Lermontov Translated Goethe, And I Can’t Not Share It

YES, FOLKS, I am very-geekily-excited to have discovered that Mikhail Lermontov — the Russian Romantic poet who wrote A Hero of Our Time — composed a free translation of J. W. von Goethe‘s famous short poem “Wandrers Nachtlied II” (aka “Über allen Gipfeln…”)!

(Anyone who has taken formal German classes should recognize that!)

Goethe’s poem has left an impression on me since we studied it in class alongside its “Part I” (aptly referred to as “Wandrers Nachtlied I”) which you can read in German and English here. Part II is simple and brief, but full of power and meaning, rather like a good haiku. There are some who say it captures the German soul.

(Wasn’t me, but hey, it sounded nice.)

To rediscover this poem again as I’m studying Russian is simply a delight. It’s like getting to know a fascinating new friend, then finding out this person is also well-acquainted with one of your dear old friends.

So … Давайте познакомимся! Here are the two poems (Goethe’s and Lermontov’s) in their fullness, with audio clips to give you the sound and rather clumsy literal translations to give you the sense of difference:

Goethe’s original:

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Wikipedia translation:

Above all summits
it is calm.
In all the tree-tops
you feel
scarcely a breath;
The birds in the forest are silent.
Just wait, soon
you will rest as well.

… set to music by Schubert:


Now, Lermontov’s version:

Горные вершины
Спят во тьме ночной;
Тихие долины
Полны свежей мглой;
Не пылит дорога,
Не дрожат листы…
Подожди немного,
Отдохнёшь и ты.

My mostly literal translation:

Mountain peaks
Sleep in the dark of night;
Quiet valleys
Fill with cool mist;
No dust rises on the road,
No leaves tremble…
Wait a little,
You, too, will rest.

… also set to music by Alexander Varlamov:


Which one (in terms of either music or text) do you prefer?

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