Monday, June 30, 2014

Im Nebel, by Google

In 1982, when I was studying German in high school, I attended a conference in Orlando where I competed in poetry recitation. It seems unbelievable now, when I can barely speak a word of German, but I actually won a medal reciting Hermann Hesse's poem "Im Nebel," or "In Fog."

Here it is in its original German:

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Einsam ist jeder Busch und Stein,
Kein Baum sieht den anderen,
Jeder ist allein.

Voll von Freunden war mir die Welt,
Als noch mein Leben licht war,
Nun, da der Nebel fällt,
Ist keiner mehr sichtbar. 

Wahrlich, keiner ist weise,
Der nicht das Dunkel kennt,
Das unentrinnbar und leise
Von allen ihn trennt. 

Seltsam, im Nebel zu wandern!
Leben ist einsam sein.
Kein Mensch kennt den anderen,
Jeder ist allein. 

It's one of those typically Germanic poems about existential crisis and cosmic loneliness, and sort of the opposite of John Donne's "No Man is an Island." Here is an English translation.

I had a great time at that convention. I went with about six other students and two chaperones, and we stayed at the now-defunct Court of Flags hotel near Disney World. I had a low-key crush on one of my fellow attendees, so that made the trip interesting, and I also remember talking enthusiastically with the other kids about Carpenters songs in the car on the way home. Ah, youth and naiveté!

After years passed and my memory dimmed, I gradually found myself uncertain which poem I had recited, or even who had written it. I knew it had something to do with walking in the fog. With the dawn of the Internet I was able to do some searching and figure it out. Now, when I reread the German stanzas, I remember well the words, sounds and cadences. (Probably couldn't recite them again, though!)

Just for fun, I plugged the German version of "Im Nebel" into Google Translate to see how well the program would cope. Not quite poetic -- what would Hermann Hesse think?! -- but comprehensible, more or less:

Strange to wander in the fog! 
Lonely bush, a stone, 
No tree looks the other, 
Everyone is alone. 

Was full of friends me the world, 
When my life was still light, 
Now that the mist falls, 
Is no longer visible. 

Truly, no one is wise, 
Does not know the dark, 
The inescapable and quietly 
Separated from others him. 

Strange to wander in the fog! 
Life is to be lonely. 
No man knows the other, 
Everyone is alone.


  1. I enjoy google translate, but you can't count on it to be elegant. Poetry is elegant.

    Love the pic with the medal artfully laid out above your certificate. Cool.

    I would love to hear you recite poetry in German. I bet it was so powerful. Your beautiful voice and graceful intensity would really add to the experience.

  2. What a perfect poem for a teenager! I probably wrote (much less masterfully) in the same theme when I was in college (I was a late angst bloomer- ha!)

  3. Ach du spoke German? Me too. Although, like you I can't remember much of it now. However "entschuldigen sie bitte" has stuck with me and "flughafen" which I suppose might come in handy if I were traveling in Germany.

  4. Oh my god. The Germans.
    I tried to take German in college. I lasted like two classes and then I dropped the course. I just could not go there.
    So I am most impressed!