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The Boy on the Moor

by  michwo

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2017
Word Count: 367
Summary: My own approximate translation of the 1842 poem "Der Knabe im Moor" by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848).

The Boy on the Moor
Dreadful it is to walk on the moor
When the burning heathland swarms with smoke.
Ghostly vapours swirl with flecks of spoor
And tendrils twisting through bushes poke.
With each step a tiny spring comes forth
And from a fissure sings at its source.
Dreadful it is to walk on the moor
When reedbeds rustle and frogs there croak!
Trembling the child holds on to his primer
And runs as if hunted by hounds;
The wind ploughs the plain as sea a liner –
What’s that on the heath out of bounds?
It’s the ghost of a cutter of peat,
Who for his master stacks the sods neat;
He comes out of the earth like a miner!
The timid boy to duck has grounds.
From the river bank, both far and near,
Stumps stare and uncanny pines bow.
The boy runs on, each sound straining to hear,
As much as the tall stalks of grass allow;
And how it trickles and rustles in there!
A madwoman haunts this place!  Take care!
Bewitched Leonora, withered and sere,
Spins in the rushes her bobbin now!
Onward, onward, on running still,
On as if fearing he might be caught;
In front of his feet puddles spill,
Of the soles of his shoes earth makes sport,
Whistles up a ghostly riddle.
A phantom musician scrapes his fiddle.
To be a thief also he's had the skill –
A wedding farthing’s luck he’s sought!
The moor bursts, exudes a sigh
Up out of a gaping hollow;
Woe, woe, you can hear some damned soul cry:
“Have pity on my spirit’s sorrow!”
The boy would have jumped like a wounded deer
Had his guardian angel not been near.
A mole would have found by and by
His bleached bones in its lonely burrow.
Gradually the ground becomes more firm
And over there, next to a meadow,
The flickering flames of an oil lamp burn
And the boy stands now next to a hedgerow.
He breathes out having left the worst behind,
Yet to its sinister charms still pays mind.
The things he met with there were stern,
Dreadful it was on the moor to go!