Celebrating 17 years

Translating An Ode To A German Mercenary

General Friedrich Baron von Riedesel General Friedrich Baron von Riedesel
An example of mid-eighteenth century neo-classical German poetry of the form pioneered by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock was composed to honor the commander of a contingent of German mercenaries from Braunschweig (Brunswick), General Friedrich Baron von Riedesel on his birthday, the third one he had spent in North America.
A Brunswicker A Brunswicker Baroness Friederika  von Riedesel Baroness Friederika von Riedesel

The Brunswickers under General Riedesel were sent as mercenaries to Canada to join the army of General John Burgoyne, thus to be part of the British expeditionary force sent down from Canada to join with General Howe's force that was to march up from New York for a linking up at Albany, thereby cutting the Rebels in half.

The story of how that campaign went sour for the British ending with their capitulation at Saratoga is too well known to need repeating here. However, the failure of the invasion was through no shortcomings on the Brunswickers' part. Before the campaign began, General Riedesel had trained his troops in the spread out flexible American fighting style and on two occasions early in the campaign the Brunswick batallion saved the day on the battlefield for the British. In the end, though, they all surrendered to General Gates at Saratoga in October of 1777..

Then came the long cold march of the Brunswickers, now prisoners of war, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. General Riedesel, his wife the Baroness Friederika von Riedesel, and their three daughters, Gustava, aged 6, Friederika, 3, and Caroline, 1 accompanied the Brunswickers into imprisonment although they, having been taken under the protection of General Philip Schuyler, did not live as spartan an existence as did the troops. General Riedesel stayed with his troops and constantly looked out for their benefit. Had it not been for his efforts, that first winter of captivity at Cambridge would have been disastrous for them.

The poem was written at Cambridge in the late Spring of 1778. The Brunswickers had endured a harsh winter as prisoners of war and had not yet been marched to Virginia where they would be in the same situation for several more years. Riedesel's staff officers knew well what he had done to support both them and their troops. This was not out of character for him; he had always held his troops' welfare very high on his lists of responsibilities. Add to this his personal bravery in battle and his quick wits for battlefield manoevers and you have the outline of a leader that was loved by his troops, both officers and men, almost to the point of adoration. His wife and their children, also mentioned in the poem, were likewise highly regarded. The Baroness was the General's equal in all ways, it seems. Her journals make some of the most interesting original documents about the time and place in existence. She always did her best to inject optimism into the situation. She organized the party where the poem that follows was first read. She and the children endured bombardment and acted as battlefield medical aid station assistants. On one occasion, she collared one of General Burgoyne's junior officers and sent a message to Burgoyne telling him that some of his wounded officers hadn't eaten in two days and what was he going to do about it? Burgoyne, engaged in the first phases of negotiating the surrender at Saratoga, nevertheless was impressed enough to personally correct the problem, also sardonically thanking her for "showing him his duty". The sarcasm was completely lost on her.

Handwriting comparison shows that the poem's author, "H.A.L", was General Riedesel's secretary, an officer named Langemeier. A university graduate, he was aware of the newer poetic forms such as Klopstock's dactylic verse and tried to emulate it in his work. In total, he did not do too badly. This was the first appearance of German verse in this form on the North American continent. To my knowledge, this is the first translation of the work into English. The arrangement is pretty simple: German original in modern type to the left, English translation to the right, one line under the German, except for the title, which is line to line. I have made no attempt to keep the rhyme or the meter of the German original; that will take a better wordsmith than I am. I have tried to keep the translation on a line for line basis but, because of the relatively rigid word order requirements of English, I was not able to do this in every case. Anyway, here it is:

 
Zur Feyer des hohen Geburts-Tages Sr: Freyherrl: Gnaden des
Herrn Generals, Riedesel von Eisenbach den 3ten Juny, 1778.
In Celebration of the grand birthday of his baronial grace
General Riedesel von Eisenbach the 3rd of June, 1778.
 

Steige herab von olympischer H(he, begeisternde Muse! Come down from Olympic heights, O inspiring Muse! um die ganz verstimmt, ja fast zerbrochene Leyer to help this completely out of tune, yea almost shattered Lyre an dem heutigen Tage mit kr(ftigen Beistand zu helfen on this day with your strengthening succor um den w(rdigsten Held ein treues Opfer zu bringen, so as to bring the worthiest hero a staunch offering, welcher im hohen Wol zur unaussprechlichen Freude which to the great happiness and inexpressible joy Seiner treuesten Gattin und liebensw(digsten Kinder of his most loyal wife and most charming children diesen gesegneten Tag von Dessen Werdung erlebet may he experience this blessed day of praise. Auch uns, die ihm hieselbst, gleich Kinder den besten der V(ter Also for us who, as children to the best of fathers mit dem treuesten Herz in tiefer Ehrfurcht betrachten, regard him with truest heart in deep honor, ist der heutige Tag ein Tag der lauteren Freude. is today a day of pure joy. Tausend und tausend der heissesten W(nsche f(r Dessen Erhaltung Thousands and thousands of the warmest wishes for his preservation steigen zum Himmel empor und bitten flehend Erh(rung. rise up to Heaven and bid pleading to be heard. G(ttlicher Schuz begleite hinfort das teureste Leben, May Divine protection henceforth accompany this dearest life, so wie bisher zum kr(ftigsten Schirm in allen Gefahren, as before as strongest protection from all harm Ihm zur Seite gestanden auf allen Wegen begleitet, it stood by his side and is with him in all paths, (ber die brausende Fluth durch thurmend sch(umende Wellen over the raging flood through towering foaming waves sicher und ruhig gef(hrt bis in den glorreichen Haven, and surely and quietly led him into the glorious haven, wo der schifreiche Flu( des sogenannten Lauency where the ship rich flow of the St. Lawrence ununterbrochen den felsigten Grund des ruhmvollen Quebecs washes uninterrupted the rocky ground of glorious Quebec w(scht, und dann in friedlicher Fluth die schwimmenden H(user and then the floating houses in peaceful flow bald zu dem Ocean hin, und bald von daher zur(ckbringt. go quickly to the ocean and soon bring him back. Hier war es, wo zum ersten mal im nordlichen Welttheil Here was where, for the first time in the northern part of the world dieser geweihete Tag uns Freude und Wonne erweckte, this blessed day awakened joy and bliss in us, und die allm(chtige Hand die Ihn bis daher geleitet, and the almighty Hand that led him there die Seinen Othen bewahrt in stillen Seufzern danckend, which in quiet sighs keeps his oaths with thanks, und f(r Sein k(nftiges Wol die br(nstigsten W(nsche erhoben. and raised up the most fervent wishes for his future well-being. *Dort, wo in jedermanns Herz Sein teurer Nahme geschrieben, There, where his dear name was written in every man's heart, wo durch so manche wolt(tige Handlung Sein ruhmvolles Denckmal, where through so many benevolent actions his glorious memory, stets unvergeslich verbleibt, in Kindes Kindern ger(hmet, remains always unforgettable, glorified by (our) children's children, da war es wo zum andern male in gr(ssester Freude There was where the other time in greatest joy dieser festliche Tag in vollen Glanze erschiene. this festive day in full brilliance did appear. Hier nun zum dritten mal feyren wir heute die fr(liche Stunde, Here, for the third time do we today celebrate the joyous hour, von der begl(ckten Geburt des menschenfreundlichsten Herzens. of the fortunate birth of the most benevolent of hearts. Und gepriesen sey Gott, der in so vielen Gefahren, And praised be God, Who in so many dangers, Ihn bishero gesch(zt, vor allen andern bewahrt, has protected him until now, preserved before all others, da( Ihn kein Unfall ber(hrt. - so that no misfortune touches him. Dort, wo bey Hubertstown freche Rebellen als rasende Furien There, where by Hubertstown impudent rebels as raging furies im dem heftigsten Streit mit treuen Britten begriffen, grappled in fiercest struggle with loyal Britons, dies weit schw(chere Corps mit vierfach st(rckern Kr(ften brought this much weaker corps with fourfold stronger force schon zum Weichen gebracht, und schon Victoria heulted already to weakness, and already howled victory, brach Sein heldenm(tiger Arm , gefolgt von den Seinen (when) his heroic arm broke into their midst, followed by pl(zlich herter und drang zum gr(ssesten Schrecken der Feinde, sudden turmoil and stress to the greatest schock of the enemy, mitten unter sie ein, und ward ihr kr(ftiger Sieger. and became powerful victor over them. Haufen fielen gest(rzt und Haufen suchten zu fliehen, Many fell injured and many sought to flee, unverm(gend den Arm des tapfern Siegers zu stehen, unable to stay the arm of the brave victor, flohen zitternd zur(ck und fluchten Blut und Verdamni(. (they) fled back shaking and cursed blood and damnation. **Abermals ward ein (hnliches Schiksal den Feinden des K(nigs, Once more a similar fate befell the enemies of the king, in den geb(rgigten H(hen nicht weit von Stillwater bestimmet, in the mountainous heights not far from Stillwater, Schaaren von Feinden die sich in waldigten bergen und Gr(nden Swarms of enemies who in the forested mountains and bottoms der getreuen Arm(e des K(nigs entgegengesetzet, set themselves against the loyal army of the king, um den fernern March und den gro(en Progressen to bring the further march and great progress Einhalt zu thun, und f(r die eingebildete Freiheit to a stop, and for self-conceited freedom mit vereinigter Macht rasend and tollk(hn zu fechten, with united force and raging foolhardy to fight, drangen pl(zlich hervor und kamen ins heftigste Feuer, suddenly came out and engaged in the fiercest fire, mit den anmarchirended Troups der tapferen Britten, with the advancing troops of the brave Britons, so mit unerschrockenen Muth irh m(glichstes thaten (who) thus with unfrightened courage did their best um den w(tenden Feind zu dessen Zur(ckzug zu zwingen. to force the raging enemy to pull back. Doch die (berlegene Macht des Feindes, so st(ndlich Yet the superior might of the enemy, who so obtained, zu Behauptung des Orts, neue Brigaden erhielte, new brigades hourly to defense of the place, Zwang den geringern Teil, nach einem gro(en Verluste, forced the smaller number, after a great loss, obgleich alles gethan, was man von Truppen verlanget although they did everything that is desired of troops endlich ihr besseres Heil in deren R(ckzug zu suchen. finally to seek their better welfare in their pullback. Und hier war es wo sich der allercritischst Zeitpunckt, and here it was where at the most critical point in time un das schon auf Seiten des Feindes gewonnene Gl(cke and with fortune already won to the side of the enemy durch den unerschrockenen Muth der tapferen Guelfen that through the unflinching courage of the brave Guelphs so durch un(bersteiglich geglaubte Verhecke und Graben, so through underbrush and trenches believed insurmountable, hin zur H(lfe der jetzt in fliehen begriffene Br(der, in to the aid of their brothers gripped in flight, mit dem st(rcksten Schritt vom tapfersten F(hrer geleitet, led with the strongest pace by the bravest of leaders, eilten, auf einmal zu unserm Vorteil erkl(rte: they hurried, suddenly to illustrate our advantage: und der siegend Feind durch diesem mutigen Angrif, and the victorious enemy likewise stunned by this brave attack, gleichsam bet(ubt, mit taumelnden Schritt erschrocken zur(ck floh fled back shocked with staggering step, gab das halb erfochtene Feld, ohnm(chtig zu stehen gave up the half won field, to stand powerless in der schnellesten Flucht unumgesehen zur(rucke. in the fastest retreat without looking back. Und so endigte sich zum ewigen Ruhme der Guelfen, And so ended this so important day, to the eternal fame of the Guelphs, und ihres f(hrenden Chefs zu einer unsterblichen Ehre, and of their leading commander to eternal honor, dieser so wichtige Tag, und Gott erhielte Sein Leben. and God preserve his life. ***So, wie auch da, wo zulezt das alles entscheidende Schicksal, So, as also there, where finally the all deciding Fate, an dem traurigen Tage das Gl(ck der Waffen verkehrte, on the sad day when the fortune of the weapon went wrong, Gottes allm(chtige Hand Ihm stets zur Seite begleitet. God's almighty hand always stays at his side. Hier in der st(rcksten Gefahr, und dorten mitten im Feuer Here in the greatest danger, and there in the midst of fire, (berall, wo Er hinsah, da( Seine Gegenwart n(tig, everywhere, where he saw that his presence was needed, um den streitenden Volck die n(tigen ordres zu geben, to give the fighters their necessary orders, hier den w(tenden Feind den fernern Angrif zu wehren, here to defend from the raging attack of the enemy, dorten die fluchtigen Trups in Ordnung wieder zu bringen, there to bring fleeing troops back into order, Hundert fielen zur Rechten und Hundert fielen zur Lincken, A hundred fell to the right and a hundred fell to the left, lagen blutend in Staub und flehten winselnd um H(lfe, lay bleeding in the dust and begged whining for help, andere hauchten gestreckt den lezten Othen zum Himmel, others, down, coughed their last oaths to Heaven, starben vergn(gt weil sie im Dienst des K(nigs ihr Leben and died satisfied, because they ended their lives, auf dem Bette der Ehren so tapfer und ruhmvoll beschlo(en , so bravely and gloriously on the bed of honor in service to the king,, und beseufzten nur dies, da( ihre streitende Br(der and bemoaned only that their fighting brothers an den heutigem Tag nicht Sieger der Feinde geworden. were not victorious over the enemy on this day. Doch Gott besch(zte auch hier, dem, der uns bishero bef(hret, Yet God also protected, him, who yet leads us here, dessen wachendes Aug uns jederzeit v(terlich sch(zzet, whose watchful eye, father-like, protects us every time, und dessen liebreiches Herz stets unser Beste besorget. and whose kind heart always looks after our best interests. Und so steige denn br(nstiger Wunsch zum Trone des Ewigen, And thus may our fervent wishes climb to the Throne of the Eternal, f(r das fernere Wol des menschenfreundlichsten Herzens, for the further wellbeing of the most humanitarian of hearts, Segen und Heil begleite die Tage des teuresten Helden, May blessings and well-being accompany the days of this dearest of heros, so als Gemal zur Seite der unvergleichsten Gattin also as husband at the side of the most incomparable wife, welche alles in Ihm und Er alles in Ihr ist; who is everything to him as he is everything to her; und als Vater zugleich von drey geliebtesten T(chtern, and as father of three most lovely daughters, die voll Anmuth, so wie der treffende Pinsel des Rubens, who are full of grace, much like a fitting painting by Rubens, uns die Grazien Mahlt, von holder Anmuth beseelet, draws for us the Graces, animated by lovely charm, heitere Stunden geneu(t, und alles widrige Schicksal, (he) enjoys cheerful hours, and all of adverse fate, philosophisch verbannt, der Seele Ruhe zu schaffen. is philosophically banned, so as to create peace for the soul. Lasse allm(chtiger Gott die heutige Stunde der Freude May almighty God allow today's hour of joy in enz(ckender Pracht noch oftmal wieder erscheinen: to appear again often in delightful Splendour: Ehre und Ruhm bekr(ne Sein Leben zum sp(testen Ziele menschlichen Alters.-- May honor and glory crown his life into the latest limits of human age.--

    • *. Trois Rivieres.
    • *. Three Rivers
    • **d. 19.tn Septbr: 1777.
    • **. the 19th of September, 1777
    • ***d. 7.tn octobr:1777.
    • ***the 7th of October, 1777