Tuesday, January 24, 2006

An das Publikum

To the Public (1931)
by Kurt Tucholsky

Dear, dear public,
tell me: Are you really as dumb,
as we hear every day
from all the businessmen?
Directors on their fat behinds
say: "It's what the public wants!"
The men in film: "What can I do?
The public wants these saccharine things!"
Publishers shrug their shoulders and say:
"Good books don't sell!"
Tell me, dear public:
Are you really that dumb?

So dumb, the newspapers, morning and late,
hold less and less to read?
Anxious someone might be offended;
In fear, no one must be incited;
Apprehensive that Müller and Cohn
might threaten with cancellation?
Nervous that finally
some organization will come
and protest and denounce
and demonstrate and litigate...
Tell me, dear public:
Are you really that dumb?

Well then...
On our time weighs
the curse of mediocrity.
Have you such a weak stomache?
Truth disagrees with you?
You'll only eat mush?
Well, then...
Well, you deserve what you get.

David's rendering will follow in a few days. The German original may be read here.

Postscript: I located a quote by Tucholsky online which apparently originates from the first lines of the third stanza, translated somewhat differently: "The burden of our times is the curse of mediocrity." My translation is more literal, in that the original uses a verb (lastet), which was converted here to a noun. Possibly though, burden is a stronger word than weigh. Interesting to see how other people tackle the same text.


Blogger Ariel the Thief said...

well, isn't anything we deserve good?

a great jazz musician was asked if he's sad about jazz not being a popular genre of music and jazz musicians not being superstars. he said, he's not sad at all because that just wouldn't be the same.

12:28 PM  
Blogger admin said...

Nice poem, and doesnt sound like a translation.

By the way.. on behalf of the audience.. YES! :D

9:10 PM  
Blogger Indeterminacy said...

Ariel: That was a wise statement the musician made, hints at the commercialism of music.

Viruswitch: Thank you. Tucholsky did three amazing things with his poetry: 1) it flows beautifully and naturally, the way a person would talk. 2) The rhymes are astonishing/surprising. 3) The message circles in vaguely at first, and then comes the unexpected knock out punch. All I can do is concentrate on 1) and hope that the power of 3) is not diminished.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if the German has this connotation, but I like the way "weighs" sounds as if "our time" is putting mediocrity in a balance, as if going to find it wanting and issue a verdict against the public.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Indeterminacy said...

This is the point where one really has to think about the meaning of words, and the situations in which they are used in another language. I'm not certain that the German verb "lasten" has the sense you mention. I intuitively translated it with "weigh on," which my Langenscheidts dictionary confirms, as does the online dicitonary dict.leo.org (a pretty good online resource). The syllable "last" occurs frequently in German: Lastwagen is a truck, a vehicle which carries a load. Belästigen means to bother someone. The noun "der Last" is a load or even burden. My sense is that burden is slightly stronger in connotation. "schwerer Last" (heavy load) I would maybe translate with burden or heavy burden, instead of heavy weight. I also prefer the sound of "weighs on our time" to "burden of our time." It seems to be more natural, see "1)" above but that is of course subjective.

I suppose no matter what you do when translating you will always have to make compromises, intentional and unintentional, as well as small shifts in meaning.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow oh well here it wonderful to have you click on them like oh

11:35 PM  

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