18 MAY 1867, Page 14


TRANSLATIONS FROM SCHILLER'S MINOR POEMS.* SCHILLER is in some respects even more difficult to translate than Goethe, as poetry which depends chiefly on the mere lyric ring of the true metal in a fine nature is almost always more difficult to render into another tongue, than poetry which depends on the clear artistic conception of an object or a situation. Goethe's poetry, as he himself said, had always a naturalistic element in it, was always an attempt to delineate some specific situation with the feeling of a poetic naturalist. Any one who catches that key-note to each of his minor poems and closely adheres to it, has in some sense a scientific clue through the poem, which it is his own fault if he allows to drop. It is different with Schiller. The chief charm of his poetry is the deep idealistic tone of the man himself, which in his earliest period no doubt effervesced in sentiment unreal enough, but which always, even when least real,—that is, when least attuned to the laws of the external universe in which he had to live,—was wholly sincere, and never unreal in

• Speeiniens of Frederick Sailler's Minor Poems. London : Williams and liorgate.

the sense of representing a state of mind rather theatrical than deeply rooted in his own nature. Goethe's poetry was from the first more plastic, fell more easily into this shape or that, as life, and nature, and opportunity varied round him; Schiller's more intense and personal, more apt to repeat the cry of one individual spirit little content with the world as it was, passionately aspiring to have it other than it was. Schiller was, therefore, a far more perfect representative of his time and nation than Goethe, who was in some sense wider than either his time or nation, and therefore also but imperfectly imbued with the specific passion and yearning of either. Hence Schiller often seems to us who are of a different nation, and who read his poems in a different age,—to have a tinge of sentimental weakness and vague idealism ; and if the translator does not catch precisely the nobility of tone which redeems his German style from the appear- ance of that baser sentimentalism to which in mere subject his thought not unfrequently bears a resemblance, there is a danger of rendering his poems so as to make them appear the vapid yearnings of ordinary youthful unrest.

The author of this translation does not seem to us to have by any means always avoided this great danger. There is now and then a very happy and faithful translation, there is usually some approach to success ; but there is too often, in a critical line or word, just some slight exaggeration of Schiller's tone, some slight advance upon Schiller's vein of eager feeling, which just gives that air of excess, of hackneyed emotion, by keeping within which Schiller marks his poetic rank. Take, for instance, one of the most characteristic of his shortest poems, that to the German Muse,—the first in this selection,—the object of which is to celebrate what Schiller felt very strongly, the freedom of the German poetry from the restraints of royal patronage. It is rendered thus:


"No Augustus' royal grace, No Medicean princely race, Smiled upon the German Muse ; Fame winged her not upon her way, And to protect with fostering ray Kings and princes all refuse.

"Even from Germany's great son, Yea, even from great Frederick's throne, She turns, unhonoured and dismayed; But nobler is the German's part, Prouder may beat the German's heart, He himself his worth has made.

" Therefore, in full tide along Pours the stream of German song, And with loftier feeling burns ; And in its native fulness swelling, And from the heart's deep fountain welling, All control and influence spurns."

Here, already in the second verse, the translator exaggerates Schiller's thought so as to give it a shrillness and, as it were, scream, which he really avoids. Not only is the music of the following verse lost in the English, but the meaning is pushed beyond Schiller's, and distorted into a drift inappropriate to the poem, as well as too violent :-

" Von dem grossten deutschen Sohne,

Von des grossen Friedrichs Throne, Ging sie schutzlos ungeehrt. Riihmend darf der Deutsche sage; Holier darf des Herz ihm schlagen,

&fiat erschuf er Bich den Werth."

All that Schiller says is that "the German Muse passed from the greatest son of Germany, from the throne of the great Frederick, without honour, and unshielded by his influence." " Dismayed" is a false note altogether. It is not only that there is no word for it in the original, but it is Schiller's great point in this poem that the German Muse did not need shielding by the influence of Frederick, or even a greater, and was not dismayed. If she had been " dismayed " by Frederick's neglect, the German genius would not have been as independent as Schiller wished to represent it. The three last lines, too, of the same verse are very imperfectly rendered, "nobler is the German's part" being a very loose and dislocated sort of translation of the line which it represents. There is the same exaggeration, again, in the last line of the little poem. Schiller was trying to account for as well as to praise the freedom of German poetry from all stiff external rules such as were natural to the poetry of the Augustan era, or to any poetry fostered by Court influences. He says that the high choir of German bards " mocks at the bonds of rules " (" spottet der Regeln Zwang "); but he does not say, or mean to say, that it " all control and influence spurns ;"—for here neither word expresses what Schiller wished to express, the free, informal character of German poetry, its rebellion against the stiff laws

invented by etiquette for Court poets ;—and, moreover the word " influence " goes far beyond the poet's meaning, for a national verse -which spurned all external influence could scarcely be a national verse at all. There is in this little poem less of Schiller's peculiar idealism of tone, more of distinctly defined thought, than in perhaps the greater number of his minor poems, and the translator would have done well to be exceedingly careful not to strike a shriller key than he had struck.

One of the best translations in the little volume is that of Schiller's pretty little poem called " Light and Warmth," in which he sings how the warmth of youthful enthusiasm is often corrected only by being altogether extinguished when the light of true knowledge of the world comes, and lays it down as the happiest of all unions to combine the enthusiast's warmth of earnestness with the man of the world's cold insight. The only serious fault of the translation,—but an important one,—is in the last word :—


"The youth with noble thoughts possost Begins his bright career : He trusts the hopes that swell his breast Without a doubt or fear, And gives, with generous ardour warm, To Truth his firm and faithful arm.

" But all appears so moan and base, When nearec seen and tried, He bastes to join the eager chase And for himself provide, And shuts his heart in cold repose To gentle love and human woes.

"Not always does Truth's splendid ray A kindred glow impart ; And well for those who do not pay For knowledge with the heart !

Join thou, tho greatest bliss to share, The enthusiast's warmth, the worldling's care."

" Care" is entirely erroneous. Schiller said,— " Drum paar't zu eurem achonsten Gliiek

Mit Schwarmer's Ernst des Weltmann's Blick."

Blick, of course, is ' glance' or ' Schiller does not wish

to engraft " cares of this world" on his enthusiast's earnestness, which would not be very easy,—the two being incompatible,—but rather the clear cold intelligence of the man of the world on the fervour of the enthusiast. It is a pity that this one false word should injure an otherwise very elegant version of this little poem. Our translator tells us that it has been his object " to combine a faithful adhesion to the originals with the natural and easy flow of English versification ; in other words, to make Schiller speak, in some sort as he might have spoken, if preserving the thoughts, images, sentiment, and tone of the German, he had used the Eng- lish language as the medium of expressing them." He has fairly kept this object in view, and our only complaint is of defective literalness. Had he been more literal, he would, we think, have also been more poetical; and whenever he has been most literal he has been also most poetical. Almost whenever he deviates from the original he seems to us to caricature Schiller's mood, to let Schiller's idealism, always fanciful, become fantastic, and his emotion, always warm, becomes unreal. For example, "The Ideal" is a translation beautiful on the whole, and fairly rendering a poem expressive of the collision in Schiller's later poetry between his first ideal mood and the realism which his intercourse with Goethe grafted on his mind during the last years of his life. It is too long to extract in full, but after examining it closely, we may say that almost every little fault in it

arises from introducing shades of thought and feeling which are not in the original, and which exaggerate the sentiment of the origiwil into something like sentimentalism. The idea of the poem is to show the golden morning of youth fading " into the light of

common day," and yet,—this being Schiller's tribute to Goethe's

realistic influence,—leaving behind it what the poet holds perhaps more valuable than all these golden dreams. Hence there is just a shadow of superiority to the early self mingling with the

picturesque regret of the opening verses, a touch of banter at the self-illusion which the poet still yearns after. Take these, for instance, by which we print what seems to us a more literal, and so far only a somewhat better rendering :-


"And wilt thou faithless from me "And wilt thou faithless from mo sever, part, With all thy sorrows, all thy joys? With all thy tender phantasy, Wilt thou relentless part for ever Thy dear delight, thy bittersmart,— With all thy gentle phantasms? Must all inexorable fly ?

Will, fugitive, no fond caresses Can naught your hasty flight con- My golden prime of life detain ? trol,

Ah no ! thy hurrying wave still Ye golden hours of youthful glee?

presses In vain ! too swift your billows roll Down to Eternity's dark main. Into the dark Eternal Sea. Our only objections to the translation in the text are the inter- polations, which seem to us to mar the idea of the poem. The " caresses " in the first verse would imply that Schiller wished to coax the past into returning, which he does not do, for he looks back on it with a certain poetic pity mingled with poetic regret, as he disentangles the truth from the false idealism of his youth. Then again, Nature, conceived as Pygmalion's statue, is certainly not " young," and Schiller wishes to convey that it was his own youth which put into Nature an unreal language, which was not in fact her language, but only the ven- triloquism of his own ardour. She is in reality only marble, into which he pours a momentary life by the force of his own ardour. Again, the lifeless elements do not " listen to the poet's call," but give back the " echo " of his life,-

" Es fiihlte selbst das Soelonlose Von meines Lebens Wiederhall."

These are but slight defects. But frequently repeated they render Schiller,—what he is always in danger of being,—even more idealistic, less real, than he is, and so give his poetry a falsetto tone which lowers its noble air. Still, on the whole, we have not met with any better rendering of Schiller. All that this little book needs is still greater labour in bringing the trans- lation closer and closer to the original.

Quenched are the brilliant suns which shed On youth's gay path their cheer- ing light ; The fair ideals all are fled Which swelled my breast with wild delight ; That lovely faith is vanished too In -beings whom a dream could buy ; What seem'd so heavenly fair and true, The prey of hard reality.

As once with passionate embrace Pygmalion to the marble clung, Till on the statue's icy face The glow of life and feeling hung, So I, with kindred passion fired, Young Nature to my bosom prest, Till, by the genial warmth in- spired, She breathed on my poetic breast.

The mute one soon a language found, And soon with equal ardour burned, Gave to my heart an answering sound, And warm the kiss of love returned : Then lived for me the tree, the flower, Then sang the fountain's silvery fall, And even the lifeless felt my power, And listened to the poet's call.

The circling All tumultuous strove To rend the breast's too narrow bound, And forth I rushed the world to rove Of word and deed, of form and sound: How groat that world appeared, how bright, While in the bud it lay unseen ! How little, opening to the light ! That little—ah ! how poor and moan !" The cheerful suns have spent their light, That shone around my youthful feet, The high ideals melt in night That caused my drunken heart to beat.

That, too, is gone,—the sweet belief In beings that in dreams were mine ; The harsh reality of grief Replaces beauty's form divine.

As once with tears the ancient Greek Embraced the stone with deep desire, Till through the marble's icy cheek Sensation shot her stream of fire ; Thus I, while swift my young blood flowed, In my fond arms sweet Nature pressed, Till her breast heaved and bosom glowed On my enchanted poet's breast.

Warned by the flame that in me burned, The speechless one a language found, Ardent the kiss of love returned, And Bead aright my heart's wild bound Then sprang to life the rose, the tree, Songs floated on the torrent's fall, E'en lifeless things had life from me, Who lived to pour my life on all.

Then strove a universal life To break my breast's too narrow bound, To pass into the outer strife, Of deed and word, of sight and sound.

How mighty seemed the world in power, While yet the bud all else con- cealed !

How little was the opening flower, How mean that little when revealed!"