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My great-grandfather had written a book of Poems in German. We've been able to translate most of them, but having trouble with an English translation for this one, especially the last line of the first stanza. Can anyone help with this one? If it helps, he (the author) was born in the 1880's in Switzerland. I included the entire poem for context and our attempt at translation. None of us are German speakers, so any help is appreciated!

Trinkspruch
Unser Leben gleicht der Reise eines Wandrers in der Nacht.
Wer hat nicht in trüber Stunde diese Worte schon bedacht?
Auch in heitern Sonnentagen tät es manchem Menschen gut,
Etwa an das Lied zu denken, wenn zu heiß das leichte Blut,

Freudenbecher sind zwar nötig, wenn man nicht verkümmern will.
Doch es ruft uns zu die Klugheit: Nicht zu oft und nicht zuviel!
Wer sein Leben weiß zu regeln auch in froher Sommerszeit,
Ist viel besser vorbereitet für des Winters Dunkelheit.

Our attempted translation:

Toast
Our life is like the journey of a wanderer at night
Who has not already considered these words in a dark hour?
Even on sunny days it would do some people good
To think of the song, if the light blood is too hot.

Friends are necessary, if you don't want to wither.
But it calls us to be wise: not too often and not too much!
Who knows how to manage his life even in the happy summer time,
Is much better prepared for the winter’s darkness

Thanks.

Sue

enter image description here

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    Freudenbecher sind zwar nötig, wenn man nicht verkümmern will. = beakers of joy are essential if you don't want to wither Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 6:33
  • Doch es ruft uns zu die Klugheit =but wisdom calls out to us Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 6:41
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    Are you sure it is "Lied" and not "Leid"? The latter would fit the context better.
    – user6495
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 6:42
  • @Roland I just added an image to the original post. "Lied" is what was in the booklet I have. I have no idea if that is a typo. I found it in my grandfather's papers after he passed away. No one in the family knew of the poem collection, so I have no idea if it was a typo in the booklet itself. Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 0:42
  • It seems to be a typo, as "Leid" makes much more sense in the context than"Lied".
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 7:15

5 Answers 5

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The other answers who believe Lied is in fact a misspelling of Leid are missing an important fact: The first line of the poem (Unser Leben gleicht der Reise...) is a direct quote from the Beresinalied, a German song very well known in Switzerland. So the poet was indeed referring to this rather gloomy song, and your translation is a good representation of the original meaning.

The Wikipedia article has a good discussion of the cultural significance of the Beresinalied in Switzerland; to summarize, it represents something like an Alamo / Masada moment of Swiss history.

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  • I like this interpretation. I don't know why everybody jumped the gun calling it a typo, just because they "felt" it would fit better with another word. Given the context of the poem provided by the OP, your interpretation makes perfect sense unlike the wild assumptions of others. Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 13:02
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I concentrate one the bold line: Leichtes Blut is a phrase rarely used today, a tiny bit more frequent is leichtblütig, which can be found in a dictionary and which I would translate as jolly.

Heißes Blut ist much more frequent and means that emotions or passions overwhelm the subject. So I would translate to:

to think of the song (?), if jolliness turns to passion/emotion.

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As @Roland said in his comment, this is perhaps a typo and should read "Leid" (sorrow, suffering, hardship) instead of "Lied" (song).

"Leichtes Blut" or in adjectivic form "leichtblütig" is idiomatic and means not being concerned with future or what it might bring, as @Guidot mentioned in his answer.

"Heißes Blut" (or, in the same adjectivic way, "heißblütig") is similarly idiomatic and means full of temperament or agitated (depending on context also with the negative connotation of being short-tempered).

Auch in heitern Sonnentagen tät es manchem Menschen gut,
Etwa an das Leid zu denken, wenn zu heiß das leichte Blut,

This would make about the following suggestion: even in times of good fortune one would do good to make himself aware of possible (coming) hardship in order to not get too big for his britches.

The following attempt at translation lacks any poetic value but tries to preserve the meaning of the original:

Our live is like the journey of a wanderer at night,
Who hasn't thought in dire times about these words.
And even on days full of sunshine some would do better
to think about sorrow, if tempers are getting too hot

Joys [celebrations] are necessary, lest one wants to shrivel
but wisdom tells us: not too often, not too much!
Who is able to put his life into order even in joyous summertimes
will be better prepared for the darkness of winter.

Notice that "Freudenbecher" is meaning the cups one drinks during joyous celebrations. I replaced that with "joy" (alternatively "celebrations" because i am not sure if "beakers of joy", as @planetmaker suggests in his comment brings across this meaning. If it does, I suggest you use that instead of my translation.

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I will try a translation (and I will assume as by Roland's comment that the original uses 'Leid' instead of 'Lied'):

Trinkspruch

Unser Leben gleicht der Reise eines Wandrers in der Nacht.
Wer hat nicht in trüber Stunde diese Worte schon bedacht?
Auch in heitern Sonnentagen tät es manchem Menschen gut,
Etwa an das Leid zu denken, wenn zu heiß das leichte Blut,

Freudenbecher sind zwar nötig, wenn man nicht verkümmern will.
Doch es ruft uns zu die Klugheit: Nicht zu oft und nicht zuviel!
Wer sein Leben weiß zu regeln auch in froher Sommerszeit,
Ist viel besser vorbereitet für des Winters Dunkelheit.

Literal:

Toast

Our life is like a wanderer's journey through the night
Who didn't ponder these words in a gloomy hour?
Also on sunny days some people would do well
to remember the sorrow when optimism runs high

Beakers of joy are essential if you don't want to wither.
But wisdom calls to us: not to often, not too much!
Who knows to manage their life in happy summertime,
is prepared better for the darkness of winter.

Maybe more poetic, at least trying to find a rhyme:

Toast

Life is like a wanderer's journey through the night.
Who didn't ponder this in gloomy hour?
Some people would do well on days sunny and bright
Even then remember the sorrow, that things can turn sour.

Essential are beakers of joy, so you don't wither,
"Not too often, not too much!" is wisdom's call.
Such those, who do well in jolly summer time till fall,
are hardened better for the winter's dark and shiver.

(yes, "Reim dich oder ich fress dich!" ;) )

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    Well done. You might consider "are hardened better" instead of "are prepared much better" in the last line, IMHO it fills the rhythm better. Also, "Essential are beakers of joy" seems to rhythmically fit better.
    – bakunin
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 14:07
  • @bakunin thanks, good suggestions. I take them :) Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 0:34
  • I like the rhyme as well! Thanks! Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 0:43
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Our life is like the journey
of a wan-der-er at night
Who has not have had this thought
when the time was not as bright

On these joyous days of summer
it would treat some people well
if they'd too remember sorrow
/ if that song is well remembered
when in cheerfulness they dwell

Pints of joy are necessary
to prevent the soul from crush
But wisdom keeps reminding us
not to often, not to much

Those who know themselves to handle
when summer shows it's merry mark
Are well prepared for whats to come
when in Winter 'ts getting dark

More of a free translation that tries to keep up the rhyme scheme.

Edit: if anybody knows how to format that well, please suggest an edit :)

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