Britta's Letters from her life divided between city-life in German's capital Berlin and life in a Bavarian village

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Get the Creeps! (And May I help You...?)

Britta Huegel

The last day of October - might I send you a postcard to Halloween?
"Isn't it weird?", asked husband - who is a connoisseur of many things, but not of nature's wild life, "that today I still saw a swallow in the backyard?"
Weird indeed - because it was a sweet little bat - fluttering in her inimitable soft-hectic loudless way through the twilight.
Are you in the mood already? Or are you like the youngest son in Grimm's fairy tale: "Von einem, der auszog, das Fürchten zu lernen", "The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear"?

A father had two sons. The oldest one was clever and intelligent, and knew how to manage everything, but the youngest one was stupid and could neither understand nor learn anything. When people saw him, they said, "He will be a burden on his father!"
Now when something had to be done, it was always the oldest son who had to do it. However, if the father asked him fetch anything when it was late, or even worse, at night, and if the way led through the churchyard or some other spooky place, he would always answer, "Oh, no, father, I won't go there. It makes me shudder!" For he was afraid.
In the evening by the fire when stories were told that made one's flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said, "Oh, that makes me shudder!" The youngest son would sit in a corner and listen with the others, but he could not imagine what they meant.
"They are always saying, 'It makes me shudder! It makes me shudder!' It does not make me shudder. That too must be a skill that I do not understand."

May I help you? Learning that skill?
As I love the poems of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797 - 1848), and couldn't find a translation, I did (roughly - come on, we have Halloween - and I have to get that damned bat out of my hair!) one for you:

Der Knabe im Moor                                           The Lad in the Moor

O schaurig ist's übers Moor zu gehn,                                      Oh it is scary to walk through the moor, 
Wenn es wimmelt vom Heiderauche,                                       When it seethes with heather smoke, 
Sich wie Phantome die Dünste drehn                                       When phantom-like the vapours twirl 
Und die Ranke häkelt am Strauche,                                          And the bine crochets at the shrub, 
Unter jedem Tritt ein Quellchen springt,                                   Under each step a tiny fountain wells up, 
Wenn aus der Spalte es zischt und singt,                                  When from the crack it hisses and sings, 
O schaurig ist's übers Moor zu gehn,                                       Oh scary it is to walk through the moor, 
Wenn das Röhricht knistert im Hauche!                                    When the reeds rustle in the breeze! 

Fest hält die Fibel das zitternde Kind                                        Firmly the shuddering child clutches his primer, 
Und rennt, als ob man es jage;                                                And runs as if it he is hunted; 
Hohl über die Fläche sauset der Wind -                                    Hollowly the wind swishes over the land - 
Was raschelt da drüben am Hage?                                           What fissles over there at the grove? 
Das ist der gespenstische Gräberknecht,                                  That is the spooky grave-servant, 
Der dem Meister die besten Torfe verzecht;                              Who boozes away the Master's best peat; 
Hu, hu, es bricht wie ein irres Rind!                                         Whew, whew, something breaks forth like a freakish ox! 
Hinducket das Knäblein zage.                                                   Despairingly the little lad ducks down. 
(...)                                                                                      (...) 

Well? Well????


  1. Soft-hectic. I love that.

    The story of the two sons left me hanging a bit. ??

  2. Dear Suze,
    sorry, I thought that fairy-tale might be as popular as in Germany, because I found more than one translation. The whole story is here:

    1. I started reading the beginning here on your post again and then thought, 'Maybe I am like the younger brother who is stupid and can't understand anything!' :)

      Thank you for the complete link. And Happy Halloween!

    2. You know very well, Suze, that you are outstandingly intelligent - and that I am always fascinated by your comments because you see texts with the eyes of a friend AND with the eyes of an author, meaning you see content and form, and that is rare. I always learn when you comment - AND always enjoy the thrill of them!

    3. Wow. Thank you, my beautiful friend.

  3. What a wonderful post! I remember that Grimm tale from a very old book I had as a child. Seems to me, it was originally my grandfather's, but for the life of me, I don't know what ever became of that wonderful book. (Beautiful illustrations, too.) Anyhow, in that book, the tale was called, "The Boy Who Couldn't Shiver." Thanks for reminding me.

    Nice poem, too, and then... and then!... you finish with a little bit of Rolling Stones! Perfect.

    1. Dear Susan,
      thank you! Fairy tales sit very deep in our mind, I think - as do their illustrations. As a child I had strong preferences and strong dislikes, interesting that looking back they haven't changed that much. So sad when a beloved book disappears!
      I was idle and took the title from the internet - but thought: mmh, I would translate the German to: "Of One Who Set Out to Learn How to Become Scared' - though I like yours more.
      And the Rolling Stones: love them!

  4. Dear Britta,

    First of all, the top photo you took is really nice! I love it. I like to take reflection photos and actually have taken a lot of them though I've seldom posted them so far.

    As for the two sons, I think I have usually been like the older one (sometimes not, though). But at this age now, I want to be like the younger one. I'm serious!!

  5. Dear Sapphire,
    thank you! I once saw some of those - stunning! - photos you are speaking of and was absolutely fascinated (you wrote one post about them). Reflections, bring into the photo so much more than one sees when taking it - they are always surprising and mysterious.
    As to those sons: I've been like the older one too, still am in great parts of my life. But as you: I try to wipe the blackboard of my mind, erase the many things of etiquette I have learned, and be spontaneous (as in taking part in the Narrowboat trip). It works wonders - I really, really love it - and if people then call me stupid (like they called the younger son: I don't care!)

  6. We get bats, too. Aren't they cute? Once or twice they've got into the house. One peed in a halogen uplighter - which was pretty alarming what with the smoke and the smell!

    Really like the poem (and your rendering of it - thank you. My German is not good). Has anyone ever set it?

  7. Dear Dominic,
    I love the bats (as long as they remain where they belong :-)
    The poem of Droste-Hülshoff was - as far as I found out - never translated into English, which is the fate of many good poems. I try it, because I love to feel out the use of the appropriate synonym and the atmosphere a poet wants to evoke - nice for the 'grey matter', and nice for the heart. Of course one would need an English person (a teacher maybe :-) ?) to correct outstanding blunders (though sometimes they are wilful blunders - or: the poet intended them himself). If interested look at the last discussion on my blog - Wallace Stevens - whom I love oh so much. If I hadn't a bat in my hair I would never dare to translate into English (when I work for publishers as a professional I only translate from English into German). Though I have an explicit conviction why I dare to do it.