Uhland's love letter to Spring


To celebrate the arrival of spring, here’s my translation of Ludwig Uhland's "Frühlingsglaube" ("Springtime Faith"), first published in 1813:

Gentle winds are taking flight:
they drift and rustle day and night;
they stir the air in every lane.
Fresh breezes clear the skies above!
The time for fear is past, my love!
Now each and every thing must change.

The world grows finer day by day,
and what may happen none can say.
The smell of April fills our rooms;
the deepest, farthest valley blooms.
Now, my love, forget the pain!
Now each and every thing must change.

During his lifetime, Ludwig Uhland was one of the most popular German-language poets. He was also a respected literary scholar and a political leader during the German states' long transition to nationhood. In the recent edition of his work from Klopfer and Meyer, a selection of his speeches appears side-by-side with his lyric poetry.

If Uhland's verse seems familiar to us as speakers of English, it's because he was a major influence on Longfellow, who spent an extended time in Germany in his late twenties, studying the language and reading the latest poetry. In addition, you may have encountered Uhland's German directly through the settings of his poems by Schubert, Brahms and other composers. (Elgar set Uhland's poems too, but he used translations by Longfellow.)

Uhland was born in 1787 in the old university town of Tübingen, near Stuttgart, where his father's family had been scholars for several generations. He studied law and philology, but, when sent to Paris to learn the Napoleonic Code, he devoted much of his time to reading medieval manuscripts at the French National Library. 

Medieval literature of the Middle Ages became a lifelong interest of his, side-by-side with a love of German folk songs. Both helped shape his poetry, which at its best has a vigorous simplicity. If his work came to seem old-fashioned after his death in 1862, it retains a musicality and a depth of feeling that can still move us today. 

In bringing Uhland's poem into English, I tried to replicate his use of rhyme as closely as possible. That required changing the meter slightly, altering the meaning in line 4 and introducing a new image in line 9.

In making these choices, I followed the guidance of Boris Pasternak, who translated much of Shakespeare into Russian. Pasternak felt that, when necessary, a translator should take liberties with individual lines in order to maintain a poet's integrity of thought. Here is Uhland’s poem, so German speakers can judge the changes I've made:

Die linden Lüfte sind erwacht,
Sie säuseln und weben Tag und Nacht,
Sie schaffen an allen Enden.
O frischer Duft, o neuer Klang!
Nun, armes Herze, sei nicht bang!
Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden.

Die Welt wird schöner mit jedem Tag,
Man weiß nicht, was noch werden mag,
Das Blühen will nicht enden.
Es blüht das fernste, tiefste Tal:
Nun, armes Herz, vergiss der Qual!
Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden.


The house in Tübingen where Uhland was born on April 26, 1787.



Top photograph by Jutta Weise

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