Notes on the texts for the NCS concert in November 2015

Here once again (after a multi-year gap) are some notes on the texts for our next concert. The main intended readership is members of NCS; I hope to clarify meanings and allusions and so forth.

Much of what I have to say is either too obvious or too obscure to be interesting. However, what’s too obvious and what’s too obscure may vary from one person to another. Just ignore anything that isn’t useful to you.

It’s probably safe to assume in cases of doubt that everything in here is wrong. (If you identify any specific errors, I am always happy to be corrected.) Translations are, without exception, written to shed light on the meaning of the original text and not to be singable or poetic English. If you want translations for any other purpose, don’t use these! I have made some slightly less literal translations that may be more useful.

Many thanks to Neil Anderson, Colin Bell, Katy Edgcombe, and Ian Priest for helpful comments and corrections.

Britten: The ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard

As it fell on one holy day,
As many be in the year,
When young men and maids together did go
Their matins and mass to hear,
Little Musgrave came to the church door;
The priest was at private mass.
But he had more mind of the fair women
Than he had of Our Lady’s grace.
The one of them was clad in green,
Another was clad in pall,
And then came in my Lord Barnard’s wife,
The fairest amongst them all.
Quoth she, “I’ve loved thee, Little Musgrave,
Full long and many a day.”
“So have I loved you, my fair ladye,
But never a word durst I say.”
“But I have a bower at Bucklesfordberry,
Full daintily is it dight,
If thou’lt wend thither,
Thou Little Musgrave,
Thou’s lig in my arms all night.”
With that beheard a little tiny page,
By his lady’s coach as he ran.
Says, “Although I am my lady’s foot-page,
Yet I am Lord Barnard’s man!”
Then he’s cast off his hose and cast off his shoon,
Set down his feet and ran,
And where the bridges were broken down
He bent his bow and swam.
“Awake! awake! thou Lord Barnard,
As thou art a man of life!
Little Musgrave is at Bucklesfordberry
Along with thine own wedded wife.”
He callèd up his merry men all:
“Come saddle me my steed;
This night must I to Bucklesfordberry,
For I never had greater need.”
But some they whistled and some they sang,
And some they thus could say:
Whenever Lord Barnard’s horn it blew, it blew:
“Away, Musgrave, away!”
“Methinks I hear the threstlecock,
Methinks I hear the jay;
Methinks I hear Lord Barnard’s horn,
Away, Musgrave, away!
“Lie still, lie still, thou Little Musgrave,
And huggle me from the cold;
’Tis nothing but a shepherd’s boy
A-driving his sheep to the fold.”
By this Lord Barnard came to his door
And lighted a stone upon;
And he’s pulled out three silver keys,
And opened the doors each one.
He lifted up the coverlet,
He lifted up the sheet:
“Arise, arise, thou Little Musgrave,
And put thy clothes on;
It shall ne’er be said in my country
I’ve killed a naked man.
I have two swords in one scabbard,
They are both sharp and clear;
Take you the best and I the worst,
We’ll end the matter here.”
The first stroke Little Musgrave struck
He hurt Lord Barnard sore;
The next stroke that Lord Barnard struck
Little Musgrave ne’er struck more.
“Woe worth you, woe worth, my merry men all,
You were ne’er born for my good!
Why did you not offer to stay my hand
When you saw me wax so wood?
For I’ve slain also the fairest ladye
That ever wore woman’s weed,
So have I slain the fairest ladye
That ever did woman’s deed.
A grave, a grave!” Lord Barnard cried,
“To put these lovers in,
But lay my lady on the upper hand,
For she comes of the nobler kin.”

The text is an anonymous English ballad, which (of course) exists in several different forms. It appears that Britten has used the first variant at the other end of that link – and has taken a few liberties, mostly by omission.

fell: happened. (Compare “befell”.)

he had more mind of the fair women: I take it “he” is Musgrave rather than the priest.

pall: fine purple cloth, as worn by the nobility. Can also just mean cloth generally, or a robe or cloak, but usually there’s at least a suggestion of fine quality. I think there’s a progression suggested here: one in (perhaps fairly plain) green; one in something finer; and then Lady Barnard, at the top of the local pecking order. (“Pall” can also mean “altar-cloth”; perhaps the fact that we’re in a church encouraged the author to think of that word. And it can also mean the cloth that one spreads over a coffin, perhaps foreshadowing the end of the story.

The fairest amongst them all Not “among”!

never a word: the clever reuse of this to mean “don’t tell anyone about our tryst” as well as “I was too shy or scared to confess my love” is entirely Britten’s idea, so far as I can tell; it doesn’t seem to be found in any other version of the text.

bower: can mean a house or cottage, or an inner chamber within one, or most specifically a lady’s boudoir. I think all these meanings are in view here.

dight: equipped, provided. Presumably Lady B. means that it has nice decorations and a comfy bed, or something of the kind.

Thou’s lig in my arms: I have no idea why “thou’s” rather than “thou’lt”. Of course “lig”=“lie”.

hose: stockings; shoon: shoes.

bent his bow and swam: of course it’s very bad for a bowstring to get wet. But how does bending the bow help? Apparently that makes it possible to hold the bow by the middle of the bowstave and keep the string out of the water.

As thou art a man of life: i.e., “if you have any life, any spirit, in you at all”.

merry men: this used to be a general term for the companions-in-arms of a knight or similar person. Presumably the underlying idea is something like “drinking companion”? (Note that “companion” itself originally meant “person with whom one eats bread”.)

Away, Musgrave, away! In some versions of the ballad, Lord Barnard commands his men to approach in silence but one man who sympathizes with Musgrave blows his horn as a warning. (I think this entreaty to silence also explains the first word in “But some they whistled and some they sang”: they were supposed to be being quiet but some of them couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.)

By this: by this time; at this point.

lighted a stone upon: got down (from his horse) onto a stone. So far as I know the stone has no particular significance, it’s just a circumstantial detail.

He lifted up the coverlet, he lifted up the sheet: By this point I think we must assume Musgrave and Lady B. are asleep again. (In some versions of the ballad, this is made explicit.)

Woe worth you: same as the slightly less obsolete “woe betide you”. “Worth” here has a range of meanings encompassing “become” “happen”, “happen to”; it is probably related to Latin “vertere”, to turn, and unrelated to the surviving meanings of “worth”.

wax: grow. So (see below) to “wax so wood” is to grow (i.e., become) so mad.

wood: raving mad. This word turns out to be related to the Latin word vates meaning a seer or poet, and to the name of the Germanic god Woden, and to the wonderful but equally obsolete Scots word “widdendream” meaning a state of wild confusion.

I’ve slain also the fairest ladye: in some versions of the ballad, Lord Barnard is first of all remorseful for slaying “the bravest sir knight / that ever rode on steed”, which explains the “also”. (And in some versions it turns out that he has killed not only the two lovers, but also his own young child who was on the scene for some reason or other. And in some he kills Lady Barnard only after she tells him that she likes Musgrave better than she does him.)

weed: clothes.

woman’s deed: I fear there may be a suggestion here that adultery is a particularly womanly deed.

For she comes of the nobler kin: this seems a weirdly anticlimactic ending, but the alternatives in other versions of the ballad aren’t obviously better. In one, Lord Barnard kills himself. In another he is hanged. Some others dwell on the carnage.

Brahms: Liebeslieder

The texts are taken from G F Daumer’s “Polydora: ein weltpoetisches Liederbuch”; that is, “a songbook of world poetry”, a collection of translations of folk poetry so free as to be more or less new poems, along with original poetry in similar styles. (A little like FitzGerald with Omar Khayyam.)

This would be a good point to remind you that the translations here are deliberately ploddingly literal. If you want more poetic ones, let me know.

1. Rede, Mädchen, allzu liebes

Rede, Mädchen, allzu liebes,Tell me, maiden all too dearly loved,
das mir in die Brust, die kühle,who in my cool breast
hat geschleudert mit dem Blickehave kindled with your glance
diese wilden Glutgefühle!these wild feelings of passion!
Willst du nicht dein Herz erweichen,Will you not soften your heart,
willst du, eine Überfromme,will you, abnormally pious,
rasten ohne traute Wonne,remain without wedded bliss,
oder willst du dass ich komme?or would you like me to come [to you?]
Rasten ohne traute Wonne,To remain without wedded bliss,
nicht so bitter will ich büssen.nothing so bitter will I suffer.
Komme nur, du schwarzes Augen,So come, you of the dark eyes,
komme wenn die Sterne grüssen.come when the stars are welcoming.

Of course the third stanza is the girl’s reply to the first two.

2. Am Gesteine rauscht die Flut

Am Gesteine rauscht die Flut,On the rocks rushes the water,
heftig angetrieben;violently driven on;
wer da nicht zu seufzen weiss,whoever does not know how to sigh
lernt es unterm Lieben.will learn under [the tutelage of] love.

The lover is the water, driven against the rocks by forces beyond his control or comprehension, which is why he sighs. Or something along those lines.

3. O die Frauen

O die Frauen,Oh, women,
wie sie Wonne tauen!How they melt one’s heart with joy!
Wäre lang ein Mönch geworden,I would long ago have become a monk,
wären nicht die Frauen!if there weren’t women!

Wonne tauen: “tauen” certainly means to melt, whence the clumsy translation above, but I note that “Tau” means “dew” and wonder whether there is a suggestion of dropping down bliss like dew.

Wäre lang ein Mönch geworden: If you happen to know the very silly song about the Pope and the Sultan, this may remind you of it as much as it does me.

4. Wie des Abends schöne Röte

Wie des Abends schöne RöteLike the evening’s beautiful red
möcht ich arme Dirne glühn,would I, a humble girl, glow,
Einem, Einem zu Gefallenfor the pleasure of one, [just] one,
sonder Ende Wonne sprühn.without end sprinkling delight.

arme: Usually translated “poor”, I think in both English senses (“impoverished” and “unfortunate”) but here I don’t think it indicates anything so extreme as outright poverty; just “nobody special”.

Dirne: not the usual word for “girl” – I think it originally meant a serving-girl, and now it usually means “prostitute”, but here I think it just suggests rusticity.

einem, einem: repetition just for emphasis. It’s not perfectly clear to me whether she actually has a particular One in mind, or whether what she wants is to find someone to love; I think the latter.

sonder Ende: I don’t know whether this qualifies “Wonne” (endless delight) or “sprühn” (endlessly sprinkling or sparkling or whatever). Fortunately this doesn’t make much difference to the actual meaning.

Wonne: You may have noticed that there’s a lot of Wonne in these texts. Bliss, joy, delight, ecstasy, rapture. (Also lust, apparently; you may decide for yourself just how physical the delights our lovers sing of are meant to be.)

sprühn: I think this can mean either (1) being full of Wonne herself and radiant or sparkly-eyed with it, or (2) radiating or sprinkling Wonne to make her partner happy. Probably both meanings are intended.

5. Die grüne Hopfenranke

Die grüne Hopfenranke, sie schlängelt auf die Erde hin.The green hopvine-tendril, it winds along the earth.
  Die junge, schöne Dirne, so traurig ist ihr Sinn!  The young, beautiful girl, how sad is her mood!
Du höre, grüne Ranke, was hebst du dich nicht himmelwärts?Listen, green tendril, why don’t you rise up heavenwards?
  Du höre, schöne Dirne, was ist so schwer dein Herz?  Listen, beautiful girl, why is your heart so heavy?
Wie höbe sich die Ranke, der keine Stütze Kraft verleiht?How can the tendril rise up, which no support lends strength to?
  Wie wäre die Dirne fröhlich, wenn ihr der Liebste weit?  How can the girl be cheerful, if her lover is far away?

Pretty straightforward, this one.

schlängelt: a Schlang is a snake, so schlängeln is to move as a snake does. So not only the wiggliness of the tendril’s path is being emphasized, but also its closeness to the ground.

6. Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel

Ein kleiner, hüscher Vogel nahm den FlugA little pretty bird took flight
zum Garten hin, da gab es Obst genug.into a garden, where there was plenty of fruit.
  Wenn ich ein hübscher, kleiner Vogel wär,  If I were a pretty little bird,
  ich säumte nicht, ich täte so wie der.  I would not delay, I would do as he did.
Leimruten-Arglist lauert an dem Ort,A trap of lime-twigs lurked in that place,
der arme Vogel konnte nicht mehr fort.the poor bird could no longer get away.
  Wenn ich ein hübscher, kleiner Vogel wär,  If I were a pretty little bird,
  ich säumte doch, ich täte nicht wie der.  I would delay, I would not do as he did.
Der Vogel kam in einer schöne Hand,The bird came to a beautiful hand,
da tat es ihm, dem Glücklichen, nicht and.[and] there, lucky chap, he suffered nothing.
  Wenn ich ein hübscher, kleiner Vogel wär,  If I were a pretty little bird,
  ich säumte nicht, ich täte so wie der.  I would not delay, I would do as he did.

Of course this is about the perils and joys of being ensnared by love.

Leimruten: this is bird-lime, not either sort of lime tree.

da tat es ihm ... nicht and: I am not at all sure of the meaning here. One translation I have renders it as “the lucky thing wanted nothing more” but I’m not sure how it could mean that. There is a noun “And” meaning “woe” but “and” here isn’t capitalized, so basically I don’t know what’s going on. (But since writing that, I’ve found on the web a discussion in which someone who actually knows what they’re talking about comes to the same conclusion as mine, so it might be right!)

7. Wohn schön bewandt war es

Wohl schön bewandtHow beautifully ordered
war es vorehewas it before
mit meinem Leben,with my life,
mit meiner Liebe;with my love;
durch eine Wand,through a wall,
durch zehn Wändethrough ten walls,
erkannte michwould discern me
des Freundes Sehemy lover’s gaze.
Doch jetzte, wehe,But now, alas,
wenn ich dem Kalten[even] if I ...
auch noch so dichtright there ...
vorm Auge stehe,stand before his [cold] eyes,
es merkts sein Auge,his eyes ...
sein Herze nicht.and his heart do not [notice me].

Rather a contrast after the earlier cheerier ones! I hope the translation above is usable; the differences in word order mean that translating line by line is frequently impossible. I’ve used square brackets to indicate where the translation of a word comes on a different line from the word itself.

bewandt: apparently this literally means something like “skilled”.

Freundes: usually a Freund is just a friend, but it can also refer to more intimate levels of acquaintance.

dicht: nothing to do with “dichten” meaning to write poetry; it’s related to “dick” meaning “thick” and here means something like “closely”.

vorm: = vor dem.

8. Wenn so lind dein Auge mir

Wenn so lind dein Auge mirWhen so tenderly your eyes ...
und so lieblich schauet,and so lovingly gaze [at me],
jede letzte Trübe fliehtevery last trouble flees
welche mich umgrauet.that had disturbed me.
Dieser Liebe schöne Glut,This love’s beautiful passion,
lass sie nicht verstieben!let it not die!
Nimmer wird, wie ich, so treuNever will as truly as I
dich ain andrer lieben.another love you.

(I can’t read this one without thinking of Heine’s poem – set in Schumann’s Dichterliebe, which is the only reason I know it – that begins rather similarly “Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’ / Da schwindet all’ mein Leid und Weh” but ends ... rather differently. I haven’t checked the dates to see whether Heine might have been referencing Daumer.)

verstieben: literally “blown away”, I think.

9. Am Donaustrande

Am Donaustrande, da steht ein Haus,On the bank of the Danube there stands a house,
da schaut ein rosiges Mädchen aus.from it looks out a rosy maiden.
Das Mädchen ist wohl gut gehegt,The maiden is very well protected,
zehn eiserne Riegel sind vor die Türe gelegt.ten iron bolts are locked in front of the door.
Zehn eiserne Riegel das ist ein Spass,Ten iron bolts, that’s a joke,
Die spreng ich als wären sie nur von Glas.I’ll break them as if they were only [made] of glass.

Not much to say about this, other than that it really could be a bit of an homage to Strauss’s An der schöne blaue Donau, which was composed a few years earlier. Brahms is known to have admired it; when Strauss’s step-daughter asked for his autograph, he jotted down its first few bars and added “unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms”.

10. O wie sanft die Quelle

O wie sanft die Quelle sichOh how gently the stream
durch die Wiese windet!winds its way through the meadow!
O wie schön, wenn Liebe sichOh, how beautiful when love
Zu der Liebe findet!finds itself met with love!

If there’s any particular parallel being drawn between streams or meadows and love, it escapes me.

sich ... windet: The two halves of a reflexive verb.

11. Nein, es ist nichts auszukommen

Nein, es ist nichts auszukommen mit den Leuten;No, there is no putting up with these people;
alles wissen sie so giftig auszudeuten!They know how to interpret everything so poisonously!
Bin ich heiter, hegen soll ich lose Triebe;If I am cheerful, I must be harbouring licentious urges;
bin ich still, so heisst’s, ich wäre irr aus Liebe.if I am quiet, so they say, I am mad with love.

giftig: “gift” is one of those dangerous words that exist in both German and English and mean completely different things in both! “Maliciously” would be a more idiomatic translation.

lose: compare English “loose”.

12. Schlosser auf, und mache Schlösser

Schlosser auf, und mache Schlösser,Up, locksmith, and make locks,
Schlösser ohne Zahl!locks without number!
Denn die bösen Mäuler will ich schliessen,For I want to shut the malicious mouths,
Schliessen allzumal!shut them once and for all!

Schlosser: this can mean more generally “metalworker” but here something more specific seems indicated.

Schlosser ... Schlösser: take careful note of the umlaut in the second but not the first!

Mäuler: this word usually refers to animals’, not humans’, mouths; when applied to people, it’s maybe more like “gobs” or “traps”.

13. Vögelein durchrauscht die Luft

Vögelein durchrauscht die Luft,A little bird flutters through the air,
sucht nach einem Aste;looking for a branch;
und das Herz, ein Herz begehrt’s,and the heart, it desires a heart
wo es selig raste.where it can rest content.

durchrauscht: could mean either “rushes through” (indicating hurry) or “rustles through” (indicating fluttering as of leaves in the wind). Take your pick.

14. Sieh, wie ist die Welle klar

Sieh, wie ist die Welle klarSee, how clear the wave is
blickt der Mond hernieder!as the moon looks down!
Die du meine Liebe bist,You who are my love,
liebe du mich wieder!love me in return!

Are the moon and the wave meant to be somehow parallel to the two lovers? I don’t know; my guess is that nothing very specific is intended.

15. Nachtigall, sie singt so schön

Nachtigall, sie singt so schön,The nightingale sings so sweetly
wenn die Sterne funkeln.when the stars twinkle.
Liebe mich, geliebtes Herz,Love me, dear heart,
küsse mich im Dunkeln![and] kiss me in the dark!

im Dunkeln: perhaps the plural indicates that this is better translated “shadows”? I’d have thought not, since if the stars are out there isn’t really enough light to have shadows, but one ingenious choir member suggests that the pp dynamic here suggests an attempt at secrecy: “kiss me in the shadows, where the stars and nightingales and other people won’t see”.

16. Ein dunkeler Schacht ist Liebe

Ein dunkeler Schacht ist Liebe,A dark pit is love,
ein gar zugefährliches Bronnen;an altogether all-too-dangerous well;
da fiel ich hinein, ich Armen,I fell in there, poor me,
kann weder hören noch sehn,[and] can neither hear nor see,
nur denken an meine Wonnen,[but] only think about my bliss,
nur stöhnen in meinen Wehn.and bemoan my sorrows.

Schacht: compare English “shaft”.

Bronnen: usually “Brunnen” in modern German. Is there a suggestion that love resembles a well not only in being hazardous but in being a source of something valuable, indeed necessary for life?

17. Nicht wandle, mein Licht

Nicht wandle, mein Licht, dort aussenDo not wander, my light, out there
im Flurbereich;in the fields;
die Füsse würden dir, die zarten,for your tender feet it would be
zu nass, zu weich.too damp, too soft.
All überströmt sind dort die Wege,Out there the tracks are all flooded,
die Stege dir;[and] the footpaths;
so überreichlich tränte dortenso extravagantly have been weeping, out there,
Das Auge eyes.

Stegen: this has a wide variety of meanings and my dictionary insists on “footbridges”, but I think footpaths are more likely than footbridges here.

überreichlich: “reichlich” means “amply” or “generously” (reich=rich), so of course “üuberreichlich” means more-than-amply.

18. Es bebet das Gesträuche

Es bebet das Gesträuche,The bushes tremble
gestreift hat es im Flugewhen there has streaked past it in flight
ein Vögelein.a little bird.
In gleicher Art erbebetIn the same way trembles
die Seele mir, erschüttertmy soul, shaken
von Liebe, Lust und Leide,by love, desire and pain
gedenkt sie dein.when it thinks of you.

gestreift: I am guessing at the meaning. Usually this word means “striped”, so perhaps streaking has the same range of meanings in German as in English.

Fauré: Les Djinns

Murs, ville,Walls, town,
et port,and harbour,
de mort,of death,
mer grisegrey sea
où brisewhere falters
la brise,the breeze,
tout dort.everything sleeps.
Dans la plaineOn the plain
naît un bruit.a noise is born.
C’est l’haleineIt is the breathing
de la nuit.of the night.
Elle brâme,It wails,
comme une âmelike a soul
qu’une flammewhich a flame
toujours suit.always follows.
La voix plus hauteThe voice, louder [now],
semble un like a bell.
D’un nain qui saute[It is] a jumping dwarf’s
c’est le [it is].
Il fuit, s’élance,It flees, rushes forward,
puis, en cadence,then, rhythmically,
sur un pied dansedances on one foot
au bout d᾿un the base of a wave.
La rumeur approche,The hubbub approaches,
l’cho la redit.the echo repeats it.
C’est comme la clocheIt is like the bell
d’un couvent maudit.of a cursed convent.
Comme un bruit de fouleLike the noise of a crowd
qui tonne et qui roule,that thunders and rolls,
qui tantôt s’écroulethat now collapses
et tantôt grandit.and now grows.
Dieu! la voix sépulcraleO God! the sepulchral voice
des djinns! Quel bruit ils font!of the djinns! What a noise they make!
Fuyons sous la spiraleLet us flee down the spiral
de l’escalier profond!of the deep staircase!
Déja s’éteint ma lampeAlready my lamp is going out
et l’ombre de la rampe,and the shadow of the handrail,
qui le long du mur rampe,which runs all along the wall,
monte jusqu᾿au plafond!reaches up to the ceiling!
(Here Fauré omits two stanzas.)
Cris de l’enfer! voix qui hurle et qui pleure,Hellish cries! a voice that shouts and weeps,
l’horrible essaim poussé par l᾿aquilon,the horrible swarm pushed on by the north wind,
sans doute, ô ciel! s᾿abat sur ma demeure.doubtless, O heaven!, is knocking at my house [door],
Le mur fléchit sous le noir battailon.the wall buckles under the black horde.
La maison crie et chancelle, penchée,The house cries out and totters, tipping over,
et l’on dirait que, du sol arrachée,and one would say that, uprooted from the ground,
ainsi qu’il chasse une feuille séchéejust as it would chase a dry leaf,
le vent la roule avec leur tourbillon.the wind rolls it about with its whirlwind.
Prophète! si ta main me sauveProphet! if your hand saves me
de ces obscurs démons des soirs,from these dark demons of the night,
j’irai prosterner mon front chauveI will go and prostrate my shaven head
devant tes sacrés encensoirs!before your sacred censers!
Fais que sur ces portes fidèlesOn these faithful doors, ...
meure leur souffle d’étincelles,[make] their breath of sparks die
et qu᾿en vain l᾿ongle de leures ailesand [make] the claw of their wings in vain
grince et crie sur ces vitraux noirs!scrape and screech against these black windows!
(Here Fauré omits a stanza.)
De leurs ailes lointainesOf their distant wings
le battement décroit,the beating decreases,
si confus dans les plaines,so indistinct on the plains,
si faible, que l’on croitso weak, that one would think
ouïr la sauterelleone was hearing the locust
crier d’une voix grèlecry in a shrill voice
ou pétiller la grêleor the hail crackling
sur le plomb d’un vieux toit.on the lead of an old roof.
(Here Fauré omits a stanza.)
Les djinns funèbres,The funereal djinns,
fils du trépas,sons of sin,
dans les ténèbresin the shadows
pressent leurs pas.quicken their steps.
Leur essaim gronde:Their swarm growls:
ainsi, profonde,so, in the depths,
murmure une ondemurmurs a wave
qu’on ne voit pas.that one does not see.
Ce bruit vagueThis vague noise
qui s’endort,which falls asleep,
c’est la vagueit is the wave
sur le bord,on the shore,
c’est la plainteit is the plea,
presque éteintealmost extinguished,
d’une sainteof a saint
pour un mort.for one dead.
On douteOne doubts
la nuit,at night,
j’coute:I listen:
tout fuit,everything flees,
tout passe,Everything passes away,
l’espace[and] empty space
effacewipes out
le bruit.the sound.

The text is a poem by Victor Hugo.

A glance at the shape of the text above should make it clear what’s going on: as the djinns approach, the lines get longer (starting from almost nothing); as they retreat, they shrink again (ending with almost nothing). As the djinns get closer and the lines longer, the poet’s horror mounts; he calms down again as the djinns retreat.

In cases where the number of syllables to give a word isn’t immediately clear, you can generally tell by checking against the (quite regular) metre of the poem. (Of course it’s generally clear from the music.) The first stanza’s lines have 3,2,3,2, 3,3,3,2 syllables; each successive stanza has one extra syllable per line except that (1) Fauré has omitted four stanzas (as indicated above) and (2) the “longest” stanza, which according to the scheme I’ve just described should have 10,9,... syllables, actually gets an extra syllable per line: 11,10,... .

In this poem, Hugo frequently rhymes two homonyms; e.g., “brise” (falters) and “brise” (the breeze). In English poetry this is generally forbidden; I don’t know about French, but in any case Hugo is clearly doing it for deliberate effect.

ville ... asile: Two syllables each.

asile: As well as “refuge” this can, e.g., mean “retirement home”. (Compare English “asylum”.) Is this a place where death takes refuge, or a place where people go to die?

grise ... brise ... brise: Two syllables each.

tout dort: Definitely “everything” rather than everyone (which would be “tous” rather than “tout”).

une flamme: Presumably the fire of hell.

un grelot: Specifically a small round tinkly bell, not a big church bell.

galop: My (quite good) French dictionary insists that this just means “gallop” but I’m pretty sure that here it means a dance, and at least one member of the choir whose French is better than mine agrees.

maudit: Cursed, or even damned.

s’écroule ... grandit: of course it’s the noise, not the crowd, that’s collapsing and surging.

escalier ... rampe ... mur ... plafond: Perhaps Hugo has some specific configuration of walls and stairs and so forth in mind, but it’s hard to tell. The general atmosphere is of course what matters.

ma demeure: Perhaps the house is metaphorical: it is the poet’s self that is being assailed, his sanity that is tottering. ... In which case, should we take the whole thing to be metaphorical, a vivid way of talking about depression or irrational terror? (I think this is the sort of question that has no definite answer. It’s a depiction of a physical event, but you can apply it in various symbolic ways.)

Prophète: what prophet? what religion? It scarcely matters. It would appear from what follows that the prophet does as he is asked.

chauve: presumably shaven as a sign of humility and self-abasement.

la sauterelle: rather than the locust, this could equally be the humble grasshopper or cricket.

On doute la nuit: I’m not sure I’ve interpreted this correctly; I’m guessing there’s an implied preposition like “in” or “during”. Literally it’s “One doubts the night”, which doesn’t make much sense. I take it that what the poet is now doubting is whether the djinns were really anything more than a bad dream.

passe ... espace ... efface: Two, three, three syllables.

efface: literally “wipes out“, but a more idiomatic translation would be something like “swallows up”.

Fauré: Madrigal

Inhumaines qui, sans merci,[You] inhuman women who, without mercy,
vous raillez de notre souci,make fun of our care:
  aimez quand on vous aime!  Love when you are loved!
Ingrats qui ne vous doutez pas[You] ungrateful men who have no idea of
des rêves éclos sur vos pas,the dreams hatched on your footprints,
  aimez quand on vous aime!  Love when you are loved!
Sachez, ô cruelles Beautés,Know, cruel beauties,
que les jours d’aimer sont comptés.that the days of loving are numbered.
Sachez, amoureux inconstants,Know, fickle lovers,
que le bien d’aimer n’a qu’un temps.that the good of loving has but one season.
  Aimez quand on vous aime!  Love when you are loved!
Un même destin nous poursuit,The same fate pursues us all,
et notre folie est la même:and our folly is the same:
c’est celle d’aimer qui nos fuit,it is that of loving one who flees us,
c’est celle de fuir qui nous aime!it is that of fleeing one who loves us!

The poem is by Armand Silvèstre. You will see that my commitment to ploddingly literal translation has led to some rather odd renderings above; I will try to explain below.

The overall message, presented a few different ways, is: If someone loves you, you should love them in return. (“Die du meine Liebe bist, / Liebe du mich wieder!”)

souci: care, that is, for whatever inhuman woman one has the misfortune to have fallen in love with.

ne vous doutez pas: I think “douter” in French, unlike “doubt” in English, can contrast not only with positive certainty (meaning “doubt”) but also with negative certainty or obliviousness (meaning something like “wonder”), which is what’s going on here. des rêves ... vos pas: that is, the women’s dreams of love that follow where the men have been. “She worshipped the very ground he walked on, and he never noticed.”

le bien ... un temps: That is: the opportunity to benefit from love comes once, and never again. I don’t think this is intended to mean only one occasion; rather, that you get a few years of youth in which to enjoy love, so you should grasp every opportunity you can during those years.

Un même destin: Death, or at least the passing of youth. “But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”.

Schubert: Mirjam’s Siegesgesang

Rührt die Cymbel, schlagt die Saiten,Touch the cymbal, strike the strings,
lasst den Hall es tragen weit,let the echo resound afar:
gross der Herr zu allen Zeiten,Great is the Lord through all times,
heute gross vor aller Zeit!great is this day for all time!
  Gross der Herr zu allen Zeiten,  Great is the Lord through all times,
  heute gross vor aller Zeit!  great is this day for all time!
Aus Egypten vor dem VolkeOut of Egypt before the people,
wie der Hirt, den Stab zur Huth,like a shepherd, his staff for protection,
zogst du her, dein Stab die Wolke,you brought [them] here, the clouds for staff,
und dein’ Aug des Feuers Glut.and your eye the blaze of the fire.
  Zieh’ ein Hirt vor deinem Volke,  Go forth, a shepherd before your people,
  stark dein Arm, dein Auge Glut.  strong your arm, blazing your eye.
Und das Meer hört deine Stimme,And the sea hears your voice,
thut sich auf dem Zug, wird Land.heaves and becomes land.
Scheu des Meeres UngethümeTimid before the sea’s monstrosity,
schau’n durch die krystall’ne Wand.we gaze through the crystal wall.
  Wir vertrauten deiner Stimme,We trust your voice,
  traten froh das neue Land.tread joyfully on the new land.
Doch der Horizont erdunkelt,But the horizon darkens,
Ross und Reiter lösst sich los,Horses and riders spread out,
Hörner lärmen, Eisen funkelt,Horns sound, iron glitters,
es ist Pharao und sein is Pharaoh and his army.
  Herr, von der Gefahr umdunkelt,Lord, cast into shadow by peril,
  hilflos wir, dort Mann und Ross.we are helpless – there are the men and horses!
Und die Feinde mordentglommen,And the enemy, glowing with murder,
drängen nach den sichern Pfad,draws near to the safe path,
jetzt und jetzt. Da horch! welch Säuseln!nearer and nearer. Listen! What is that rustling?
Wehen, Murmeln, Dröhnen, Sturm!Wind blowing, a muttering, a roaring – a storm!
’S ist der Herr in seinem Grimme,It is the Lord in his fury,
einstürtzt rings der Wasser Thurm.around [them] collapses the tower of water.
Mann und Pferd,Man and steed,
Ross und Reiter,horse and rider,
Eingewickelt, umsponnen,entangled, interwoven,
im Netzte der Gefahr,in the net of peril,
zerbrochen die Speichen ihrer Wagen,broken the wheel-spokes of their wagons,
todt der Lenker, todt das Gespann.dead the driver, dead the horse-team.
Tauchst du auf, Pharao?Will you surface, Pharaoh?
Hinab, hinunter,Down, down,
Hinunter in den Abgrund,down into the abyss,
Schwarz wie deine as your heart.
Schrecklich hat das Meer vollzogen,Most terribly has the sea done its job,
lautlos rollen seine Wogen:noiselessly roll its waves:
nimmer gibt es, was es barg,never will it give back what it holds,
Frevlergrab zugleich und once a blasphemer’s grave and his coffin.
D’rum mit Cymbel und mit SaitenTherefore with cymbal and with strings
lasst den Hall es tragen weit,let the echo resound afar,
gross der Herr zu allen Zeiten,great is the Lord through all times,
heute gross vor aller Zeit!great is this day for all time!
 Gross der Herr zu allen Zeiten,  Great is the Lord through all times,
 heute gross vor aller Zeit!  great is this day for all time!

The text is by Franz Grillparzer; it is very loosely adapted from chapter 15 of the book of Exodus, which contains a lengthy song sung by “Moses and the Israelites” after their escape through the Red Sea and a two-liner sung by “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister”, which is almost identical to the first two lines of Moses’s song. In ascribing his lengthy song to Miriam rather than Moses, Grillparzer has perhaps struck a blow for feminism.

Rührt die Cymbel: perhaps the meaning is that the cymbals should be touched to one another. “Clash” or “crash” would then be a more idiomatic translation.

vor dem Volke: You may recall that God is said to have gone before the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

dein Stab die Wolke: that is, directing them with a cloud (the pillar of cloud just mentioned) as a shepherd directs his sheep with a staff.

dein’ Aug des Feuers Glut: Grillparzer actually wrote “Arm”, not “Aug’”. I think Grillparzer’s version makes more sense, but presumably Schubert changed it to match the Auge a couple of lines later.

lösst sich los: I am not at all sure what this actually means; “loesst sich” seems to be a very unusual verb that usually means something like “resolves”, and “los” usually means “loosely”. I’ve seen the translation “deploy in groups” on the web, which kinda makes some sense, but “spread out” seems simpler and about equally plausible. It’s literally “horse and rider” rather than “horses and riders” but of course it refers to a whole lot of them. Anyway, I would be glad of any input from those who know more German than I do!

mordentglommen: I’m not really sure what it means to glow with murder, but that’s what it says.

drängen nach den sichen Pfad: the comma after “nach” in our copies is clearly a mistake. In fact what Grillparzer wrote was “drängen nach auf sich’rem Pfad” and I don’t know how much of the difference between that and what we have is authentic Schubert and how much careless editing. The comma is certainly nonsense, and I don’t think “sichen” can possibly be right either.

den sichen Pfad: that is, the dry path through the Red Sea along which the Israelites are escaping. The Egyptians are still on the other side, and are about to follow the Israelites into the divinely-provided channel between the waters. (It seems to me that their stupidity at this point is almost as hard to believe as all the miracles.)

das Gespann: a pair of horses (or indeed oxen, but these are clearly horses) yoked together. The word can also mean a horse and cart, but that isn’t the kind of thing that can be dead.

Tauchst du auf: “tauchen” is to dive, but I take it “tauchen auf” is to dive upwards; that is, to come back to the surface. Of course the answer to the question is “nope”.

hinab, hinunter: both of these basically just mean “down”, but to me the former merely suggests going down while the latter suggests going underneath something; in this case, the sea (with maybe a suggestion of hell too).

Schrecklich: just means “terribly”; I added the word “most” because otherwise it would sound as if the sea has done a bad job, which isn’t the point at all.

zugleich: somehow this always seems as if it should mean “like”, but it just means “at the same time”.

Mathias: Learsongs

I don’t have a copy of the music for these (since they’ for ladies only), so if Mathias has made any changes then they won’t be represented here.

These are light-hearted nonsense poems, and I don’t see much about them that requires comment beyond defining a few less-familiar words. (Not that the definitions will generally be very helpful.)

1. Calico Pie

Calico Pie,
The little Birds fly
Down to the calico tree,
Their wings were blue,
And they sang “Tilly-loo!”
Till away they flew,—
And they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Jam,
The little Fish swam,
Over the syllabub sea,
He took off his hat,
To the Sole and the Sprat,
And the Willeby-Wat,—
But he never came back to me!
He never came back!
He never came back!
He never came back to me!

Calico Ban,
The little Mice ran,
To be ready in time for tea,
Flippity flup,
They drank it all up,
And danced in the cup,—
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Drum,
The Grasshoppers come,
The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee,
Over the ground,
Around and around,
With a hop and a bound,—
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

calico: a kind of cotton fabric. It’s named after an Indian city now called Kozhikode.

syllabub: a creamy dessert or drink.

2. The owl and the pussycat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

runcible: a nonsense word invented by Lear, probably with no very definite meaning (he has a “runcible hat” elsewhere). Some people have used “runcible spoon” to mean what’s now more often called a spork, but I’m not aware of any particular reason to think that Lear had anything of the sort in mind.

3. The duck and the kangaroo

Said the Duck to the Kangaroo,
“Good gracious! how you hop!
Over the fields and the water too,
As if you never would stop!
My life is a bore in this nasty pond,
And I long to go out in the world beyond!
I wish I could hop like you!”
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.

“Please give me a ride on your back!”
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.
“I would sit quite still, and say nothing but ‘Quack,’
The whole of the long day through!
And we’d go to the Dee, and the Jelly Bo Lee,
Over the land, and over the sea;—
Please take me a ride! O do!”
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.

Said the Kangaroo to the Duck,
“This requires some little reflection;
Perhaps on the whole it might bring me luck,
And there seems but one objection,
Which is, if you’ll let me speak so bold,
Your feet are unpleasantly wet and cold,
And would probably give me the roo–
Matiz!” said the Kangaroo.

Said the Duck, “As I sate on the rocks,
I have thought over that completely,
And I bought four pairs of worsted socks
Which fit my web-feet neatly.
And to keep out the cold I’ve bought a cloak,
And every day a cigar I’ll smoke,
All to follow my own dear true
Love of a Kangaroo!”

Said the Kangaroo, “I’m ready!
All in the moonlight pale;
But to balance me well, dear Duck, sit steady!
And quite at the end of my tail!”
So away they went with a hop and a bound,
And they hopped the whole world three times round;
And who so happy, —O who,
As the Duck and the Kangaroo?

Dee: an actual English river. Jelly Bo Lee: not an actual English river.

roo- / Matiz: rheumatism. I think the “Matiz!” has a suggestion of a sneeze about it, too.

sate: sat.

4. Uncle Arly

O! My aged Uncle Arly!
Sitting on a heap of Barley
Thro’ the silent hours of night,—
Close beside a leafy thicket:—
On his nose there was a Cricket,—
In his hat a Railway-Ticket;—
(But his shoes were far too tight.)

Long ago, in youth, he squander’d
All his goods away, and wander’d
To the Tiniskoop-hills afar.
There on golden sunsets blazing,
Every morning found him gazing,—
Singing – “Orb! you’re quite amazing!
How I wonder what you are!”

Like the ancient Medes and Persians,
Always by his own exertions
He subsisted on those hills;—
Whiles, – by teaching children spelling,—
Or at times by merely yelling,—
Or at intervals by selling
“Propter’s Nicodemus Pills.”

Later, in his morning rambles
He perceived the moving brambles—
Something square and white disclose;—
’Twas a First-class Railway Ticket;
But, on stooping down to pick it
Off the ground, – a pea-green Cricket
settled on my uncle’s Nose.

Never – never more, – Oh! never,
Did that Cricket leave him ever,—
Dawn or evening, day or night;—
Clinging as a constant treasure,—
Chirping with a cheerious measure,—
Wholly to my uncle’s pleasure
(Though his shoes were far too tight.)

So for three-and-forty winters,
Till his shoes were worn to splinters,
All those hills he wander’d o’er,—
Sometimes silent; – sometimes yelling;—
Till he came to Borley-Melling,
Near his old ancestral dwelling;—
(But his shoes were far too tight.)

On a little heap of Barley
Died my aged uncle Arly,
And they buried him one night;—
Close beside the leafy thicket;—
There, – his hat and Railway-Ticket;—
There, – his ever-faithful Cricket;—
(But his shoes were far too tight.)

The full title of this poem is “Some incidents in the life of my Uncle Arly”. It was written near the end of Lear’s life, and may be autobiographical (note: uncLEARly).

How I wonder what you are!: a reference, of course, to “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”.

5. The pelican chorus

King and Queen of the Pelicans we;
No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

We live on the Nile. The Nile we love.
By night we sleep on the cliffs above;
By day we fish, and at eve we stand
On long bare islands of yellow sand.
And when the sun sinks slowly down
And the great rock walls grow dark and brown,
Where the purple river rolls fast and dim
And the Ivory Ibis starlike skim,
Wing to wing we dance around,—
Stamping our feet with a flumpy sound,—
Opening our mouths as Pelicans ought,
And this is the song we nightly snort;—
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Last year came out our daughter, Dell;
And all the Birds received her well.
To do her honour, a feast we made
For every bird that can swim or wade.
Herons and Gulls, and Cormorants black,
Cranes, and flamingoes with scarlet back,
Plovers and Storks, and Geese in clouds,
Swans and Dilberry Ducks in crowds.
Thousands of Birds in wondrous flight!
They ate and drank and danced all night,
And echoing back from the rocks you heard
Multitude-echoes from Bird to bird,—
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Yes, they came; and among the rest,
The King of the Cranes all grandly dressed.
Such a lovely tail! Its feathers float
between the ends of his blue dress-coat;
With pea-green trowsers all so neat,
And a delicate frill to hide his feet,—
(For though no one speaks of it, every one knows,
He has got no webs between his toes!)

As soon as he saw our Daughter Dell,
In violent love that Crane King fell,—
On seeing her waddling form so fair,
With a wreath of shrimps in her short white hair.
And before the end of the next long day,
Our Dell had given her heart away;
For the King of the Cranes had won that heart,
With a Crocodile’s egg and a large fish-tart.
She vowed to marry the King of the Cranes,
Leaving the Nile for stranges plains;
And away they flew in a gathering crowd
Of endless birds in a lengthening cloud.
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

And far away in the twilight sky,
We heard them singing a lessening cry,—
Farther and farther till out of sight,
And we stood alone in thesilent night!
Often since, in the nights of June,
We sit on the sand and watch the moon;—
She has gone to the great Gromboolian plain,
And we probably never shall meet again!
Oft, in the long still nights of June,
We sit on the rocks and watch the moon;—
—She dwells by the streams of the Chankly Bore,
And we probably never shall see her more.
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!