Posted by: patenttranslator | August 19, 2010

Blogosphere-The Sounding Board for Lives of Quiet Desperation

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.

— Henry David Thoreau —

Hendry David Thoreau, an early American blogger.

Was Thoreau writing about freelance translators who all of a sudden ran out of work? The first day or two it feels so good after a slew of rush jobs. I can finally read my books for as long as I want, or go to a bookstore to buy more books, which pretty much defines the range of options available to me, other than watching a movie, or taking a walk in the woods behind our house once the voice line has been safely transferred to my cell phone. I could also read the newspapers and the magazines that I am taking, but it’s so depressing these days.

The dead tree media is so predictably slanted these days. It is much more interesting to spend half an hour or more on the blogosphere once you have identified the right kind of blog for you. It is also much more friendly to the environment. It really does not matter whether you are to the left of Michael Moore or to the right of Mussolini or somewhere in between, you can tell the right kind of blog for you by 2 things: 1. the blog has at least 250 comments after a good posting, and 2. the comments make you laugh like crazy, so much so that you have to get up from your chair, put your computer to sleep and leave the rest of the comments for later. You can almost never finish them, of course, but you can read maybe through 100 of them or so, while quickly scrolling through the comments of posters who are well established blog morons with an urgent need to contribute to the discussion, although their only reward will be in the form of more insults from the rest of the people who read the blog. And the insults can be so amusing! You just quickly scroll through the original post of the blog’s Prüegelknabe (blog’s whipping boy, a glutton for punishment) and wait for the posters who will mercilessly meet out the well deserved punishment.

So many men, and some women, are writing about their desperation on their blogs these days. I guess I am one of them. The desperation is palpable and it is not so quiet any more. Some bloggers, mostly those who blog about politics, have so many readers that the dead tree media is compelled to respond next day, usually with an editorial which puts the comments of a blogger who is not on the payroll of the dead tree media in the perspective of those who are still on the payroll, although sixty percent of the employees of the newspaper were “let go” as fewer and fewer people are still reading newspapers (because they are so predictably slanted).

There is little doubt in my mind that had Henry David Thoreau been born 150 years later, he would be a blogger now. I would be reading his blogs religiously every morning and looking for response next day in New York Times or in Washington Post. Some days I would find it, most days I would not. He was in fact an early American blogger when blogging was possible only on paper. There were many others before him, of course. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180, was an early Roman blogger when blogging was possible only on … papyrus?

The problem the bloggers of old had was that they could not really change anything once they wrote it on paper because as Marcus Aurelius knew so well, littera scripta manet (the written letter stays). It stays on paper, but not on the blogosphere. Unlike in life, you can edit out mistakes on your blog and change it any time and as much as you want.

It is not very likely that people will remember what you wrote originally on your blog. Even if you write something really dumb by some accident, you can always change it next day. There is no reason why you should go to your grave with the song still in you.


A good translation of the lyrics in a song into another another language is often very important because it can introduce the song to very different audiences, sometime worldwide.

Both songs sung by Marlene Dietrich in the videos below have a fascinating history, just like the actress and singer herself. Lili Marleen was probably the most popular song of World War II, a song that was listened to on both sides of the front both in German and in English. It was recorded first in German by Lale Anderson in 1939 and it became immensely popular with German soldiers at the front when it was played over and over again on the radio. It is really a love song, but it is also an antiwar song with haunting images of two lovers meeting in fog under a lantern in front of the barracks, one of them about to die soon (und sollte mir ein Leid geschehen, wer wird bei der Laterne stehen, mit dir Lili Marleen). Joseph Goebbels prohibited playing of the song on the radio (sort of like when the Dixie Chicks were banished from radio stations here in 2003) and complicated Lale Anderson’s life so much that at one point she attempted suicide. Goebbels then had a better idea and ordered a new military version with prominent drums and proper Teutonic accoutrements. I think he also had the lyrics changed, but I am not sure about that. Marlene Dietrich then recorded her own version which made the song even more popular both in German and in English. Whenever I hear the song, I keep imagining German soldiers listening to it in German and Allied soldiers listening to it in English before they go back to work again (start killing each other again).

“Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind” was written as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by the American singer Pete Seeger in mid fifties but it became a worldwide hit only in the sixties when it was translated into German and other languages and sung by Marlene Dietrich for the first time in German and French in 1962. Pete Seger himself allegedly said that it sounded better in German. The song is inspired by an old Ukrainian ballad in the form of a chain song – if you read German and Russian, you can find a comparison of the original Ukrainian text next to the German and English text on Wikipedia in German. The lyrics of the song were translated into many languages, I believe that many if not most versions of the lyrics in European languages are based on the German lyrics which are very simple and extremely powerful.

When I asked my son, who is in second year of college now, whether he knew who Marlene Dietrich was … he had no idea. Anyway, the topics of these two songs are not exactly what one would find these days on American TV or radio.

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