I am so very excited to share with you today the world premiere of the newest web series to rock the world of melodolingutainment. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… Übersetzgesungen! As what I hope will become a regular feature in my blogging here at Transparent, Übersetzgesungen is the first show of its kind to interactively answer the question, “what would that song sound like in German?” So please, sit back and enjoy my humble rendition of a Simon & Garfunkel classic, auf Deutsch. Once you’ve finished, scroll down for a detailed look at the translation. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments!
If you don’t know the stunning original, click HERE to listen to it!
Depending on your German level, you may have noticed a few lyrical inconsistencies between my interpretation and the original (to say nothing of the musical inconsistencies you may have noticed between my performance and that of Simon & Garfunkel). Anyway, those lyrical inconsistencies are exactly what this show is all about! Nothing can be translated perfectly between languages, especially art. And I’m sure there are better translations that could be made of this song than what I offer here. But for now I’d like to discuss my translation, as sung in the video.
- “April, come she will” – “April, sie kommt herbei”
I began with a simple rough literal translation of the English lyrics, but certain obstacles quickly became apparent. First of all, “April, come she will” is a pretty strange thing to say to begin with. My first inclination was to translate the first line as “April, kommen sie wird”, but that somehow just sounds clumsy. So instead I had to take a step back from the strict structure of the original, and instead more flexibly approach how the song personifies the months as a woman. So that gives us the line “April, sie kommt herbei”, or, “April, she comes around”.
- “When streams are ripe and swelled with rain” – “Wenn reife Flüßchen mit dem Regen schwellen”
The second line didn’t need to change much, “Wenn reife Flüßchen mit dem Regen schwellen” aside from rearranging the grammar a bit to yield, “when ripe streams swell with rain”.
- “May, she will stay” – “Mai, da wird sie bleiben”
The word “da” ended up being a lifesaver in this translation. It’s something of a flexible word that sort of bridges the metaphor of the month to the girl the song is about. “Mai, da wird sie bleiben”, or, “May, there she’ll stay”.
- “Resting in my arms again” – “Und wieder in meinen Armen liegen”
“Resting in my arms again” wound up being one of the most difficult lines to translate. I learned that there’s no real equivalent word for “resting”, at least in the way it’s used here, in German. One could say, “entspannen“, but that has more to do with “relaxing” and less with that connotation of security and comfort implied by the song. “Ruhen” or “ausruhen” could be used, but “ruhen” is a little dead-sounding, like how a person rests when they die. And “ausruhen” is somehow not permanent enough. When I hear this song, I think of the subject returning to the narrator and resting. Resting in a peaceful, loving sense. Comforted by the narrator’s arms. And so when I asked a German friend (to whose input Übersetzgesungen is greatly indebted) what would be most appropriate, she said that when it comes to verbs that happen in arms (“in meinen Armen”), “liegen” is the only way to go. And so we have “Und wieder in meinen Armen liegen”, or, “And once again lie in my arms”.
- “June, she’ll change her tune” – “Juni ändert sie”
The next line is the most significant departure from the original song, but I quite like it. There isn’t any idiom in German that I’m aware of that matches with “to change one’s tune”. And so in order to keep with the rhyme and rhythm, I went with “Juni ändert sie”, or, “June changes her”. I feel it makes sense with the following lyric. If anything, it’s a bit redundant considering that this person seems so changeable by all of the months. But this change is especially apparent, in contrast with her previous peaceful state.
- “In restless walks she’ll prowl the night” – “Im unruhigen Gang streicht sie durch die Nacht”
I did not know the word for “prowl”, so I looked it up and found the word herumstreichen. That’s a good word, don’t you think? However, after consulting with my friend, I settled on its cousin, durchstreichen, which means “roam”. That gives us “Im unruhigen Gang streicht sie durch die Nacht”, or, “Restlessly she roams the night”.
- “July, she will fly” – “Im Juli wird sie fliegen”
The next line is so far the closest to a working literal translation that I have in the song, “Im Juli wird sie fliegen”, or, “In July she will fly”. You’ll notice that I had to have that “Im/In” in there. Paul Simon has a license for that kind of artistic omission. I just don’t feel I could pull off singing “Juli wird sie fliegen” … yet.
- “And give no warning to her flight” – “Ohne Warnung vor ihrem Flug”
This line comes quite close as well: “Ohne Warnung vor ihrem Flug”, or, “Without warning before her flight.”
- “August, die she must” – “August, da musst sie sterben”
I really wanted to keep that internal rhyme in the next line. “August, die she must” sounds so good. I pushed hard for “August, sterben sie musst“, but test audiences assured me that it just does not work. And so we have “August, da musst sie sterben”, or, “August, then she must die” (which to me sounds much more grim somehow).
- “The autumn winds blow chilly and cold” – “Im Herbst wehen die Winde kühl und kalt”
I don’t think a few chilly breezes ever killed anybody, but apparently ”Im Herbst wehen die Winde kühl und kalt”, or, “In Autumn the winds blow cool and cold”.
- “September, I’ll remember” - “September, ich erinner’”
It took me a while to realize that sweet September/remember rhyme could be preserved with the cunning use of apostrophes, as in, “September, ich erinner’”, or “September, I remember”. Huzzah! An actual direct word-for-word translation of a lyric! Thank you, little apostrophe! Normally the first person singular conjugation would give us the quadrisyllabic erinnere. Oh wait. Nevermind. In the original he sings “September, I’ll remember”. There’s no way I could cram a werde into that phrase.
- “A love once new has now grown old” – “Mich an eine Liebe einst neu und nun schon alt”
…which brings us to the last line, which flows much better than I would have expected. In German, the word for “remember” is, as I just mentioned, erinnern. But unfortunately it doesn’t end there. You can’t just “remember” something in German. It’s a reflexive verb, and it also comes with a preposition every single time. So if I’m remembering something, I have to not only remember mich that something, I have to remember mich an that something. And so to conclude this sorrowful meditation on love found and lost, we have the somewhat graceless mid-sentence return to… “Mich an eine Liebe, einst neu und nun schon alt”, or, “a love once new, now old”. What is “nun schon”, you might ask? Nun is one of those filler words that kind of don’t mean anything, but rather finesse a sentence into making sense. It also can modify other words, in this case transforming schon, which usually means “already”, into “by now” or “in the meantime”.
I think I’m nun schon alt after writing so much about one song. I hope you enjoyed it! I had a lot of fun learning the song and piecing together a suitable translation. My understanding of the song changed in this process, again reminding me of the power foreign language has to give new perspective to life. Personally, I feel the song takes on more of a human quality when thought about in German. The original felt to me as obviously reminiscent of a romance, but also as an ode to the changing seasons. This version seems to tell a more personal story. What do you think? Do you feel the song changes in any unexpected ways when sung in German? Would you translate any lines differently?
If you have any ideas for other songs that could work well on a future episode of Übersetzgesungen, let me know. This song was an unusually good candidate, being very short in length and fairly simple in language. But I’m always up for a challenge, too!
Ich hoffe, ihr habt ein schönes Wochenende. Auf wieder singen!