Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


15.12.05
  A poem and a wee lesson in German Literature

The German author Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) is primarily known as a novelist, though he did not begin to write fiction until he was almost 60 years old; before he had written journalistic essays, poetry, Gedichte (poems, 1851) and Balladen (ballads, 1861), as well as accounts of his travels (Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg, published as book series in 1880). He was also a drama critic for many years.

Theodor Fontane was born to a Huguenot family. His father would have liked the son to take over his pharmacy store. Theodor dutifully apprenticed with an apothecary but wasn't happy about it. After some years work in the area and dabbling in newspaper essays and poetry, he quit in 1849 to become a fulltime journalist. He worked as correspondent for Britain for some years and lived in London (which led to several travel diaries, including one about a tour to Scotland, Beyond the Tweed, 1860). When he served as war correspondent in the Franco-Prussian war he managed to get captured and wrote a book about it (Kriegsgefangen, 1870).

After the first novel, the historical epic Vor dem Sturm (1878), Fontane soon emerged as one of the masters of the realistic novel in Germany. He wrote perceptive novels revealing the state of contemporary Berlin society and delineating the characters of its inhabitants. They include L’Adultera (The Woman Taken in Adultery, 1882), Irrungen, Wirrungen (Trials and Tribulations, 1888), Frau Jenny Treibel (1893), and his masterpieces Effi Briest (1895) and Der Stechlin (1899). He also wrote some novels with settings outside Berlin, like Unwiederbringlich (1891) that takes place partly in Danmark, and the autobiographical Meine Kinderjahre (My Childhood Days, 1894).

Fontane adored the novels of Sir Walter Scott and visited Scott's home at Abbotsford. But he was well able to poke a wee bit fun at Sir Walter. As he did in the poem I translated here.

Walter Scotts Einzug in Abbotsford
(Theodor Fontane, Poems vol. 5, 1898)

Sir Walter, he comes from Edinburgh town
To Abbotsford Manor, still empty and lone,
Therefore he brings with him to fill
The many rooms as to his will,
Chests and caskets, large and small,
And servants, dogs, to roam the hall;
And in between the things he found,
And gather'd and collected the countries round -
To set in a museum, the people to show.
Twenty-three wagons amounted the row.

The first wagon has old mem'ries to hold
Of noble king Bruce and Lord Balliol;
A stonecross, a comb, an ashfilled urn,
The lot came from the battle of Bannockburn.
An old sword, too, with runes engraved
That king Robert to the Earl Douglas once gave.

And second: a stone from the very donjon
That was the prison of Coeur de Lion;
Blondel's harp (lacking many a string);
The jewelled sable king Saladin did swing;
An ashen bow and a piece of old rug
Belonging to Robin and the gallant priest Tuck.

From Nancy, the third one already is here,
Containing the tent of Charles Temeraire -
A peasant had killed him too early in life -
And the lance he used, in the Manor'll arrive.
Some barber's basin (of gilded bronce)
That dates to the times of Louis Once;
And the ladder on which hangman Tristan stood,
Believe me, 't was made entirely of wood.

And then, a prettiliy mixed-up collection
From many a country and many a section.
A cape belonging to old Master Hans;
A saddle, directly from Prestonpans;
A spindle that was used by queen Maud,
The crozier that was held by archbishop Laud.
Two portraits, finely made of pastell
Showing the famous While Lady of ruined Avenell.
A white laced jabot that fit Darnley well,
And another that graced his murd'rer, Bothwell.
A mother-of-pearl cradle in which Mary lay
When she was baptized, for one single day;
The scaffold, directly from Fotheringhay;
And a book of prayers from unhappy Joan Gray.
The pulpit from which his sermons prayed John Knox,
And a giant whitepowdered wig from the older Fox.
A pistol from Cromwell, that one was still charged;
And from the battle of Flodden a whithered old targe.
And still things are coming, and more yet, and more,
A long row of wagons, three over score.

And on the last one, in sunrays' bliss,
Sir Walter himself, a happy man, sits.
He smiles, and he dreams, and he guides the wand
That will distribute all, with a knowing hand.
Be sure, a good place the whole lot will see
In Kenilworth, Woodstock, or Waverly.
To an abbey, a castle, a cot they will go
In Quentin Durward or Ivanhoe;
In Midlothian they may find their rest,
Or in Montrose's noble quest.

A chamber of treasures and memories
In twenty-three wagons the onlooker sees.
Disload them, servants, lend a hand -
Sir Walter, swish your magic wand.
 
Comments:
This was really interesting, and and I enjoyed the translation of Scott's poem.
 
Thank you. Translating poems is a bit tricky but this one went quite well.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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