To the German Language
To my own ruin, to my own contradiction,
Like a moth flying toward a midnight flame,
I want to make an exit from our speech
For all that I will owe to it forever.
There is between us praise without flattery,
And friendship to the hilt, without dissembling,
So let us learn some seriousness and honor
In the West, from a foreign family.
Poetry, you are well served by tempests!
I remember an officer, a German –
The handle of his sword was snared in roses
And on his lips was the goddess Ceres…
The fathers in Frankfurt were still only yawning.
There was as yet no word of Goethe.
Hymns were composed, and horses pranced
And leaped in place, like letters.
Tell me, my friends, in which Valhalla
Did you and I crack nuts together?
What kind of freedom did we inherit?
What were the landmarks that you left me?
Freund! Versäume nicht zu leben,
*Friend! Fail not to live, / For the years fly / And the juice of the grapes / Will not long warm us!
Translated by Ilya Bernstein