D'R ERLEKINNI TH' BOWGY MON
C. Knapp trans. Nigel Cooper
Wer ritt eso spoot durch Nacht un Wind?
Dis isch e Babbe mit sim Kind,
Er het sine Knäkes fescht an sich g'schniert,
Fur dass er net kejt un as er nit friert.

"Mon enfant, dü bisch eso bleich un blass?"
"Oh Babbe, luej emol dort in der Gass
Kummt der Erlekinni un will noch mer griffe."
"Jo Plän, dis isch e Newelstriffe."

"Min liewer Bue, kumm geh mit mir
Gar gfitzti jeux mach i mit dir,
Viel Blüemle wachse-n-am chemin d'halage,
Mini Mueder gitt der e Flade mit fromage."

"Oh Babbe, i glaub dü bisch daub un blind,
Hörsch nit wie der Erlekinni redd' mit dim Kind?"
"Sej ruewi, soit tranquille, halt d'Schnurr, min Bue,
Mit dine Plän haw i jetz ball genue."

"Mon cher enfant, witt nit mit mer gehn,
Mini Döchter springe-n-un tanze scheen.
Sin allerti Maidle un gehen mit der nüs
Am Sunndaa uff Schilke zuem Baal ins Roth' Hüs."

"Luej Babbe, sich'sch nit Erlekinni's Mamselle
Dort uf de Matte de Quadrille stelle?"
"Horch Krippel, dü fangsch an mich ze säije,
Der Wind duet nurre durch d'Hecke fäije."

"Mon enfant, mich reizt dini scheeni G'stalt,
Un kumm'sch nit vun aase, no brüch i Gewalt."
"Ach Babbe, ach Babbe, so hör doch min Klaaue,
Jetz packt mi der Erlkinni bim Kraaue."

Der Babbe krejt d'Gänshüt un ritt was er kann;
Vor'm Hüs steht d'Mamme und passt uff ihr Mann.
"Denk", saat er, "der Klein het der Erlkinni gsehn,
Wenn nurre dem Kind nix Leids isch g'schehn!"
D'Mamme lacht un het mit em Finger gewunke:
"I maan als, Ihr zwei han viel ‘Neier' getrunke!"
'Oo's ridin' se laet thro' the nite se wild?
It's a faither wi' 'is child.
'E's strapped 'is son tew 'im so as 'e'll keap warm,
An' so 's 'e doe fall off, 'cos i's blowin' a storm.

"Our kid, 'ow come as yo'm lookin' se pael?"
"Oh Dad cor yo see over there in Belle Vale?
Th' bowgy mon's comin', 'e'll gi' me a poke!"
"But tha's where th' forge is, i's jus' chimney smoke."

"Come 'ome wi' me yung un, an' then on the way
Ah'll showen ye some clever games as we'll play
In th' flowers on th' towpath afore it gets laet -
Then m' mam'll put faggets 'n paes on yer plaet."

"Am ye deaf? Am ye blind? 'Cos i's drivin' me mad!
Cor yo 'ear 'ow th' bowgy mon talks ter me, Dad?"
"Shut yer trap, carm yer down, pur a sock in it, son!
Stop yer weretin' will ye, ah'm very near done."

"Nah come on my child, bist a-gooin' wi' me?
When m' daurters 'm dancin' i's lovely ter see.
On Sundy m' wenches 'm all at a ball
At Th' Boat up O'd 'Ill - yo'm a-comin' an' all!"

"Look Dad con yo see that beyewtiful wench?
'Er's a-dancin' a jig over there by that bench."
"Ay no wench, i's the wind, ay no shadder o' doubt,
Now stop actin' se saft or ah'll gi' thee a clout!"

"Am ye comin' me bewty? Get down off that 'orse!
If yo doe come quietly ah'll tek yer by force."
"But Dad cor ye listen ter me when I 'oller?
Th' bowgy mon, 'e's grabbin' 'old o' me collar!"

Now faither gets gewse bumps an' rides wum like 'ell.
'Is missus is waitin', 'er knows 'im tew well.
"Our kid sid th' bowgy mon down by th' river -
I 'ope 'e's alrite, 'cos 'e's all of a shiver."
'Er's loffin': "Ah knowen wha's up wi' yo tew,
Yo'n both 'ad tew much on our Lily's 'ome brew!"

COMMENTARY The original poem is written in the Strasbourg variant of the German dialect spoken in Alsace (Alemannic with French elements). It is one of a collection of parodies of German poems by one C Knapp, published in Strasbourg in 1905. This particular parody - some would say travesty - is based on Goethe's ballad Erlkönig, best known outside German-speaking countries from Schubert and others' vocal settings. Erlkönig ends in tragedy: riding home during a storm, a father ignores his young son's pleas to save him from the will o' the wisp, and at the end of his journey he discovers that the child is dead. In this version the suspense and the sinister undertones are likewise maintained until the last verse; however, we then discover that father and (considerably older) son are both very much alive if somewhat the worse for wear, having consumed rather more new wine than is good for them. The poem reminds me of my time in Alsace and the Black Forest, struggling with their Alemannic dialects. The translation celebrates my English Black Country heritage, and is in the version of the dialect spoken in and around Cradley. The dialect is particularly close to its Germanic roots, and the sentiments of the poem fit nicely in the Black Country humorous tradition of slightly surreal self-mockery. In ‘localising' the narrative I have incorporated references to my own family history. My grandfather, Ernest Tromans, grew up near Belle Vale Forge (‘Spade & Shovel Works') on the River Stour, not far from Cradley. His nineteenth-century forebears kept the Boat Inn at the mouth of the canal tunnel in nearby Oldhill. My great-aunt Lily wouldn't have known anything about new wine, but she was famous locally for her home-brewed beer. I would like to thank Wolfram Schindler (Baden-Baden) for deciphering the more obscure aspects of the original, and Jill Guest (Cradley) for her help in fine-tuning the Black Country dialect.

The translation was judged Commended in The Times/Stephen Spender Trust poetry translation competition 2006.

Trans. copyright © Nigel Cooper 2006


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