A poem and translation for Advent: “The Proverb”, by Ernst Stadler (1883 – 1914)
Ein Gedicht und Übersetzung zum Advent: Der Spruch, von Ernst Stadler (1883 – 1914)
Inside an ancient book I came upon a phrase,
In einem alten Buche stieß ich auf ein Wort,
Language Wonk Alert
This whole poem relies on the words Wesen (line 4) and its adjective form wesentlich (last line). I’ve translated them “substance” and “substantial”, which I think is good in context.
Wesen is one of those German words which seems simple enough. Wesentlich is fairly common in everyday German speech, but they’re a kind of philosophical rabbit hole. Translating it seems very dependent on context. Here’s a list of possible translations (one of them is “quiddity”!).
If you’re curious (and hey, you’ve read this far!), here’s my translation of how the Duden defines “Wesen“:
- that which is special, characteristic of a thing, appearance, by which it distinguishes itself from others
- [philosophy] something which stamps the apparent form of a thing, lies at its core, and determines it (as a general inner principle)
- sum of the spiritual qualities which characterize a person in a particular way in their actions, their way of living, their type of thinking and feeling and expressing themselves
- something which exists, comes into being in a particular manner (often only thought, suggested)
- a human being (as a creature, animate being)