Kleiner, uralter Gott – Ancient little god

In a week we’ll be burying my mother’s ashes on Drummond. We’ve decided to read some of her poems, with a translation into English. She published a volume of them in the Wilhelm Andermann Verlag in Vienna in 1944 when she was 21; a miracle, since paper was so rare towards the end of the war. Her friend Stefan Hlawa provided the cover illustration.

A note on translation: With this particular poem I found you really do have to change the sequence of adjectives in English. I also found it interesting to consider the different meanings of “little” and “klein” (descriptive, diminutive, romantic/endearing…) In German, for example, Little Red Riding Hood is simply Rotkäpchen. I briefly considered writing “Tiny ancient god“. Or “Little, ancient god“, after all? Still thinking it over.

My brother Chris first introduced me to the poem when he gave me these, from a cycle he drew in the ’70s, pastels and wash on paper:

Christoph Hodgson: Kleiner uralter Gott Zyklus

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens
Getrud Berninger

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens,
der lächelt,
wenn schon die steigenden Tränen
den Schmerz bespülen.

Zärtlicher kleiner Gott ohne Namen,
ohne Gesicht,
tausendjähriger, süßer Samen
des Frühlings,

in mich vergraben, untergetaucht,
schweigend und gut,
wenn schon die Trauer der Reife
jäh überströmt.

Guter, kleiner, geliebter Gott,
einsam und dunkel wie meine Träume,
die dich verschweigen,

kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens.

Ancient little god of my heart

Ancient little god of my heart,
even as tears rise
to wash over my pain

Tender little god, without a name
without a face,
sweet millennial seed
of spring,

hidden deep down inside me,
silent and good,
even as suddenly the sorrow of maturity

Good little beloved god,
my own,
solitary and dark as my dreams
that conceal you,

ancient little god of my heart.

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Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

11 thoughts on “Kleiner, uralter Gott – Ancient little god”

  1. Very moving, Anna! Writing is good for the soul and a great healer.

  2. Unfortunately, the funeral is off. My oldest brother is in the hospital ER. Big shock.

    My second brother said the whole reason to arrange this complicated funeral was for all of us to get together. Which we haven’t managed since the 1970s. Five individualists on separate roads. Wouldn’t be right without him. Muff is already ashes, tidied away. In storage since November. She can wait.

    But this doesn’t feel right at all. I mean, you can say “The wedding is off.” But a funeral? How do you like my family, Mr. Death? Go away and come back when we have more time.

    Helmut said, “Why don’t you just go over there, hijack the urn, hit the road and bury her next to Jim? Done.”

    Can’t do that. I’m one of five.
    My fourth brother and I are in supporting roles.
    But, but, but: my third brother is there, too. He could use a visit.

    So if I went, I would be going for him. Dinner instead of a funeral.

    Oh, man.

  3. Oh, mei / my goodness, I surely hope you manage to make that trip, Anne.
    I’m all behind Helmut (good practical Germanic thinking) and I do hope your ‘older’ brother’s doing OK.
    Waiting in suspense for the next bit (installment),

  4. Oh, Anne, I’m so sorry. Maybe you should just go anyway. See your brothers. But don’t hijack the urn. Why don’t you hold a memorial service on the first anniversary. You’ll be thinking of her I’m sure. Hope your brother is doing well.

  5. Thanks a lot Debbie! He seems to be, and if there’s anything to be learned in this, it is to slow down. Life is short. We need to make it sweet.

  6. My brother Chris wrote with an interpretation which I think hits the mark perfectly, saying this god is one only she knows and can experience, he’s “little” because he originates in her soul, the root of her creativity, and creativity mirrors the creator.
    So I’ve changed “buried in me, hiding” to “hidden deep down inside me”, and “lonely” to “solitary”.
    Muff, I hope you agree.

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