Mittwoch, 27. Juli 2011

Multilingual nonsense

I came across another interesting example the other day for my occasional series on nonsense poetry -- a pair of poems in German and Latin from Christian Morgenstern's delightful Galgenlieder. (For German learners in particular I recommend -- if one is not already familiar with it -- another poem of his, "Der Werwolf", which plays with the German case system. This poem has inspired some very creative translation attempts which I am inable to find a the moment, but which I will link to if I have a chance.)

Nonsense poetry seems to have a particular affinity with multilingual wordplay. Because it is always just on the edge of comprehensibility, it tends to draw attention to the language itself and the process of reading and understanding. Like a foreign language, nonsense must also be deciphered, but it always retains an element of "otherness" which resists our efforts to translate and thus assimilate it.

Das Mondschaf
Das Mondschaf steht auf weiter Flur.
Es harrt und harrt der großen Schur.
Das Mondschaf.

Das Mondschaf rupft sich einen Halm
Und geht dann heim auf seine Alm.
Das Mondschaf.

Das Mondschaf spricht zu sich im Traum:
»Ich bin des Weltalls dunkler Raum.«
Das Mondschaf.

Das Mondschaf liegt am Morgen tot.
Sein Leib ist weiß, die Sonn' ist rot.
Das Mondschaf.

Lunovis in planitie stat
Cultrumque magn' expectitat

Lunovis herba rapta it
In montes, unde cucurrit.

Lunovis habet somnium:
Se culmen rer' ess' omnium.

Lunovis mane mortuumst.
Sol ruber atque ips' albumst.

And as a bonus, a link to a recent essay on the Taxonomy of Sound Poetry at Jerome Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics.