English translation of Heinrich Heine's The Lorelei:
I do not know what it means,
That I am so sadly inclined;
A fairy tale of old, it seems,
preoccupies my mind.
The air is cool and darkening,
And peacefully flows the Rhine,
The mountain top is sparkling,
The twilight sunbeams shine.
The fairest maid is reclining,
In wondrous beauty up there;
Her golden jewels are shining,
She combs her golden hair.
She combs it with a golden comb,
And therewith sings a song;
It casts a spell on the gloaming,
Melodious and strong.
The boatman in his little boat
is seized by wild delights;
He looks not upon the rocks,
looks only up to wondrous heights.
Both vessel and man before long
By the waves to their ends were flung;
And none of this if not for the song
The Lorelei had sung.
Attempts at translation are inevitably untrue to the poem. Based on the fable wherein sailors are pitched to their deaths by the distraction of the beautiful woman overhead, this poem is frequently understood as a wry response to Goethe's Faust. The final line of Faust, and perhaps the most famous in the history of German literature, is usually remembered in English as: "The eternal feminine draws us onward/upward." Goethe meant this in the traditional romantic sense: the mystery of woman is compelling, adds something like motivation to man's being (or whatever, it's not a line I can unpack with any confidence). Anyway, Heine is responding wittily to Goethe by drawing a picture of him staring up into the shining mountain top in the last sunbeams of twilight, gaping slack-jawed at the sexy lady, his boat straying to its doom.
Anacreon mentions that not even the Nazis could look away from the poetry of Heine, so seductive it was. But something else springs to mind when I hear Heine's name in this context: outside of Humboldt-Universität in Berlin, the square known as Babelplatz. Here it was that the Nazis held their first official book-burning, and here it is that Israeli artist Micha Ullman's memorial is on display today. A window in the floor of the square opens up to a well-lit, pale white room, the walls of which are lined with empty bookshelves. The inscription quotes Heine. It reads: "Where books are burned, so one day will people be burned as well."
Heine died in 1856.
Translation note: Though the translation above sucks, I find it better than any I'm able to find on the Internet. If you have any advice on potential improvements, I'd be happy to hear it.