Friday, June 13, 2014

The Earliest German Translation of Robert Burns' "My Heart's In The Highlands"

Robert Burns' "My Heart's In The Highlands" was translated into German quite often during the 19th century. The three most important early attempts were created between 1830 and 1840, exactly the years when the interest in Burns began to grow (see the overviews in Selle 1981 and Kupper 1979). 

Philipp Kaufmann (1802-1846, see Goedeke, Grundriss, p. 1041, at the Internet Archive & Waldbrühl, in: Neuer Nekrolog 24, 1846, pp. 942-948, at BSB) started translating Burns around 1830 (see again Selle, p. 45 & Kupper, pp. 19-20 for the background) and some of his works were already available early on for interested circles, among them his "Mein Herz ist im Hochland". This text was even published in Britain in October 1831 in the Englishman's Magazine (Epistles of Defoe, Junior. No. III., pp. 243-248, here pp. 244-5, available at British Periodicals, ProQuest) and then reprinted in other journals like the The Museum of Foreign Literature and Science (Philadelphia & New York, Vol. XX, 1831, pp. 111, at Google Books). The first one to use some of his pieces was Friedrich Wilhelm Jähns whose Schottische Lieder und Gesänge came out in 1836 ("Mein Herz ist im Hochland" is in Heft 2, No. 1, pp. 2/3, at the Internet Archive). But Kaufmann's collection of translations was published as a book only in 1839 (Gedichte von Robert Burns, Stuttgart & Tübingen, "Mein Herz ist im Hochland", pp. 5-6). 

Poet Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810-1876) tried his hand at this song in the mid-30s and his text was first printed on February 20th, 1836 in the Blätter zur Kunde der Literatur des Auslands (Vol. 1, No. 4, p. 13, at the Internet Archive) and later also in his Gedichte (Stuttgart & Tübingen 1838, p. 443, at BSB, 2nd. ed., 1839, p. 500, at the Internet Archive). This would become the most popular and most often used German adaptation of "My Heart's in the Highlands". In 1840 Wilhelm Gerhard's book of translations was published with the title Robert Burns' Gedichte deutsch and he of course also included "Mein Herz ist im Hochland" (here No. 66, p. 126, at the Internet Archive). At that time the new enthusiasm for Burns was well on its way. More translations of this song would follow.

But I was surprised to find one translation that had become available some years before Kaufmann started his work, at a time when Burns was more of a insider tip in Germany:
  • "Des Schotten Abschied", in: Peter von Bohlen, Vermischte Gedichte und Übersetzungen, Königsberg 1826, p. 120 (at the Internet Archive; see also the review in: Allgemeines Repertorium der neuesten in- und ausländischen Literatur für 1826, p. 11, at the Internet Archive)

Peter von Bohlen (1796-1840) was a scholar of oriental languages and culture. According to the preface this collection of poetry and translations included mostly works from his youth. Interestingly there are three more adaptations of songs by Robert Burns (pp. 121-126): "Anna" ("The Gowden Locks Of Anna"), "Mutterklage" ("A Mother's Lament For the Death of Her Son") and "John Gerstenkorn"("John Barleycorn"). In fact this was one of the earliest attempts at translating Burns into German language.

Bohlen's book is not mentioned in Kupper's and Selle's standard works, but that is no wonder because it is a rather obscure publication. As far as I can see there are only four extant copies in German libraries. I found it via Google Books because it has been digitized. This shows nicely that digitization often helps to make available formerly more or less forgotten books. 

Von Bohlen was born in 1796 in Friesland in Northern Germany as the son of an impoverished farmer, had an adventurous youth and worked for example as the servant of a French general. After that he became - in Hamburg - an employee of two foreign merchants, one from Poland, the other one from Britain. But he loved to read, was gifted in languages and hungry for knowledge and also wanted to be a poet. So he began to write little pieces that were published in local broadsides. 

At the age of 21 von Bohlen managed to find a place in a good school, a Gymnasium, and four years later he started studying Theology and Orientalism, first in Halle and then in Bonn and Berlin. From then on he made a quick career and was appointed university lecturer in Königsberg in 1825 and then professor in 1828. He became a renowned expert for the ancient culture of India and translated from Sanskrit and other Oriental languages like Arab and Persian. His major work was Das Alte Indien (2 Vols., 1830, at the Internet Archive). But unfortunately he had to retire from his post in 1839 because of illness and died a year later at the age of 44 (summarized from Leskien, in ADB 3, 1876, p. 61, and Bohlen's Autobiographie, 1841, at the Internet Archive; see also Wikipedia).

According to his Autobiographie (p. 30) he learned English when he was working for the merchants and then also became interested in British literature: "Ich begann eifrig zu übersetzen, meistentheils aus Burns, der immer noch mein Liebling ist [...]". This suggests that his translations were written more than ten years before the publication of his book, around or even before 1815, if I understand the chronology of the autobiography correctly. In the preface to the Vermischte Gedichte und Übersetzungen he humbly calls them "eine kleine Zugabe von englischen Spielereien" (p. VI). 

But to be true his version of "Mein Herz ist im Hochland" is not that bad, except perhaps some bumpy rhymes. In fact it works quite well and there is not that much difference to the translations of Kaufmann, Freiligrath, Gerhard & co. One could easily replace their texts with this one and barely anyone would notice:
Mein Herz ist im Hochland', mein Herz ist nicht hier,
Mein Herz ist im Hochland', im Jägerrevier;
Er jaget das Wild und verfolget das Reh;
Mein Herz ist im Hochland', wo immer ich geh.

Leb' wohl denn, o Hochland, sey Norden gegrüßt,
Wo Heimath der Ehre und Tapferkeit ist;
Wohin ich auch wandre, wo immer ich bin,
Es zieht zu den Hügeln des Hochland's mich hin.

Lebt wohl, ihr Gebirge, mit Schnee überdeckt,
Lebt wohl, grüne Thäler, in Gründen versteckt,
Lebt wohl, wildhangende Forsten und jach,
Lebt wohl denn ihr Ströme, du murmelnder Bach.

Mein Herz ist im Hochland' u. s. w.
But von Bohlen seems to have been way ahead of his time. Until the 1820s there was little interest for Burns in Germany. And when the Scottish songwriter was discovered anew more than a decade later he was busy with Oriental languages. Not at least von Bohlen died much too early in 1840 and therefore missed out his favourite poet's newfound popularity. Otherwise he perhaps would have also been able to contribute a little bit more to what then became a hotly-contested field. 

  • Autobiographie des ordentl. Professors der orient. Sprachen und Literatur an der Universität zu Königsberg Dr. Peter von Bohlen, herausgegeben als Manuskript für seine Freunde von Johannes Voigt, Königsberg 1841 (available at BSB; Google Books, Internet Archive)
  • Peter von Bohlen, Vermischte Gedichte und Übersetzungen, Königsberg 1826 (available at Google Books & BSB, the Internet Archive)
  • Epistles of Defoe, Junior. No. III. - To Gerald O'Donnell, Esq., Carrick Lodge, Belfast, in: The Englishman's Magazine, Oct. 1831, pp. 243-248 (available at British Periodicals, ProQuest)
  • A. Leskien, Art.: Bohlen, Peter von, in: ADB 3, 1876, p. 61 (available at BSB)
  • Hans Jürg Kupper, Robert Burns im deutschen Sprachraum unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der schweizerischen Übersetzungen von August Corrodi, Bern 1979 (Basler Studien zur deutschen sprache und Literatur 56)
  • Rosemary Anne Selle, The Parritch and the Partridge: The Reception of Robert Burns in Germany. A History, 2 Vols, Phil. Diss., Heidelberg 1981 (now available as: 2nd Revised and Augmented Edition, Frankfurt/M. 2013)

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