From the Malayan Love Songs of Ivan Goll

Reinvented from the originals by Martin Maria Kohtes
and Wendell Anton Piez

I am the dark track
Your canoe cuts in the water
I am the meek shadow
Laid down beside your palm tree
I am the little cry
The partridge cries
When your bullet strikes
Ich bin die schwarze Spur
Die dein Kanu ins Wasser schneidet
Ich bin der gehorsame Schatten
Den deine Palme neben sich legt
Ich bin der kleine Schrei
Den das Rebhuhn wirft
Wenn du es getroffen
Je suis la trace sombre
Que ton canot marque dans l'eau
Je suis l'ombre soumise
Que ton palmier projette à son pied
Je suis le petit cri
Que pousse le perdreau
Atteint par tes balles.

I hear the young lianas growing
I hear the palm trees lightly breathing
Around my cabin
The woods are awake
The blue vanilla does not sleep
Heaven placing his great ear
Close to the earth
To listen for your coming
Ich höre das Wachsen der jungen Lianen
Ich höre den leisen Atem der Palmen
Um meine Hütte
Der Wald ist wach
Die blaue Vanille schläft nicht
Der Himmel legt sein großes Ohr
Nah an die Erde
Und horcht ob du kommst
On entend pousser les jeunes lianes
On entend la douce respiration des palmiers
La vanille bleue ne dort pas
Le fleur de cannelle agitent leurs parfums
Et le ciel pose son oreille de géant
Contre la terre
Pour écouter si tu viens

Like anise at dawn
I would flood the air
That your steed might find
Faster the path of my loneliness
I'll be weaker than the cloud
High above the volcano
Falling in the first wind
I would be softer
Than the green pistachio
Coming apart between your teeth
To blend in your blood
Wie Anis will ich die Frühe
Schwängern mit meinem Duft
Damit dein Pferd schneller
Den Pfad meiner Einsamkeit finde
Ich will schwächer sein als die Wolke
Hoch über dem Vulkan
Um beim ersten Wind zu fallen
Sanfter will ich sein
Als die grüne Pistazie
Und zwischen deinen Zähnen zergehen
Um mich deinem Blut zu vermischen
Je veux parfumer l'aube comme l'anis
Pour que ton cheval trouve plus vite
Le sentier de ma solitude
Je veux être plus faible que le nuage
Suspendu au-dessus du volan
Et qui tombe au premier souffle du vent
Plus douce que la pistache vert
Tes dents aimeront me broyer
Me mêler à ta chair

I wish to be nothing more
Than the cedar by your house
Than a bough on the cedar
Than a branch on the bough
Than a leaf on the branch
Than a shadow of the leaf
Than a wave of the shadow
That for one second
Cools your brow
Ich will nichts weiter sein
Als die Zeder vor deinem Haus
Als ein Ast dieser Zeder
Als ein Zweig dieses Astes
Als ein Blatt dieses Zweiges
Als ein Schatten dieses Blattes
Als ein Wehen dieses Schattens
Der eine Sekunde
die Schläfe dir kühlt
Je ne voudrais être
Que le cèdre devant ta maison
Qu'une branche du cèdre
Qu'une feuille de la branche
Qu'une ombre de la feuille
Que la fraîcheur de l'ombre
Qui caresse ta tempe
Pendant une seconde

At the well of memory
I water your shadow-flower
From whose fragrance I will die
Am Brunnen der Erinnerung
Bewässere ich deine Schattenblume
Von deren Duft ich sterben werde

I change the arrows in your quiver
For anemones
I have rescued the shy antelopes
Whose glance I envied
When you struck them
Ich tausche die Pfeile in deinem Köcher
Gegen die Anemonen
Gerettet habe ich die scheuen Antilopen
Deren Blick ich beneidete
Da du sie trafst

The temple is all white
The god is all white
The silence is all white
Yet somewhere a dark water breathes
and prays
My body is all white
Yet somewhere my dark blood breathes
And prays
Der Tempel ist ganz weiss
Der Gott ist ganz weiss
Die Stille ist ganz weiss
Nur irgenwo atmet ein dunkles Wasser
und betet
Mein Leib ist ganz weiss
Nur irgendwo atmet mein dunkles Blut
Und betet

Yvan Goll and his “Malayan Lovesongs”

Yvan Goll stands as both embodiment and victim of the ethnic and nationalist clashes of 20th-century Europe: Born in 1891 in Alsace-Lorraine, the historical German-French border region, he grew up in a French town under German administration, speaking French at home and German in school. All his life Goll would be torn between these two countries, cultures and languages, which also became the subject of his best known long poem Jean sans Terre (who was “zwischen zwei Heimaten ewig der Heimatlose” — “between two lands forever without a land”).

At the age of twenty-one, in 1912, Goll received a Ph.D. from Paris University and stepped onto the European literary stage with a well-received collection of poems entitled Panamakanal. From the start an Expressionist and pacifist in poetry, drama and prose fiction, Goll maintains in his prose a political-humanistic stance throughout his career. His poetry, however, has a strong underlying Romantic strain. Goll's “Malayan Lovesongs” best exemplify this blend of Orientalist love poetry with a dark presentiment of death.

Most books Goll wrote and published together with his wife Claire Goll; their dialogue of love poems is legendary. In the 20s and 30s Claire and Yvan Goll, swinging between Berlin and Paris, were a famed couple of the European avant garde. Their circle of friends and collaborators included painters such as Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Léger, and writers such as Joyce, Breton, Malraux, and Thomas Mann. Today, however, Yvan and Claire Goll are almost forgotten.

As a Jew, Goll had to flee from Europe in 1940, reaching New York with the last refugee steamer after Nazi Germany had occupied Paris. Stripped of his languages and his readers, Goll wrote from his American exile, “I feel my tongue very frozen.” Just before he died at the American Hospital in Paris in 1950, Goll stated: “I leave with a French heart, German mind, Jewish blood, and an American passport.”

Yvan Goll wrote the Malaiische Liebeslieder/Chansons Malaises(“Malayan Love Songs”) between 1932 and 1934, in German. Forty of these poems he translated (or “reinvented”) into French; in 1934 they were published as Chansons Malaises. Chansons de Manyana, Jeune Fille Malaise (“Songs of Manyana, A Young Malayan Girl”). The German originals appeared in print only in 1967, after the manuscript had been rediscovered by the Austrian poet Paula Ludwig. Meanwhile, in 1942, an English translation had been published in the U.S.: Songs of A Malay Girl (Albuquerque: A. Swallow), translated by Clark Mills.

These examples from the “Malayan Lovesongs” are Goll's original German and (if existing) French versions, published as Malaiische Liebeslieder (Ebenhausen/Munich: Langewiesche-Brandt, 1967). The English translations are by Wendell Piez and Martin Maria Kohtes, 1999-2000.