and furthermore when,

 

If I’m feeling

such woe?

 

Amen!

28 The title of this poem is Yiddish. « Guten Schabbes » means « Good Sabbath, » which is the traditional greeting amongst Ashkenazi Jews on the holy day of Saturday. In the orthodox tradition, working is prohibited on Saturday. This includes writing, which was originally the work of scribes, students, and scholars. This poem was originally presented at the Jewish Street Festival in Vienna, Austria.

29 The poem plays with the dilemma that may have presented itself to orthodox Jews, who wished to write on the holy day, but did not want to « break the rules. » The German words « tropfen » and « Spitze » literally translate into « drip » and « tip, » which rhyme well in English.

30 The second verse of the German original rhymes « wenden » (to turn to) and « senden » (to send). The English translation compensates for this couplet with a completely different rhyme scheme: aab, cb, dc, b. In contrast, the German rhyme scheme is: abc, dd, ef, d, where « Amen » is rhymed, as it also is in the English version.

31 « Zores » is the Yiddish word for sorrows, worries or woe.

 


 

Der soziale Tod32                

 

Ich darf sagen                              

was ich will,

aber kann ich?

 

Ich kann sagen

was ich will,

aber tue ich’s?33

 

Ich sage schon

was ich will,

aber darf ich?34

 

Oder sterbe ich

einen sozialen Tod

beim Versuch?35

Die a Social Death                  

 

I may say

what I want,

but can I?

 

I can say

what I want,

but do I?

 

I do say

what I want,

but may I?

 

Or will I die

a social death,

if I try?

32 This poem questions social conventions and a person’s right to speak the truth despite others’ expectations.

33 The wordplay here accentuates the different forms of verbs that signify possible courses of action or protest, as well as employing repetition. The first verse touches upon what is « legally » possible and uses « darf » or « may. » The second verse indicates the hesitation of a person, who considers the social consequences of speaking the truth.

34 The third verse deals with the option of speaking up, even if it is not considered a viable (or legal) option.

35 And the fourth verse comes full circle in outlining the possibly « fatal » consequences of speaking one’s mind, when it is not considered socially acceptable. In the English version, this is the only stanza which happens to rhyme, quite by chance, whereby the repetitive « I » in the previous verses ties into this rhyme.

 


 

Um-Drehen36

 

Dreh um

das Buch,

 

Dreh um

den Fluch,37

 

Sonst kommt

das Böse

in Versuch.38

 

Verbreit’

das Wort,

 

Erzähl,

was war,

 

Sei sicher,

dass es hörbar39

bleibt. 

Re-Verse

 

Reverse

the verse,

 

Reverse

the curse

 

Or worse

might come

to pass.

 

Pass on

the word,

 

Tell what

you’ve heard,

 

Be assured

you’ll make

it last.

36 The title « Um-Drehen » literally means « Re-Verse, » whereby I have inserted the hyphen to indicate the dual meaning.

37 The second stanza in English, « Reverse / the curse, » is a word-for-word translation of the German « Dreh um / den Fluch, » which rhymes with « Buch » (book) in the first German verse.

38 The third verse in German « Sonst kommt / das Böse / in Versuch, » rhymes with the first and second verses and literally means « otherwise evil will be tempted. » In the English version, on the other hand, « worse » rhymes with the first two English verses, which compensates for the slightly different take.

39 The final three verses of the English translation basically maintain the original meaning of the German, whereas the rhyming words are « war » (was) and « hörbar » (audible) in German. In the English version, the rhyme is formed by « word » and heard. »