Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart ~ poetry translations

Schubart, who lived at the time of the American Revolution, was a German musician, poet, journalist, and political prisoner -- the latter due to his outspoken support of the American revolutionaries, and his scathing denunciations of the German aristrocracy. We present here two translations: "Die Forelle" ("The Trout") is familiar to millions from the song setting by Franz Schubert. As far as we know, there are no previous English translations of "Die Fürstengruft" (The Princely Crypt), a stunning polemic against oligarchism that helped land Schubart in prison.                    


The Trout

A crystal stream was flowing,
While swiftly through the reeds
A wayward trout was going,
That like an arrow speeds.
Along the shore I tarried
And watched, as in a dream,
The rainbow fish make merry
Within the crystal stream.

With's rod I saw him stand there,
The callous fisher-man,
He watched the trout meander
From there upon the strand.
If water stays transparent,
I thought, without a doubt,
The fisherman so errant
Will never catch the trout.

Yet suddenly the bandit
Lost patience, and it seems,
Ere I could understand it,
He muddied up the stream.
He took his rod and flicked 'em,
The fish began to thrash,
I saw the hapless victim
Was landed in a flash.

By golden springs ye wander
In youth's security,
The trout's fate must ye ponder:
When danger nears, then flee!
Be wise, ye girls, remember,
Perhaps there lies in wait
The fish-pole of the tempter!
Or else ye bleed too late!

Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2014


The Princely Crypt

So there they lie, the haughty princely wreckage,
The former idols on display!
So there they lie, so horribly illumined
By faded light of day!

The ancient coffins glow within the gravesite
Like tainted wood that rots inside;
How dully do their silver standards sparkle,
Their final princely pride!

In here the wanderer is gripped by horror,
And shudders on the skin arise,
Where Vanity, reclining on a bier,
Peers out from hollow eyes.

How horrible is here the sound of echos,
A tread on tip-toe makes one start,
No thunderbolt could speak with louder fury:
O Man, how small thou art!

Alas! Here lies the noble prince, the good one!
Who as a blessing once was sent,
And one dispatched by God in anger
As scourge of punishment.

The marble spirits on their urns are weeping,
But frigid teardrops, made of stone,
Once cast in marble by a smiling master,
A sculptor now unknown.

There lie the skulls with long extinguished gazes,
That once did menace from on high,
The terror of mankind! -- Their nods decided
Who lived and who would die.

Now is the hand decayed to bony fingers
That with a heartless pencil-stroke
Would cast in chains the wise man, who
In court too loudly spoke.


Speak, courtiers, with reverence on your lips, and
Whisper flattery into deaf ears!
Waft incense now to his exalted carcass
That has been dead for years!

He will not smile upon your acclamation,
Nor snicker at your ribaldry,
So painted ladies fan him, every bit as
Lecherous and crude as he.


They all lie now within this chilly grotto,
Where worms and dust are always rife,
So mute! Dishonored! And have yet by no god
Been startled back to life.

If they wake not at your uneasy moaning,
Ye throngs, whom they have made so poor,
Scare off the ravens, so from all their cawing
No tyrant wakes up here!

Let here no wretched German's whip be cracking
In fields at night to cause wild game to fly!
And let no German tarry at this boneyard
As he goes toiling by!

Let's have no wailing here from pallid orphans
Whose fathers despots took away;
No cursing from the cripple on his crutches,
His mercenary pay.

The tormentors should not awake too early,
Don't rouse them, be humane, I say.
Ha! Soon enough they all shall hear the thunder
That cracks on judgement day.

And where death-angels come to clutch at tyrants,
A wrathful judge then calls their names,
And all their dread piles up into a mountain,
That covers them in flames.

Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2014

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