‘Consolation’: A poem for now

by Emrys Westacott

A friend, knowing that I’ve been learning German, recently sent me a volume of Theodore Fontane’s poetry.  Fontane (1819-1898) is best known today for the novels that he wrote in the later part of his life.  But some his poems have an affecting simplicity–a simplicity that is perhaps especially charming to those of us who are less than fluent in German. Here is one lyric that particularly caught my attention.  It expresses a sentiment that seems most suitable to the present time as we approach the end of a bleak winter and, one hopes, of a devastating pandemic.  Naturally, the translation takes some liberties in an attempt to retain something of the feel and spirit of the original.

Trost                                                                         Consolation

Tröste dich, die Stunden eilen,                         Be comforted, the hours fly,
Und was all dich drücken mag,                        Like everything that’s sad and grey,
Auch das Schlimmste kann nicht weilen,       Even the worst will pass on by,
Und es kommt ein andrer Tag.                         And there’ll come another day.

In dem ew’gen Kommen, Schwinden,            In life’s eternal rising, falling,
Wie der Schmerz liegt auch das Glück,         Happiness lies alongside pain,
Und auch heitre Bilder finden                         And, like the sunlight, brighter scenes
Ihren Weg zu dir zurück.                                 Will find their way to you again

Harre, hoffe. Nicht vergebens                        Be patient, hopeful.  It may help
Zählest du der Stunden schlag,                      To count the striking hours away.
Wechsel ist das Los des Lebens,                    One’s lot in life is always changing,
Und – es kommt ein andrer Tag.                   And – there’ll come another day.