Talk:Wings of Desire

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Revisions to English Translation 22 September 2013[edit]

The English translation given here was, with slight variations, the one found in many places on the web, including on Wim Wenders's own web site, which suggested at first blush that it should be treated as authoritative. I noticed, however, that it contained a couple of fairly obvious errors, which made me think that perhaps the poet had not vetted the translation; and so I felt free to make whatever revisions I thought would improve the translation. A few of these are fairly obvious corrections, but most are admittedly subjective matters of style or art. All I can say in support of such changes is that they seem to me somewhat better to capture the sense and feeling of the German original. At the same time, I can't claim to be an expert in German poetry, or even in German prose, and if a better-qualified editor objects to my revisions, or has better ones to offer in their place, I'll readily defer.

  • Except for a few obvious typographical errors, I have presumed that the German version given here is correctly transcribed, and reflects the poet's intentions as to punctuation, line and stanza breaks, capitalization, etc.
  • In general, I have removed capital letters at the beginning of lines where no new sentence begins. Such capitalization is conventional in English poetry, and apparently in German, but not necessarily in free verse. It was inconsistent in the English translation, so I chose to remove it.
  • I have also made the punctuation reflect that in the German text. That's a bit more problematic, first because German conventions of punctuation are rather different from the English, and second because the punctuation in the German version is often unconventional even for German. The punctuation in the English version was rather irregular, and struck me as arbitrary in many cases. Rather than impose my own notions of proper punctuation (which would have been more conventional than the poet's, because I don't pretend to understand his choices in that regard), I have simply applied the original punctuation, as far as possible, to the English translation.
  • Specific revisions:
    • Stanza 4, line 8: for der Schein einer Welt, I've replaced "an illusion" with "the reflection".
Schein (= "appearance", "shine", "seeming") can mean "illusion", but here I think it carries no implication of falsehood: merely one of insubstantiality and inferiority. The sense is similar to Socrates's allegory of the cave, in Plato's Republic, in which the people in the cave see only the shadows of the real world outside.
    • St. 4, ll. 9-10: For the German,
Gibt es tatsächlich das Böse und Leute,
die wirklich die Bösen sind?
I have replaced
Given the facts of evil and people.
does evil really exist?
Is there really such a thing as evil, and people
who really are the Bad Guys?
The English version was simply wrong. A more literal translation of the German would be, "Is there indeed evil, and people / who really are the wicked?" The collective term, "the wicked", as in "Why do the wicked prosper?", is the most literal, but seems a bit archaic for a modern poem. I considered "the Evildoers", a term employed by a recent former President of the U.S.A. for those deserving of military chastisement; and it may be that the poet had that sort of classification in mind, although the poem predates the presidential speech in question; but I didn't want to make the translation overtly political where the poem was not. I settled on "Bad Guys", which may be a bit too informal, and a bit too American, but can at least be said to suggest a child's thinking.
    • St. 5, l. 2: for würgte, replaced "choked" with "gagged".
In English, "choked" is usually meant literally, and when fed spinach a child does not choke: it pretends to choke by gagging.
    • St. 6: Recombined what was two stanzas in English, but is one in German; for jetzt immer wieder, I've replaced "and now does so again and again" with "and now all the time", which seems more natural to me, although the former was equally correct.
erschienen ihm viele Menschen schön
und jetzt nur noch im Glücksfall,
I have replaced
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.
it found many people beautiful,
now only by sheer luck,
which reintroduces the subjective experience of the child (German ihm = "to it"), and preserves the sparseness of the German's language.
stellte es sich klar ein Paradies vor
und kann es jetzt höchstens ahnen,
I have replaced
It had clearly imagined Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
it clearly pictured Heaven
and now can barely guess,
That restores the simple past tense, as in the original, which the old translation had changed to the past perfect tense.
German vorstellen can mean, "to imagine", but it also means, "to present", and so implies the concrete reality (even if not immediately present) of the thing imagined. I therefore chose "pictured" over "imagined", which, with reference to Heaven, seems to imply unreality. Moreover, ahnen in the next line can also be translated "to imagine", and I wanted to keep the two verbs in opposition.
I prefer "Heaven" over "Paradise" because I take the poet to refer to a religious belief in an afterlife, and not just the dream of an ideal place.
The next line (seventh in the stanza) is difficult to translate, because English has no direct equivalent to ahnen (= "to divine", "to foresee", "to sense", "to suspect", "to guess at", etc.). The former English version was strictly correct, and somewhat more literal than mine, in that it directly translates höchstens (= "at best", "at most"), whereas I replace it with "barely". The line might be most literally translated, "and now can feel an inkling of it, at most;" but that's wordy, to my ear.
    • St. 7: I'm not entirely happy with the existing translation of l. 3, but can't think of a better one, and so haven't changed it. A literal translation of the stanza might be,
When the child was a child,
it played with enthusiasm
and now, entirely so with the business, just as back then, but only
if this business is its work.
    • St. 8: I've rewritten line 2, purely for stylistic reasons, just because it sounds better to me.
    • St. 9: I've corrected the error that translated fielen (= "they fell") with "[they, berries] filled", and made a number of stylistic changes.
    • St. 10: Mostly stylistic changes, but the German has "the tree" (den Baum), not "a tree", and I think the poet wants to suggest some particular tree, not just any old tree. Which tree that might be, I leave, as the poet does, to the reader's imagination.

Jdcrutch (talk) 00:04, 23 September 2013 (UTC)

Restoring full text of "Lied vom Kindsein"[edit]

Prior to April 2014, this article consisted of little besides the Lied vom Kindsein, the poem recited by Damiel in the early moments of the film. In April, an editor cut most of the poem, presumably because we don't hear the entire poem recited in the movie, so that most of it isn't technically a quotation from the film.

I'm restoring the full text of the poem, in German and English, in a separate section, because it's the only piece of the film I've ever heard quoted or wanted to quote, and because the entire poem is in the film, even if it's not all recited out loud. We have a sense that what we hear of the poem in the film is only portions of a longer recitation—just as the thoughts we hear from the people of Berlin are only fragments of sustained inner monologues. This view is supported by the presentation of the complete poem on the film's official web site. (Unfortunately, the English translation there leaves much to be desired.)

I will admit that I also want the whole poem here because I worked very hard at revising the English translation; but I did that because I believed, as I still believe, that the entire poem belongs here for artistic reasons. Jdcrutch (talk) 19:54, 7 October 2014 (UTC)

I just reverted your additions because as I stated in the edit summary: "UNLESS this is open-licensed this FULL TEXT of a modern work CANNOT be permitted here for genuine LEGAL reasons." I am someone who thinks the mania for seeking to increase copyright restrictions which has grown among many in recent decades is deplorable, but genuine legal limitations are one thing which we simply cannot disregard here. I would advise quoting portions of the text on the Peter Handke page — but be selective and cognizant that though major portions of the text of such poems can often be used with fair use guidelines, the FULL text would be problematic in many ways, and NOT permitted. I expect others would be more restrictive than I would be inclined to be, but even I recognize that the full text, UNLESS under an permissive license, or released to public domain cannot be legitimately used here. ~ Kalki·· 20:28, 7 October 2014 (UTC)
Understood. Thanks for the explanation. Jdcrutch (talk) 15:58, 8 October 2014 (UTC)