Ludwig Uhland's love letter to Spring

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

The gentle winds are taking flight:
They drift and rustle day and night,
Stirring life in every lane.
Oh, fresher air and skies that part!
The time for fear is past, my heart!
Now each and every thing must change.

The world grows finer day by day,
And what may happen none can say,
So widely do blossoms range.
The deepest valley turns to leaf!
So now, my heart, forget your grief!
Now each and every thing must change.

During his lifetime, Ludwig Uhland was one of the most popular German-language poets, as well as a widely respected literary scholar and a political leader during the German states' transition to nationhood. In the recent edition of his work from Klöpfer 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 period in Germany in his late twenties, studying the language and reading the latest poetry. In addition, we still encounter 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, sent to Paris to learn the Napoleonic Code, he devoted much of his time to reading medieval manuscripts at the French National Library instead. 

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

In bringing Uhland's poem into English, I wanted to replicate his use of rhyme as closely as possible. That required altering part of the meaning in line 4, changing neuer Klang ('newer sounds') to 'skies that part' -- a substitution suitable to the context.

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 in German:

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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