Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Water Goblin

I've been obsessed with finding a text of Karel Jaromír Erben's Kytice (Bouquet) a collection of rhythmic poems based on Czech folklore.  I first become interested in "Vodník" (The Water Goblin) when doing some research on Romantic composers.  I came across Dvořák's Vodník, a composition called a symphonic poem, which is a single piece of symphonic music illustrating a work of literature.  The basic story is about a Water Goblin who abducts a young girl and takes her to his home in the lake to be his bride.  They have a child and she eventually persuades him to allow her to return to land to pay a visit to her mother. He agrees on the condition that she will return and keeps the child as a hostage.  When the time comes to return, the mother will not let her daughter return to the lake and the Water Goblin take his revenge.  I was enchanted by the music and when I read that the words to the poem fit naturally to the music I wanted to read the poem.  Natural response right?  Listen to the composition:

So I began searching everywhere for a translation of "The Water Goblin" and found nothing...   I searched Amazon, I searched everything all I could find were discussions of the work but no actual texts in English.  I came across this transcript of a English language Czech culture broadcast discussing Erben and his works.

A British literary scholar Susan Reynolds from The British Library was working on a translation.  Below are excerpts from her translation.  If you listen to the music, you can hear how it would go rhythmically with the words.

[excerpt 1 ]
On a poplar by the pool
The Goblin sat at twilight cool:
'Glow, moon, glow,
That my thread may sew.
For myself new boots I'm sewing, 
On dry land and water going:
Glow, moon, glow,
That my thread may sew.
'Thursday now—tomorrow's Friday—
sew a coat all trim and tidy:
Glow, moon, glow,
That my thread may sew.
Coat of green and boots of red, 
For tomorrow I'll be wed:
Glow, moon, glow,
That my thread may sew.'
This translation © Susan Reynolds 2002.

[excerpt 2]
On the lake the storm is shrieking;
In the storm the child screams shrill;
Screams that pierce the soul with anguish,
Then they suddenly fall still.
'Oh, my mother, please, oh, please!
At those cries my blood will freeze—
Mother mine, oh, dearest mother,
Fear of him my heart does fill!'
Something fell—beneath the doorway
Moisture trickles—tinged with red.
When the old one went to open,
What she saw filled her with dread.
In their blood, two objects lying
Sent cold terror through her flying:
Baby's head—without a body;
Tiny body—with no head.
This translation © Susan Reynolds 2002.

This poem is macabre and chilling and naturally I want to read the other poems now too and share them with my friend over in The Devil's Playpen.   This interview was in 2002 but there is still no book by Susan Reynolds.  But I did find this post on The British Library page of from Susan Reynolds three months ago:

Final stages of preparing translation of Karel Jaromír Erben's `Kytice' for publication by Jantar to mark his 200th birthday..."

Unfortunately Erben was born in 1811... It looks like she didn't quite make it.  Hopefully she plans to finish it.  You can read some more excerpts from her translations on the Radio Praha link above.
If anyone knows where I can read these poems in English let me know.


  1. very cool in a creepy way- Jacob

  2. Yeah, and I really want to read the rest! I don't know if Susan Reynolds is ever going to publish her translation, so we'll have to be content with our little excerpts. Or learn Czech...

  3. Actually, she finished it after all: