Translating Religion: German women translators of Robert Burns's 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' in the Nineteenth Century

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Abstract

Translating Robert Burns’s songs and ballads into German was a nineteenth-century phenomenon; it is not widely known, however, that women translated Burns, as their work has received little critical attention. This article analyses Emilie von Berlepsch’s (1802-04) and Emilie Fierlein’s (1841) German translations of Burns’s ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ (1785-86), and the original, in order to demonstrate that their personal religious sensitivities influenced their translation strategies in relation to the religious references in stanzas 12-18 of Burns’s poem. Furthermore, critics of ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ have overlooked the liturgical structure of the poem and also avoided examining its eschatological and apocalyptic themes, which were also problematic for the translators, von Berlepsch and Fierlein. The article breaks new ground in relation to the poem's religious thinking and structure, as well as in relation to how this caused problems for the German women translators. For example, the women translators were unwilling to allow Burns’s image of God as avenging and wrathful, his patriarchs of the Old Testament as sinful and ruthless, and his apocalyptic references to John of Patmos’s visions and the Book of Life to disrupt the rural idyll of the scene of family worship in the cottage. They made significant changes that emphasised the spiritual education of the heart and emotional worship, faith, prayer, and the theme of salvation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)129-150
Number of pages22
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Volume72
Issue number2
Early online date4 Mar 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Keywords

  • Robert Burns
  • German
  • nineteenth century
  • women translators
  • Religion
  • translation

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