Friday 19 June 2009

What it is, Erich Fried

Erich Fried (1921-1988) fled from the Nazi terror and settled in London. He is best known in England as the poet who translated the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood for German radio. He was a prolific poet in his own right and wrote about Love, Fear and Pain. Poet-in-Residence is currently translating some of Fried's poems into English. Here's the first:

What it is

It is nonsense
says reason
It is what it is
says love

It is misfortune
says calculation
It is nothing but pain
says fear
It is hopeless
says insight
It is what it is
says love

It is laughable
says pride
It is frivolous
says caution
It is impossible
says experience
It is what it is
says love

from Es ist was es ist
pub. 1983, 1994, Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin
translation - gw 2009


  1. looking forward to them Gwilym

  2. I always enjoy your translations Poet - I suppose you can think about the right word as you jog round your circuit - because surely the right word doesn't always pop into your head does it? I would have thought with poetry translation was much more difficult than with prose. Is this so?

  3. Weaver, I'm pleased you're still enjoying the translations. I felt that the Christine Busta translation series was very well received.
    I think both poetry and prose can be "more difficult". It depends on the what, where and when of it all. Often it's finding the time that's the problem. I have a German native speaker to point me in the right direction if I get stuck. But sometimes some of the poems I'd like to translate are well beyond beyond my ability. If 'it' doesn't come after 3 or 4 tries I move on.
    I think finding "the right word" is something I developed through many years of composing Tesco and Asda competition slogans. I found I had a knack for it. I think I managed to win my summer holiday about 10 years running and enough electrical gadgets to open a small shop.


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