Waldlied (Forest Song)

by Gottfried Keller

Like most of his European contemporaries, Keller, a nineteenth-century Swiss poet, is quick to reach for a classical allusion to illustrate his point. His poem seems for some time to be a vivid and charming piece of pastoral, before taking an unexpected turn to reflect on where art comes from, and the relationship between humans and nature.

The English version is by Westbrook, who has changed a species to preserve a rhyme (“Finken” in the last couplet are “finches”, rather than “thrushes”).

The reader is Tatjana Pisarski. To listen, press play:

To scroll the original and English translation of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.

Arm in Arm und Kron’ an Krone steht der Eichenwald verschlungen,
heut hat er bei guter Laune mir sein altes Lied gesungen.

Fern am Rande fing ein junges Bäumchen an sich sacht zu wiegen,
und dann ging es immer weiter an ein Sausen, an ein Biegen;

kam es her in mächt’gem Zuge, schwoll es an zu breiten Wogen,
hoch sich durch die Wipfel wälzend kam die Sturmesflut gezogen.

Und nun sang und pfiff es graulich in den Kronen, in den Lüften,
und dazwischen knarrt’ und dröhnt’ es unten in den Wurzelgrüften.

Manchmal schwang die höchste Eiche gellend ihren Schaft alleine,
donnernder erscholl nur immer drauf der Chor vom ganzen Haine!

Einer wilden Meeresbrandung hat das schöne Spiel geglichen;
alles Laub war weißlich schimmernd nach Nordosten hingestrichen.

Also streicht die alte Geige Pan der Alte laut und leise,
unterrichtend seine Wälder in der alten Weltenweise.

In den sieben Tönen schweift er unerschöpflich auf und nieder,
in den sieben alten Tönen, die umfassen alle Lieder.

Und es lauschen still die jungen Dichter und die jungen Finken,
kauernd in den dunklen Büschen sie die Melodien trinken.

Arm in arm and crown to crown stands the oak-wood interwoven,
in its sprightliest mood today, it sang for me its ancient anthem.

Far off on the forest edge, a little sapling started swaying,
gently first, but then came on an ever-wider thresh and bending,

on it came, with full momentum, out the wave went, swelling broadly,
sweeping high across the treetops, rolling on, the storm came surging.

In the gloom, the windswept crowns now made a singing and a whistling;
down within the rooted vaults there was a creaking and a moaning.

From time to time the highest oak shrilled as it swung its lonely pillar;
around, the constant chorus rang and thundered up from all the woodland!

The beauty of the forest’s play was like a wild sea’s crashing breakers;
all the leaf was glimmering whitely, strung North-east along the weather.

Thus ancient Pan, now loud, now softly, thrums upon his ancient lyre,
thus he educates his forests in the ancient worldly wisdom:

unboundedly, on seven notes he improvises, low and high,
the seven ancient notes, on which the air of every song must lie.

Forever, eavesdropping, young poets and young thrushes
crouch to drink the music from the shadowed bushes.


More Poems by Gottfried Keller

More poems by this author will be added shortly.