Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Hare and the Hedgehog

Walter Heubach (1865-1923) (via Wikimedia Commons)

When I had started going to school my uncle Pu used to read this tale to us, and I'm afraid that what particularly compelled me was "Halt das Maul, Weib," which is part of a tirade which strikes the adult eye and ear as misogynistic but seemed a lovely and reasonably wieldy insult to me back then. The following is my translation. Outside of the tale I've only ever seen hedgehogs referred to as "Igel" in German, so for an informal and singular effect I've rendered "Swinegel" as "hedgepig," borrowing from
Macbeth, though presumably Shakespeare's hedgepig is literally a different beast. As for the tale itself, it is brimful of class resentment, and not quite as hoity toity in its language as other Grimm fairy tales though the dialect is highly intelligible to the High German speaker, and I'm afraid that, being a snob like the hare, it strikes me as a little vulgar.

As always, the accuracy of the translation is rather a matter of fortuity than of certainty.


THIS tale must be told with a lying tongue, boys, but true it is after all, because my grandfather, from who I have it and who told it to me with great contentment, was wont to say thereby, "True must it be, my son, or else you could not tell it."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Home Thoughts, From Abroad

Robert Browning (1812-1889)
British poet.
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark I where my blossomed pear tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
Quoted from Browning's Shorter Poems [Gutenberg.org]


First a criticism: I dislike the last three lines. The rest of the poem is sentimental, conversational in tone and fairly light, so a philosophical or straightforward ending would likely ground it all. But "little" and "children" is far too much tweedom, especially taken with the exuberance in the further verse; aesthetically the last line hops discomfitingly out of line; the description is generic and slapdashingly worked out; and so it is rather incomplete.

Presumably Browning did not, however, intend this poem to be a sternly wrought masterpiece for the critical inspection of a twenty-five-year-old armchair skeptic, who is neither out-of-doors nor astray in the fair fields of Albion, nor inclined to exert the required imagination to pretend to be otherwise.

So the reason I am quoting the poem is that it expresses the joy of seeing flowers (any flowers!) after winter has given way to spring, uncommonly well, and it delineates the parochial-y attachment which people tend to form for the flowers, creatures, and foliage of their garden and the waysides beyond it, as they glimpse and visit them time after time when the season is at hand.


Spring (Apple Blossoms) by John Everett Millais, around 1856-9
From: Wikimedia Commons