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  • ausnahmezustand2018

„The Language of Europe is Translation“ (Umberto Eco)

Only after Grieg's death was TIL UNGDOMMEN! set to music by the Danish composer Otto Mortensen in 1952. Grieg wrote his anti-war poem for an oral presentation and to arouse political commitment. Today the song is sung throughout Norway. The reception history of the poem is long. It has proved its worth in a wide variety of usage contexts and has been interpreted more or less politically and more or less freely. Changes were also made to the poem. In the original version Grieg wrote seven verses, each with eight lines. In the standardised version by Gyldendal publisher, the verses were divided so that the 14 verses now consist of only four lines each. It was ignored that the metrics of the first four lines of a verse are not repeated in the second half. The two halves are therefore not metrically identical. Mortensen must have had Grieg's original version in mind in his composition, because the two halves also vary musically. Furthermore, there was a change in punctuation and spelling in some places.


Nordahl Grieg wrote the poem TIL UNGDOMMEN! (To The Youth) at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 on behalf of Trond Hegna, the chairman of the Norwegian student association Det Norske Studentersamfund, journalist and later politician of the Arbeiderpartiet (DnA). From 1937 to 1938 Grieg was war correspondent in Spain. TIL UNGDOMMEN! was printed for the first time in the magazine Veien Frem (The Way Forward), for which he wrote several articles about the civil war. In the magazine the title TIL UNGDOMMEN! is provided with an exclamation mark, which is missing in the later versions and weakens the character of the appeal to the youth, especially since the means of the exclamation mark is heaped throughout his entire poem - the repetitive call to act to shape the world and the future himself. Grieg had also highlighted two lines in italics, giving them a peculiarity, an importance: menneskets verds (human value) and stans dem med ånd! (Stop them with mind). With the abolition of the italic, an equivalence between all lines is established. However, the biggest change in the history of reception was when Tomod Tvete Vic composed an orchestral version of TIL UNGDOMMEN! for the Norwegian actress and singer Herborg Kråkevik in 2000. They eliminated the vers four and five from Nordahl Grieg's poem. Rob Sinclair leaves also the fourth verse and the sixth out in his English translation, which is the most famous one.


After the assassination of 77 people by the Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik on 22 July 2011, TIL UNGDOMMEN! was sung in memory of the victims. The song had a community-building function and was part of the grief work. This happened so often that today it is considered a song of 22 July and should be included in the new Norwegian chant book in 2013. This triggered a great debate. Mainly the question was whether TIL UNGDOMMEN! thematizes the faith in God and would not rather be regarded as a program poem for human ethics. At the same time left groupings made their claim on the text.

For the interpretation of a poem knowledge of the autor’s life and the historical background to the emergence of this political poem are important. Everyone is a child of his time, which means translating this poem today has a different effect than translating it at the time of its creation in the 1930s, in the post-war years or after the attacks in Norway on 22 July 2011. The semantic concentration and the use of rhetorical means of expression and other characteristics inherent in the poem allow various possibilities of interpretation. This is what makes poetry so special. Short verses open up spaces of association that have different meanings for each person. Can poems be translated? Hermann Hesse summed up the problem of translation with the following quote:


„Und es ist mehr als nur interessant, zu sehen, wie verschieden alle die deutschen Übersetzer diese Gedichte aufgefasst und wiedergegeben haben und wie sie trotz der Vielzahl der Übersetzer kaum etwas von ihrer inneren Einheit verloren haben. Verloren haben sie freilich – das ist das Los aller Übersetzungen – eine Menge von Unersetzlichem, von holden Klängen, von zartesten Schatten, von geheimster Melodik, bei manchen Übersetzungen darf man an das Original nicht denken, obwohl die Übersetzung ebenfalls sehr schön ist. Nur ist sie etwas andres geworden, so wie ein paar Takte Musik durch ein Transportieren, durch einen kleinen Tempowechsel fremd und bis zur Unkenntlichkeit entstellt werden können. Denn Gedichte sind Musik, und sie sind, in ihren eigentlichsten Werten, unübersetzbar, vollkommen unübersetzbar. Dass man trotzdem immer wieder versucht, sie zu übersetzen, ist ebenso unsinnig und ebenso wundervoll, wie jedes Dichten, das ja auch, von allem Anfang an, stets ein Versuch ist, Unmögliches zu tun. Unausdrückbares auszudrücken.“


The translation work presented here as part of the project "States of Exception" focused on the greatest possible correspondence with Nordahl Grieg's poem text, also with regard to its chosen form. The recipient should read and understand the poem as a poem by Nordahl Grieg, not as a poem by the translator, i.e. the translation should offer the same amount of interpretation possibilities as the original. A faithful translation that would be equivalent in effect is not possible.


to be continued...

by: Alexandra Finder

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