Friday, October 12, 2007


That Man, Where Is He Now?

Johannes Brahms' Opus 9, Number 4, is a musical setting of this poem by August von Platen:

Der Strom, der neben mir verrauschte, wo ist er nun?
Der Vogel, dessen Lied ich lauschte, wo ist er nun?
Wo ist die Rose, die die Freundin am Herzen trug?
Und jener Kuß, der mich berauschte, wo ist er nun?
Und jener Mensch, der ich gewesen, und den ich längst
Mit einem andern Ich vertauschte, wo ist er nun?

On her excellent web site devoted to Lieder lyrics, Emily Ezust translated Platen's poem thus:

The storm which rolled past me, where is it now?
The bird to whose song I listened, where is it now?
Where is the rose that my sweetheart wore on her heart?
And that kiss that intoxicated me, where is it now?
And that man that I once was, whom long ago I exchanged
for another self - where is he now?

The first line of Ezust's otherwise close translation is inaccurate. German Strom means "river" (related to English stream), and the German word for "storm" is Sturm. Der Strom, der neben mir verrauschte, wo ist er nun? should thus be translated something like "The river which rushed past me, where is it now?" We might think that a river is permanent, as opposed to a transient storm, but the Greek philosopher Heraclitus thought otherwise (fragment 91, "You can't step into the same river twice").

Eric Sams, The Songs of Johannes Brahms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 82, translated the poem as follows:

The river whose sound faded past me, where is it now? The bird whose song I listened to, where is it now? Where is the rose that my love wore at her breast, and that kiss which enraptured me, where is it now? And that man I once was and whom I long ago exchanged for another self, where is he now?

Verrauschen can mean "to fade away, to die away, to pass away" (see here), but also "to rush away, to hurry past, to rustle or rush by" according to Friedrich Bruns, ed. A Book of German Lyrics (Boston: D.C. Health & Co., 1921), p. 182.

I have all of Brahms' songs in the Lea Pocket Scores edition. At the back of each volume are English translations of the lyrics by Henry S. Drinker. Drinker's translations seem to attempt to follow the rhythms of the original poems, presumably so that the songs can be sung in English. But the attempt to preserve the rhythm sometimes distorts the sense. Here is Drinker's version of August von Platen's poem:

The brook that thru the wood was dancing,
Where is it now?
The thrush's song so soul entrancing,
Where is it now?
Where are the roses, there but now on
My Lady's heart,
And where the kiss that so bewitched me?
Oh where, ah where, where is it now?
That other man, who once was I, he
Who long ago became another entirely,
Oh where, ah where, where is he now?

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