Many soldiers and civilians have told of the profound transfiguring effect of a particular song as they huddle round a radio: Lili Marlene or the BBC’s wartime tones of Beethoven’s 5th, broadcast to the French resistance, which spell out V for Victory in Morse code.
Gerhardt’s catalyst for a sea change of optimism, gliding over the faces in the street, is a song by Valerius: a patriotic tune from the 80 Years War against the Spanish, and a favourite of the Dutch resistance in WW II.
The final two verses, depicting a new spirit and profound sense of loss (of liberty) are almost worthy of a wartime Pathé propaganda film. Some translators didn’t translate the postscript; without it the poem is incomprehensible.
The judges felt that Myra Scholz produced the best translation. Her third verse depends on the American pronunciation of ca-rill-on to preserve the meter, rather than the British car-rill-ion. The judges awarded second prize to Andrew Hewitt & Nienke de Maat. Their translation is, of course, a marked and daring structural deviation from the original. Jos Welie also produced a very fine translation.Paul Evans