Apr/May 2011 Poetry

The Wanderer's Second Night Song

by Robert McNally

Photo by Dianne Borsenik

Photo by Dianne Borsenik

The Wanderer's Second Night Song

After Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s "Ein Gleiches"

To think of you, Johann, more than two centuries ago, scribbling on the raw plank wall of the hunting lodge on the Kickelhahn, then heading downslope through the woods to Weimar and your desk, where Faust awaits, unfinished. Behind you this gift remains, penciled blackletter script on planed wood.

No one can translate into English the opening couplet

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh

and keep the scale of the German vowels, that fall into peace from the soprano ü to the bass u, its span of mouth from incisors to throat, the sharp to the cavernous. Then, after treetops go breathless and songbirds silent, only four lines further on, comes the closing couplet

Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch

to finish the fall, from a to ch this time, the last line's exhalation embracing slow guttural peace like a wrung-out lover.

Two hundred thirty years now, and your poem continues its blessing of hearing under the lines, below rhyme and meter, of feeling words open beneath us like the trapdoors to a paradise where everything is music.


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