Nächte ohne Schlafgespann

The following is an old poem of mine I just found among some old hand-writings from 2006. The original hand-writing does not feature a title, but I consider the one I chose adequate. Please scroll down for an English translation. I am not content with the translation (see my commentary below), but fortunately, translating a poem is a crime from which you get off scot-free.

Nur für den Moment, in dem ich meine Augen schließe,
bleibt mein Herz stehn, da der Sommer wehmütig zerrinnt.
Und alles, was dahinter bleibt, ist atemloser Seelensturz
durch Nächte ohne Schlafgespann vor leeren Himmeln.

Das Seelennetz fängt die, die schlafen,
doch was, wenn sie des Schlafes Tiefe nicht ergründen,
wenn sie die Herzenstoten nur für schlafend halten,
als könnten ihre zarten Finger dem Sog der Leere trotzen?

Ich halte mich nur mühsam über Wasser,
und meine Lippen spiegeln blau den einst ersehnten Himmel,
da jedes Seemanns Schiff fänd einen Hafen –
Äonen müssen mir seitdem entglitten sein.

Noch auf ein Letztes schließe ich die Augen
und kehr zurück zu deinen Regenküssen,
bevor mich aller Drang zu neuen Sommern
zu Engelschören stiller Ewigkeiten treibt.

English translation

Just for the moment that I close my eyes
my heart stands still, as summer wistfully fades away.
And all that remains behind is breathless fall of the soul
through nights without a sleeping team before empty heavens.

The net of souls catches those sleeping,
but what if they don’t fathom sleep’s depths,
if they just deem those dead at heart asleep,
as though their delicate fingers could brave the pull of the void?

I hardly keep my head above water,
and my blue lips reflect the once-desired heavens,
for every sailor’s ship would find a haven –
eons must have slipped from me since then.

One last time I close my eyes
and return to your rainy kisses
before all urge to new summers
carries me to angelic choirs of still eternities.

Commentary

The German original contains several compounds that can by no means be adequately translated. While the first two lines of the first verse are comparatively unproblematic, the rest of the poem presents the translator with insurmountable obstacles. The English translation can, for its most part, be considered an attempt of an approach to the original at best. There is, for instance, no appropriate translation for ‘Seelensturz’, first and foremost because you cannot express this compound in a single English noun. The literal translation ‘soul fall’ neither makes any sense nor sounds any good.
I also struggled with the translation of the first half of the first verse’s third line: ‘Und alles, was dahinter bleibt, …’, because it does not mean that anything is left behind, but its meaning is rather both literal and metaphorical at the same time. You can imagine this as meaning something similar to ‘Her face remained behind her mask’, where ‘mask’ carries an additional metaphorical meaning.
Something similar applies to the fourth line of the first verse. How do you translate a line that purely consists of metaphorical expressions for which there are no equivalents in English? In German, there is the expression ‘Sternengespann’ (English ‘constellation’) – which you will not even find in most German dictionaries –, but in the line being considered, the first part, ‘Sternen’ (English ‘starry’), is replaced by ‘Schlaf’ (English ‘sleep’), again a compound you simply cannot translate with an equivalent. German ‘Gespann’ literally translates to English ‘team’ in the sense of ‘two or more animals, especially horses, in harness together to pull a vehicle’ [definition according to http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/team, 1.3]. ‘Sleep team’ or ‘team of sleep’ neither appear to make any sense nor sound any good (at least to me), so I was left with the alternative ‘sleeping team’.
The same holds true, in turn, for the third line of the second verse: ‘Herzenstoten’ is a compound consisting of the two nouns ‘Herz’ (English ‘heart’) and ‘(die) Toten’ (English ‘(the) dead’). I resolved to break the compound up into a demonstrative pronoun (‘those’), an adjective (‘dead’), a preposition (‘at’), and a noun (‘heart’), the entirety of which resembles the English expression ‘(those) sad at heart’. ‘Dead at heart’ is, to be sure, not supposed to mean ‘emotionless’, though. It rather means that someone suffered so much from love that they died from it. ‘Die of a broken heart’ would, by the way, mean something different in its turn. The latter expression describes a process, often a rather long one, whereas the former describes something that happens instantly. To use another common English expression, you may say that someone who is dead at heart was stopped dead in their tracks (by love).
Both in German and English, the respective words ‘Himmel’ and ‘heaven’ can either mean ‘sky’ or refer to a place beyond death as imagined by several religions. Although in modern English, ‘sky’ has prevailed as the preferred expression for the non-religious concept, ‘the heavens’ has remained as a literary expression, and it seemed proper to me throughout the poem. Nonetheless, it carries both meanings, at least to a degree, in the second line of verse three.
Moving to the next line, the German word ‘Hafen’ gave me some trouble. In fact, ‘port’, ‘harbour’, and ‘haven’ would all be adequate in their own right. While German ‘Hafen’ (which can mean both ‘harbour’ and ‘haven’) is obviously related to both ‘harbour’ and ‘haven’, the latter appeared to me the best alternative, since it carries the meanings ‘safe place’ and ‘shelter for ships or boats’.
In line two of verse four, I translated ‘Regenküsse’ simply as ‘rainy kisses’ for want of a better alternative. It is not correct, however, because the kisses referred to are not rainy in nature or related to rain, but they are rain – in the sense of the poem, that is.
I hope that, despite all the difficulties of translation, the poem is still enjoyable in English.

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