Mangan’s Englishing of German verse

Although its stanzas read like the easy and natural expression of an Irish wag’s literary idiom (all the while anticipating the rhyming patter of Percy French, W. S. Gilbert, and Chesterton), THE METEMPSYCHOSIS is one of Clarence Mangan’s translations from the German — in this case a poem from the pen of Ignaz Franz Castelli, an Austrian contemporary.

With all the influence Mangan had upon James Joyce —who loved to recite Mangan’s threnody “The Nameless One”— we might note that in the novel Ulysses the reader encounters the term metempsychosis (Greek for “transmigration of souls” – thank you, Leopold Bloom ; or “met him pike hoses”, as his lady wife, Molly, renders it).

Below that offering is a link to Castelli’s original poem, Die Seelenwanderung, out of which the Irishman made his wonderfully ebullient oversetting. He alters the poem noticeably. For example, the litany of “Leibnitz, Chubb and Toland” (to rhyme with “soul, and…”) is pure added Mangan.

Then please find MY THEMES, which is Mangan’s rendering of Ferdinand Freiligrath’s poem Meine Stoffe (the German original is linked underneath it). Mitigating a reputation as a spurious translator of Oriental verse, we may state that Mangan’s German Orientalist connection, which he turned to his advantage through his proficiency in German, actually reveals an occasionally genuine source of Eastern material, though it is once removed for its Teutonic medium.

Third and last, behold NATURE MORE THAN SCIENCE, Mangan’s exquisite Englishing of Das eine Lied (“The One Song”) by Friedrich Rückert.


                   THE METEMPSYCHOSIS.
I’ve studied sundry treatises by spectacled old sages
.     Anent the capabilities and nature of the soul, and
Its vagabond propensities from even the earliest ages,
.     As harped on by Spinosa, Plato, Leibnitz, Chubb and Toland;
But of all systems I’ve yet met, or p’rhaps shall ever meet with,
Not one can hold a candle to (videlicet, compete with)
The theory of theories Pythagoras proposes,
And called by that profound old snudge (in Greek) Metempsychosis.
It seems to me a pos’tive truth, admitting of no modi-
.     Fication, that the human soul, accustomed to a lodging
Inside a carnal tenement, must, when it quits one body,
.     Instead of sailing to and fro, and profitlessly dodging
About from post to pillar without either pause or purpose,
Seek out a habitation in some other cozy corpus,
And when, by luck, it pops on one with which its habits match, box
Itself therein instanter, like a sentry in a watch-box.
This may be snapped at, sneered at, sneezed at. Deuce may care for cavils.
.     Reason is reason. Credit me, I’ve met at least one myriad
Of instances to prop me up. I’ve seen (upon my travels)
.     Foxes who had been lawyers at (no doubt) some former period;
Innumerable apes, who, though they’d lost their patronymics,
I recognised immediately as mountebanks and mimics,
And asses, calves, etcet’ra, whose rough bodies gave asylum
To certain souls, the property of learn’d professors whilome.
To go on with my catalogue: what will you bet I’ve seen a
.      Goose, that was reckoned in her day a pretty-faced young woman?
But more than that, I knew at once a bloody-lipped hyena
.     To’ve been a Russian Marshal, or an ancient Emperor (Roman).
All snakes and vipers, toads and reptiles, crocodiles and crawlers
I set down as court sycophants or hypocritic bawlers,
And there I may’ve been right or wrong—but nothing can be truer
Than this, that in a scorpion I beheld a vile reviewer.
So far we’ve had no stumbling-block. But now a puzzling question
.     Arises: all the afore-named souls were souls of stunted stature,
Contemptible or cubbish—but Pythag. has no suggestion
    Concerning whither transmigrate souls noble in their nature,
As Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Schiller—these now, for example,
What temple can be found for such appropriately ample?
Where lodge they now?  Not, certes, in our present ninnyhammers,
Who mumble rhymes that seem to’ve been concocted by their Gammers.
Well, then, you see, it comes to this—and after huge reflection
.     Here’s what I say: A soul that gains, by many transmigrations,
The summit, apex, pinnacle, or acmé of perfection,
.     There ends, concludes and terminates its earthly per’grinations.
Then, like an air-balloon, it mounts through high Olympus’ portals,
And cuts its old connections with Mortality and mortals;
And evidence to back me here I don’t know any stronger
Than that the truly Great and Good are found on Earth no longer.


.                           MY THEMES.

.                        TO MY READERS.

.                              (Freiligrath.)


.       “Most weary man !—why wreathest thou
Again and yet again,” methinks I hear you ask,
.       “The turban on thy sunburnt brow?
.          Wilt never vary
.             Thy tristful task,
.       But sing, still sing, of sands and seas as now,
.  Housed in thy willow zumbul on the Dromedary?
.       “Thy tent has now o’ermany times
.  Been pitched in treeless places on old Ammon’s plains!
.       We long to greet in blander climes
.          The Love and Laughter
.             Thy soul disdains.
.       Why wanderest ever thus in prolix rhymes
.  Through snows and stony wastes, while we come toiling after?
.       “Awake!  Thou art as one who dreams;
.  Thy quiver overflows with melancholy sand!
.       Thou faintest in the noontide beams!
.          Thy crystal beaker
.             Of Song is banned!
.       Filled with the juice of poppies from dull streams
.  In sleepy Indian dells, it can but make thee weaker!
.       “O! cast away the deadly draught,
.  And glance around thee then with an awakened eye!
.       The waters healthier bards have quaffed
.          At Europe’s Fountains
.             Still babble by,
.       Bright now as when the Grecian Summer laughed,
.  And Poesy’s first flowers bloomed on Apollo’s mountains!
.        “So many a voice thine era hath,
.  And thou art deaf to all!  O, study Mankind!  Probe
.       The heart!  Lay bare its Love and Wrath,
.          Its Joy and Sorrow!
.             Not round the globe,
.       O’er flood and field and dreary desert-path,
.  But into thine own bosom look, and thence thy marvels borrow.
.       “Weep!  Let us hear thy tears resound
.  From the dark iron concave of Life’s Cup of Woe!
.       Weep for the souls of Mankind, bound
         In chains of Error!
.             Our tears will flow
.       In sympathy with thine when thou hast wound
Our feelings up to the proper pitch of Grief or Terror!
.       “Unlock the life-gates of the flood
.  That rushes through thy veins!  Like Vultures we delight
.       To glut our appetites with blood!
.          Remorse, Fear, Torment,
.             The blackening blight
      Love smites young hearts withal—these be the food
.  For us!  Without such stimulants our dull souls lie dormant!
.       “But no long voyagings—oh, no more
.  Of the weary East or South—no more of the Simoom—
      No apples from the Dead Sea shore—
.          No fierce volcanoes,
.             All fire and gloom!
.       Or else, at most, sing basso, we implore,
.  Of Orient sands, while Europe’s flowers monopolise thy Sopranos!”
.       Thanks, friends, for this your kind advice!
.  Would I could follow it—could bide in balmier lands!
.       But those far arctic tracts of ice,
.          Those wildernesses
.             Of wavy sands,
.       Are the only home I have. They must suffice
.  For one whose lonely hearth no smiling Peri blesses.
.       Yet, count me not the more forlorn
.  For my barbarian tastes. Pity me not. Oh, no!
.       The heart laid waste by Grief or Scorn,
.          Which inly knoweth
.             Its own deep woe,
.       Is the only Desert. There no spring is born
.  Amid the sands—in that no shady Palm-tree groweth!





I have a thousand thousand lays,
.   Compact of myriad myriad words,
And so can sing a million ways,
.   Can play at pleasure on the chords
Of tunèd harp or heart;
.   Yet is there one sweet song
.   For which in vain I pine and long;
I cannot reach that song, with all my minstrel-art!
A shepherd sits within a dell,
.   O’er-canopied from rain and heat:
A shallow but pellucid well
.   Doth ever bubble at his feet.
His pipe is but a leaf,
.   Yet there, above that stream,
.   He plays and plays, as in a dream,
One air that steals away the senses like a thief.
A simple air it seems in truth,
.   And who begins will end it soon;
Yet when that hidden shepherd-youth
.   So pours it in the ear of Noon,
Tears flow from those anear.
.   All songs of yours and mine
.   Condensed in one were less divine
Than that sweet air to sing, that sweet, sweet air to hear!
‘Twas yesternoon he played it last;
.   The hummings of a hundred bees
Were in mine ears, yet, as I passed,
.   I heard him through the myrtle trees.
Stretched all along he lay,
.   ‘Mid foliage half-decayed.
.   His lambs were feeding while he played,
And sleepily wore on the stilly Summer-day.



Ich weiß der Lieder viele,
Und singe was ihr liebt.
Das ist wol gut zum Spiele,
Weil Wechsel Freude giebt;
Doch hätte Lieb’ und Friede
Genug an Einem Liede,
Und fragte nicht, wo’s hundert giebt.

Jüngst sah ich einen Hirten
Im stillen Wiesenthal,
Wo klare Bächlein irrten
Am hellen Sonnenstral.
Er lag am schatt’gen Baume,
Und blies als wie im Traume
Ein Lied auf einem Blättlein schmal.

Das Lied, es mochte steigen
Nur wenig Tön’ hinauf.
Dann mußt’ es hin sich neigen,
Und nahm denselben Lauf.
Es freut’ ihn immer wieder;
Gern hätt’ ich meine Lieder
Geboten all dafür zum Kauf.

Er blies sein Lied, und lies es,
Und sah sich um im Hag,
Hub wieder an und blies es,
Ich schaute wie er lag:
Er sah bei seinem Blasen
Die stillen Lämmlein grasen,
Und langsam fliehn den Sommertag.






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