This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 5, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
German-speaking people immigrated from Germany to Texas in large numbers in the 1800’s. In Wharton County, not quite as many, but there were enough German-Texans in Lissie, Texas, to start a German-language Lutheran church in Chesterville (which eventually merged with St. Paul’s in Wallis), and the German Methodist Church (now FUMC) in East Bernard held services and kept records in the German language, starting in 1893, when the church was moved from Content to East Bernard.
Other Counties in Texas besides Wharton had much larger numbers of German immigrants and had German-language newspapers, thus German-language newspapers were surprisingly numerous in 19th Century Texas. San Antonio probably had the most prestigious “Zeitung,” The San Antonio Freie Presse fur Texas. Both New Braunfels and Sequin had German-language newspapers with large readerships. Nearer home, The La Grange Deutsches Zeitung was published in La Grange, The Bellville Wochenblatt was published either in Bellville or nearby Cat Springs, and Die Deutsche Warte in Columbus/Hallettsville.
That brings me to The Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, which was published in German with some articles in Wendish in my home County of Lee. The owner-publisher of the Volksblatt was J. A. Proske, my grandmother’s first cousin, the first of many in my family to be involved in newspaper work. Not only was The Volksblatt unique in that it published some articles in Wendish as well as in German, but also in that each week it included the German-language poems by Loebau, Texas poet, Michael Sohns, Pastor Will Sohns’great grandfather.
It has been my great honor to have been asked by the Wendish Research Exchange to “transpose” these German-language poems into poetic English. Fortunately, I have the help of literal English translations of each poem, as well as the original German. I have finished transposing five of Sohns’ poems so far; however, there are so many poems yet to be done, that at age 86, I’m not sure I shall live long enough to do all of them, lol.
I have tried to capture the nuances of the poet’s artistry as well as his meaning, which is why doing so is called “transposing” or “rendering” rather than “translating.” My hope is that someday my poetic renderings into English of these German poems can be collected together into a book. Here is one of the first poems I transposed:
THE LONG SLEEP
A German Language Poem by Michael Sohns
(Transposed into Poetic English by Ray Spitzenberger, Copyright 2020)
In his chair, the old man is sleeping,
The small room, bleak, the moist air, weeping.
The whispering grandchildren make no noise.
The little girls and the little boys
Quietly cross the room to be alongside him,
He, still slumbering, has no notice of them.
On the wall hangs an old brown clock,
Dust-covered, silent its tick-tock,
It was overcome by slumber’s spell
And silenced after one final knell.
For the first time, it failed to meet its obligatoriness.
The old man, silent, still slumbering, does not at all notice.
The children back away and watch from the open door,
Not wanting to waken the old man, now as before.
Grandfather must be very tired today;
He can’t be awakened in any way.
The sunset shimmers through the curtainless window,
The old man, dead in his chair, in the evening glow.
As a journalist, I am proud that my grandmother’s cousin published a newspaper, as a German-Wendish Texan, that it was in German and Wendish, and, as a poet, that he valued poetry enough to include poems in his newspaper.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.