Media Monday: The Mermaid’s Riddle

Media Monday is a feature I will be posting every two weeks where I discuss an interesting word or phrase (or sentence or paragraph) from what I’ve been reading or watching. 

Since I’ve been reading Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) for the Tadoku challenge, my first Media Monday phrase is actually a paragraph: it’s the mermaid’s riddle that explains the second Triwizard Tournament task to Harry.

Here’s the German:

Komm, such, wo unsere Stimmen klingen,
denn über dem Wasser können wir nicht singen.
Und während du suchst, überlege jenes:
Wir nahmen, wonach du dich schmerzlich sehnest.
In einer Stunde musst du es finden
und es uns dann auch wieder entwinden.
Doch brauchst du länger, fehlt dir das Glück,
zu spät, ‘s ist fort und kommt nicht züruck.

And the original English:

Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you’re searching, ponder this:
We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,
An hour long you’ll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
But past an hour – the prospect’s black,
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.

First of all, I was glad to get to this point of the book because it means I’m getting towards the third task, where all the action start happening; but, besides that, this is an interesting section because it’s obviously a lot harder to translate a poem into another language than it is to translate prose (for the most part, at least).

What I’m basically going to do is take it line by line and look at unknown words, interesting grammar and little things that have changed to try and make this thing rhyme.

Komm, such, wo unsere Stimmen klingen,

The first line stays very much true to the original; ‘us’ is the only word omitted, but it’s pretty obvious without it, so not a big deal.

denn über dem Wasser können wir nicht singen.

Denn has been added to the beginning of this sentence to send the verb singen to the end, so that it rhymes with the first line. It sounds fine in German, but obviously with denn meaning ‘because’ or ‘for’ in English, it can sound a little strange if translated literally. Über is a two-way preposition so in this case, the word Wasser takes the dative case.

Und während du suchst, überlege jenes:

The word überlegen means ‘to ponder, to consider’, so this fits right in with the translation! Jenes means ‘that’; so überlege jenes means ‘[you] ponder that’, with überlege as the verb form because the phrase is a command (in the imperative mood).

Wir nahmen, wonach du dich schmerzlich sehnest.

Schmerzlich means ‘painfully’ or ‘grievously’. The subordinate clause uses the verb sich nach sehnen, which means ‘to pine after somebody/something’ or ‘to long for’; nach has become wonach so that the whole sentence literally means: we took, after which you painfully long for. When using wo- before a preposition, it usually refers to things or ideas rather than people; so the merpeople in the German edition aren’t giving away what, exactly, they’ve taken and hidden at the bottom of the lake!

In einer Stunde musst du es finden

Pretty self-explanatory: the dative pops up with Stunde again because there’s no movement associated with the word in.

und es uns dann auch wieder entwinden.

Entwinden is a pretty specific verb; it means ‘to wrench something from somebody’. It seems a little more aggressive than the English version, but still appropriate.

Doch brauchst du länger, fehlt dir das Glück,

I got a little confused on this sentence; because fehlt is followed by dir, I thought that the second part of the sentence was an idiom, but it’s not. Fehlen is one of those verbs that takes a dative object (an explanation here, and a better explanation in German here), so it just means ‘you lack luck’, or ‘you’re out of luck’ (to be less literal). Obviously since the English uses an idiom – ‘the prospect’s black’, the German has been changed to accommodate that, and the rhyming needed with the final line.

zu spät, ‘s ist fort und kommt nicht züruck.

Fort means ‘gone’ (it can be used to figuratively mean ‘dead’, as well) – and instead of es, the translator has simply written ‘s so that there’s still the same rhythm as in the rest of the riddle. This is another line that matches up almost perfectly with the original version, while still rhyming and fitting in in German.

Finally, I’ll leave a little glossary of the words I’ve covered and some other (maybe useful) phrases they pop up in:

überlegen – to ponder, to consider
denn – because, for
jene – that
dies und jenes – this and that
schmerzlich – painfully, grievously
jdn. schmerzlich vermissen – to miss sb. badly
entwinden – to wrench from
etw. totenstarren Fingern entwinden – to pry sth. from cold, dead fingers (idiom)
fehlen – be missing, lack
fort – gone, dead (fig.)
Fort mit dir! – Buzz off!
Ich muss fort – I have to go
sich nach sehnento pine after sth./sb., to long for
wonach – after which

So there we have it, the first Media Monday post. Hopefully the next one won’t be so long-winded ;).

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