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.