Tag Archives: Erich Fried

Thursday translation #1

See, it’s all in the title–now I’m ahead of the game!

On to Erich Fried, from the Reclam edition that I bought for 4 DM (about $2.50) back in 1997.

Where do we learn?


Where do we learn to live

and where do we learn to learn

and where to forget

in order to live not only as the learned*


Where do we learn to be smart enough

the questions to avoid

that make our love not peaceful together**

and where

we learn to be straightforward enough

despite our love

and for the sake of our love***

the questions not to avoid.


Where do we learn

to defend ourselves from reality

that wants to cheat us

from our freedom**** 

and where do we learn to dream

and wake ourselves for our dreams

to do something with them

for our reality.*****


*Man, this loses something in translation, mostly because in English we don’t capitalize nouns, so it’s hard to tell the difference between learned (past tense of to learn) and the learned (noun, i.e. people who are learned, that being, of course, an adjective–note that it’s possible, in English, to say “The learned learned learned to learn” and have it make sense, at some level). As I see it, the sense of the line is that we shouldn’t always be know-it-alls.

**This is another awkward moment that works well (and scans really nicely) in German, but doesn’t really translate literally. Were I going for poetic-translator’s license, I’d probably go with “that make our love not grow apart”.

***One of my favorite aspects of German is how the same “word” (sound, really) can be repeated, sometimes multiple times, with a prefix or series of adjuncts, to say a complete thought (in this case “unserer Liebe zuliebe” (this is why German is, despite what one may think, a great singing language; see also “Gewinner”, by Clueso, which is pretty much an entire song full of such phrases)…on second thought, this is pretty much the same thing I complained about with English a couple notes above, so make of that what you will.

****Had to switch two lines here, “that from our freedom/wants to cheat us” just doesn’t work in English. The mechanics here are what is untranslatable, with the verb-complex “betrügen will” hitting you after the “Freiheit” in the previous sentence.

*****The bookending here isn’t as evident in English, between the reality of the second line (which is a problem) and the reality of the last line (which really means something more like groundedness, as far as I would say).

Not a hard translation, but one that I do think doesn’t work quite as well in places as the German. It might take some polishing to return the poetry to a few of those lines.