Friday, March 25, 2011

The First Violet by Karl Egon Ebert, trans. by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

This morning is tentatively sunny, with evidence of spring appearing in the neighborhood. Buds on trees, birds singing and calling, daffodils and jonquils starting to bloom. For this particular Poetry Friday, I decided to share a poem I learned as a song (a lied) - "Das Erste Veilchen" - in its original German, which I've translated.

Before I get to the poem and the discussion, just a quick reminder that 3 p.m. ET is the deadline for the Kidlit 4 Japan auction for my items: Two winners will receive poetry critiques of up to 75 lines of poetry, plus a second-pass critique of their revision(s). All proceeds go to UNICEF to assist with relief in Japan. Full details and entry information here.


The First Violet
by Karl Egon Ebert, translated by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

When I saw the first violet,
I was delighted with its color and scent!
I lustfully embraced Spring's messenger
To my swelling, hopeful breast.

The Spring time is over, the violet is dead;
Rings full of blue and red flowers surround me -
Standing within them, I barely see them.
The violet shines in my dream of Spring.


The original German text:

Das erste Veilchen
by Karl Egon Ebert

Als ich das erste Veilchen erblickt,
Wie war ich von Farben und Duft entzückt!
Die Botin des Lenzes drückt' ich voll Lust
An meine schwellende, hoffende Brust.

Der Lenz ist vorüber, das Veilchen ist tot;
Rings steh'n viel Blumen blau und rot,
Ich stehe inmitten, und sehe sie kaum,
Das Veilchen erscheint mir im Frühlingstraum.


A word on the form of the original, what's lost in translation, and a bit about the poet

The original German poem is written in two stanzas using rhymed couplets (AABB CCDD), with each line containing four stressed syllables. My translation was based on a desire to give you a decent translation of the meaning of the poem. Alas, the meter and rhyme did not carry over.

The poet, Karl Egon Ebert, was of Czech-German descent, and was born in Bohemia in 1801 (back when it was still an actual place, and not a sort of state of mind). He spent most of his life in service to the royal house of Fürstenberg, and evidently had a romance with one of the princesses (alas, their love was not allowed to flourish). He died in Prague at the age of 81, having written a number of poems and librettos for operas, as well as political tracts arguing for Czech-German cooperation.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I'm aware of this poem because it was set to music; it was one of the lieder that I sang when I was a voice major in college. Here's a video of a talented young man named Stephen Richardson singing Ebert's words to music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (note: some lines or parts of lines are repeated in the song setting):




I hope you find some violets today, even if only in your mind's eye. Mary Lee is hosting Poetry Friday today over at A Year of Reading - you can see all the entries by clicking the Poetry Friday box below.


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