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I'm struggling to precisely understand this section of poetry (the gist is clear enough) which has an awful lot of clauses, two masculine protagonists and what look like some rather poetic phrasings.

Und wer Bülow je gekannt
Weiß, was Der um ihn verdient,
Der den Frohsinn hat gebannt,
Wo er wollte: es geziemt,
Da der Meister selber schweigt,
Daß die für ihn Dir nun danke,
Der Du oft seither gezeigt,
Daß in Deinem Sinn nicht wanke
Großer Zeiten treu Erinnern!

The context is that this is a verse written by the wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow (i.e. der Meister) to a friend of his after Bülow's death.

In particular, I assume the "Der" in line 2 refers to Bülow rather than "wer", but I am not then clear on the phrasing "um ihn verdienen" and who exactly therefore the "ihn" is or the "Der/er" of the third and fourth lines. The "Der" in line 7 is presumably then feminine dative, i.e. referring to the wife/author? Then what is the meaning of "gebannt" in this context? I would have assumed it means something like "banishes cheerfulness", but it seems likeit could depend on who the subject of the verb is - Bülow was known for being rather bad tempered whereas his friend was known for being always good spirited.

Would this be a fair translation?

And he who knows Bülow at all, knows what he who banishes cheerfulness deserves: since the maestro himself is silent, it is befitting that she, to whom you often showed that in your mind the great times don't waver, should thank you on his behalf.

2 Answers 2

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It is key to separate this mess a little. Let's start with the second phrase:

Es geziemt, da der Meister selber schweigt, daß die für ihn Dir nun danke, der Du oft seither gezeigt, daß in Deinem Sinn nicht wanke großer Zeiten treu Erinnern!

Let's reorganize this a little:

Da der Meister [Bülow] selber schweigt [as he is dead now], geziemt es, daß die für ihn Dir nun danke, der Du oft seither gezeigt, daß in Deinem Sinn nicht wanke großer Zeiten treu Erinnern!

Let's translate this monster into english:

As the master himself is silent now, it is appropriate that she, to whom you have proven frequently that you keep the memory of the great times (literally: that the memor of those great times does not waver in your mind), may thank you.

Key takeaways are:

  1. You have proven to keep the memory of "the great times" (the times that Bülow was still alive, so this is synonym to the honor of Bülow).
  2. Bülow is dead and hence cannot thank you himself.
  3. Hence I, his wife, thank you.

With that resolved, let's approach the first part which is even worse, stylistically spoken:

Und wer Bülow je gekannt weiß, was Der[jenige] um ihn verdient, der den Frohsinn hat gebannt, wo er wollte.

Literally this translates to:

Everyone who has known Bülow knows about the merits of the man who banished happiness, where he wanted.

Obviously, the he in he wanted is ambiguous. Is this referring to the person who banished happiness (which is the recipient of the poem), or to Bülow? This is as unclear in German as in the English translation.

And then, there is the strange formula of der den Frohsinn gebannt. Literally that means to banish. Etwas bannen can also mean "to keep something at a place by magical force". So, I guess, this is just an attempt to be poetic by finding a rhyme and bending the meaning of the word. Only context (the second part of the poem) clarifies the message: The recipient of the poem has brought a lot of happiness to Bülow.

So, to sum this up, the baseline of the poem is:

You always made Bülow happy when he was alive. Now that he is dead, you still keep him in good memory. Thank you.

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    Thanks, super helpful breakdown. Could you clarify the "was der um ihn verdient" section? You translate this as "the merits of the man who banished happiness" - so the "der" in the two clauses is the same person. Is the "um ihn" then kind of reflexive (i.e. referring to the same person)?
    – ajor
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 14:16
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    Great breakdown. "Bannen" also means "etw. mit zauberhafter, magischer Gewalt festhalten, an einen Ort zwingen" (dwds.de/wb/bannen), which works well with with that Ort being "wo er wollte".
    – HalvarF
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 14:19
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    @HalvarF Thanks for the comment! I had this in mind, but was not clear enough. I updated the relevant sentence in my answer to (hopefully) clarify it. Thanks for making me aware of this!
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 16:32
  • @ajor: re: "was der um ihn verdient": I'm pretty sure that "ihm" refers to Bülow. "der um ihn" could mean that "er" was in Bülow's inner circle of friends, or, more likely, "was der um ihn verdient" could be a shortened use of "sich um jemanden verdient machen". This means gaining merit by doing something to the benefit of a person.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 11:17
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I'll place my post as another answer because of the length, but it's actually a comment on the great answer by Jonathan Schellbach.

However, I would read the first part of the poem differently than in this answer.

I would reduce this first part

Und wer Bülow je gekannt
Weiß, was Der um ihn verdient,
Der den Frohsinn hat gebannt,
Wo er wollte ...

to the sentence

"Wer Bülow gekannt hat, der weiß, was derjenige ihm verdankt, der immer den Frohsinn gebannt hat.".

I would dispute that the "er" in "Wo er will" in German can refer to both Bülow and "Der den Frohsinn hat gebannt". It clearly refers to the latter and has become "immer" in my reduction above.

As an interpretation of what is really meant, two variants come into question for me (the poem is simply imprecise and completely leaves common sense behind in the attempt to create poetry):

  1. Bülow was a funny guy, so all those who don't have a good sense of humor owe him a lot.

  2. Bülow was a very serious character, so those who shared his interest in keeping cheerfulness in check, owe him a great debt of gratitude.

[EDIT] If I take the "Wo er wollte" more serious and read it as "immer dann, wenn er es für notwendig hielt", the second interpretation above seems to be more correct.

The second part than says (similar to what was described above): "You know that and now that Bülow is dead, you are reminding everyone of it and I thank you for that."

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