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Literary Translations


 
Whenever I read something I really like in Luxembourgish, German or French, I find it a pity that billions of people won't be able to appreciate the little gem, just because they happen not to speak the language. As I love to play around (with words, that is), I sometimes set out to remedy to this, namely by translating the text in question into my favourite language, English, which luckily happens to be understood by a few other people as well.
 
I don't just translate the stuff word for word (for that, we have Google), but rather try to render the mood, the innuendos, double-entendres, and the rhythm and rhyme of the original. Wouldn't it be great if you could endlessly discuss and rediscover the English translation, much like the original text? That ideal may never be fully achieved, but one can try to come close.
 
It's a worthwhile exercise. When you transpose a poem into another language, you suddenly uncover hidden meanings that have eluded you before - that probably even eluded the author of the original work. Neat, huh?
 
Some of the translations here are labours of love, some are commissioned work and don't say too much about my literary predilections; but at the very least they've broadened my horizon - and can that ever be a bad thing?
 

 

Your Heart of Ice is Hot As Vice

 
Guy Rewenig: Your Heart of Ice is Hot As Vice. Miniatures. Translated by Sandra Schmit. Luxembourg: Editions Guy Binsfeld, 2017. ISBN 978-99959-42-12-0.
 
Guy Rewenig does not need an introduction. If you know just one contemporary Luxembourgish author, there's a good chance it will be him. A novelist, satirist, newspaper columnist, children's book author and publisher, Guy Rewenig has, for the better part of five decades, been commenting with sharp wit and satirical verve on the social and political developments in Luxembourg. Twice, in 2005 and 2010, he received the prestigious Luxembourgish literature award Prix Servais.
 
A few years back I decided to translate four small volumes by him into English. The "miniature" works A Real Canoeist Paddles With His Hands, Your Heart of Ice is Hot As Vice, With a Big Salute the Stag Jumps into His Suit and Album of Errors and Comforts were originally written in German and first published by the reknowned Editions Phi between 2000 and 2002. The texts cover a wide range of topics, from national and international politics to social and cultural follies, and, last but not least, the eternal quest for love and acceptance.
 
An eclectic mix of short stories, poems, aphorisms and ironic definitions leads the reader through the topsy-turvy wonderland world of Guy Rewenig. Thought-provoking and to the point, the author denounces political equivocation and social travesty and guides the reader ever deeper into the miasma of mind-numbing bureaucratese, from which he emerges, newly invigorated, onto gentler thoughts of loving partnerships and tending one's own garden. Whereby even the old adage that good fences make good neighbours is, in true Rewenig style, taken to the limits of ridicule, and beyond. Although the texts were written a good fifteen years ago, they have lost none of their interest. Especially the passages about refugees or the arms industry are as up-to-date as ever.
 
To read my commentary on the translation and some excerpts from the book, click here.
 

 

Prairie Flowers

 
Nicolas Gonner: Prairie Flowers. A Collection of Songs and Poems in Our Luxembourg German Language. English Translation and Commentary by Sandra Schmit. Mersch: Centre national de littérature, 2013. ISBN 978-2-919903-30-6.
 
In 1883, the newspaper editor Nicolas Gonner first published these 62 poems in Dubuque, Iowa. The poems describe the life of the emigrants in the Midwest – from the pioneering days to the celebration of traditional Luxembourgish holidays like the Octave in Carey, Ohio and they retell old legends about medieval Luxembourgish kings and mighty Indian chieftains.
 
In 2008, I published an annotated commentary of this Luxembourgish poetry collection. Since the three Prairieblummen poets were emigrants to the United States, there was a lot of interest in the Luxembourg-American community. I was asked to translate a few of the poems into English, and while I was at it, I decided to do the lot. So now the book is also available in English. You can browse through the poems here, or buy the book with the complete commentary and plenty of background information from our online shop. Readers in the US and Canada can also purchase the book from the Luxembourg-American Cultural Society in Belgium, Wisconsin.
 

 

Cimes et Nuages

 
The Luxembourgish author Robert Schaack-Etienne died in April 2010. He was a wonderful man and I appreciate his lyric expositions in the French language. Over the years, he published many poetry collections. The poems grouped under the title Cimes et Nuages (Zermatt) were published in the literary journal Nos Cahiers 17 (1996) 4 p 45-80.
 
In 2011, I translated three over them into German for an anthology on Luxembourgish wander-literature, which, sadly, never saw the day. So you can read them here on my website.
 

 

Amateur

 
Jean Back: Amateur. In: The European Union Prize for Literature. Eleven winning authors 2010. [Brussels]: European Commission, 2010. p 108-122.
 
In 2010, the Luxembourgish author Jean Back won a prize for his novel Amateur. The book is written in Luxembourgish and I was asked to translate an excerpt into English, to be included in the subsequently published anthology.
 
The frame story is set in the early 1970s in Luxembourg, at a time of student rebellions and social unrest. It recounts the first literary endeavors of a young man, which are critically commented by his politically interested girlfriend, who sees in him a mere immature "amateur". Here you can read the excerpt I translated.
 
In 2014, Jean Back presented his book at a literature festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia. For this occasion, I translated the beginning of the novel for him, which you can read here.
 

 

Rammstein

 
A while ago, I've started to translate Rammstein's back catalogue. Till Lindemann's lyrics are an irresistible intellectual challenge and well worth the effort, even though the whole world naturally sings along to the German original. I don't know the band personally, this is simply something I did for myself and any other fan who might enjoy it. Click here to access a list of the songs.
 

 

Poems For Museal

 
Museal Editions: Grandes Eaux-de-vie du Luxembourg. Illustrées par Moritz Ney. Luxembourg: Museal Editions, 2009. p. 16-21.
 
In 2009, the Luxembourgish-French art distributor Museal published a box with four brands of Luxembourgish spirits and an accompanying booklet. The booklet contained illustrations by the Luxembourgish painter Moritz Ney, articles on alcohol and distilleries in Luxembourg and four poems which deal with liquor. My colleague Pierre Marson and I were asked to choose the poems. Amazingly, it wasn't easy to find literary works dealing with hard liquor. Luxembourg is a decided beer-and-wine country and there are many drinking songs celebrating these beverages. But vodka, whiskey, rum and schnapps are not my countrymen's cup of tea, it seems. Or maybe they're just too sloshed to write about it. ;)
 
Pierre Marson wrote the introduction to the poems in German and French, which I translated into English. The poems were printed in their original language (which was either French, German or Luxembourgish) alongside my English translation. Click here to read the introduction and the poems.
 

 

Luxembourgish Poems for the LACS

 
Since 2008, I've translated several Luxembourgish poems, mainly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, for the Luxembourg American Cultural Society in Belgium, Wisconsin. It started out with a poem by the Luxembourgish emigrant Nicolas-Edouard Becker, which you can read in my translation of the Prairieblummen above. Then there were several religious songs. I can't seem to find all of them, but here you can read the ones I did find back.
 

 

German Poems

 
Over the years I've translated several of my favourite German poems into English. They haven't been published anywhere, except here, obviously.
 
Here you can read the German original and my translation.
 
 
 

 

Nassau und seine Bäder

 
Gast Mannes (Ed.): Nassau und seine Bäder in der Zeit um 1840. Das Widmungsexemplar "The Brunnens of Nassau and the River Lahn" von George Barnard an Herzog Adolph zu Nassau. Wiesbaden: Nassauische Sparkasse, 2005. ISBN 3-9810651-0-7. 207 p.
 
A friend of mine asked me to translate George Barnard's travel diary from English into German. As a result, whenever I'm between Koblenz and Giessen (which happens each time I drive to Berlin) and see the road signs for Limburg an der Lahn and the Taunus, I think back with a shudder to the British gentleman's trip around the German spas. I'll never be the same again ...
 
Here you can read an excerpt from the book.
 

 

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