I can’t lie, it’s been a rough week, so of course I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be a great idea to translate my favorite German poem into Swahili? My German and Swahili mix crazily at times, so I don’t know if this will help or hurt, but at least it combines two really important things about me into one.
Partly, it’s ridiculous since I have no translation training, only some practical experience with German. But I’ve tried to translate this mostly literally from the German, though I borrowed a tiny bit from the English translation at times. I might make this a habit, since it’s one of those things that I can do without watching the clock, and I found some Swahili poems and their literal and final translations online, which could be really helpful both for my Swahili vocab. growth and translation skills. Then I can market my poetry translation skills to NGOs looking for someone to translate their program materials…right???
1. Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht
Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht,
dann geht er schweigend mit ihm aus der Nacht.
Aber die Worte, eh jeder beginnt,
diese wolkigen Worte, sind:
Von deinen Sinnen hinausgesandt,
geh bis an deiner Sehnsucht Rand;
gieb mir Gewand.
Hinter den Dingen wachse als Brand,
dass ihre Schatten, ausgespannt,
immer mich ganz bedecken.
Lass dir Alles geschehn: Schönheit und Schrecken.
Man muss nur gehn: Kein Gefühl ist das fernste.
Lass dich von mir nicht trennen.
Nah ist das Land,
das sie das Leben nennen.
Du wirst es erkennen
an seinem Ernste.
Gieb mir die Hand.
-Rilke, Das Studen-buch
2. God speaks to each of us as he makes us/Go to the limits of your longing
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
3. Mungu anazungumza na kila mtu akiyembuni
Mungu anazungumza na kila mtu akiyembuni,
na anaenda naye kwa utaratibu kutoka usiku.
lakini maneno haya yanayoanzisha,
maneno haya yenye mawingu tunayosikia ni:
Kutoka hisi zako, kutumwa mbele,
Enda mpaka ukingo wa uchu wako.
Ujiumbe kama mimi.
Lipuke kama moto nyuma vitu hivi.
ili vivuli vyako vilivyosambazwa,
Uruhusu kila kitu kikutokelee: urembo na hofu.
Kila mtu lazima aende tu: hakuna hisia iliye ya mwisho.
Nchi iko karibu,
Ambayo wanaita maisha.
katika ukubwa wake.
Nipe mkono wako.
A few issues–
I couldn’t really find a good way to say “embody me” or more literally, “give me form,” so I went a little clunkily with “Form yourself like me.” I wonder if I can say something like “Ujiumbe yangu?”
I translated “diese wolkigen Worten” literally, if a little weirdly, as “these cloudy words,” although in the English it is translated as “the words we dimly hear.” I am not sure which is the best in Swahili, but the frequent use of metaphors in Swahili makes me want to go the metaphor route.
I don’t know that you can really use “happen to you” in Swahili but I just tried it anyway. It may make more sense to just use “happen.”
In the last line, unsure of a word for “seriousness,” I went with ukubwa (greatness/volume/size) though I suppose there are a few other vague ways to say this (ukweli?). Is there a better word? Shetri??? How are there five different ways to say “problem” in Swahili but no clear way to say “seriousnes???”
Other issues, obviously…but I think at least the end is pretty.
P. S. Swahili friends, if you read this, please criticize/correct/tell me if it makes any sense to you.