Das Nibelungenlied

Song of the Nibelungs

Translated from the Middle High German by Burton Raffel; Foreword by Michael Dirda; Introduction by Edward R. Haymes

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January 8, 2008
384 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300125986
Paper

Also available in:
Cloth

No poem in German literature is so well known and studied in Germany and Europe as the 800-year-old Das Nibelungenlied. In the English-speaking world, however, the poem has remained little known, languishing without an adequate translation. This wonderful new translation by eminent translator Burton Raffel brings the epic poem to life in English for the first time, rendering it in verse that does full justice to the original High Middle German. His translation underscores the formal aspects of the poem and preserves its haunting beauty. Often called the German lliad, Das Nibelungenlied is a heroic epic both national in character and sweeping in scope. The poem moves inexorably from romance through tragedy to holocaust. It portrays the existential struggles and downfall of an entire people, the Burgundians, in a military conflict with the Huns and their king. In his foreword to the book, Michael Dirda observes that the story “could be easily updated to describe the downfall of a Mafia crime family, something like The Godfather, with swords.” The tremendous appeal of Das Nibelungenlied throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is reflected in such works as Richard Wagner’s opera tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, Fritz Lang’s two-part film Die Nibelungen, and, more recently, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  

Burton Raffel is Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities Emeritus and professor of English emeritus, University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He lives in Lafayette. His many works of translation include Voltaire’s Candide, the narrative poems of Chrétien de Troyes, and Poems and Prose from the Old English, all published by Yale University Press.

"Raffel stays true to the style and form of the Nibelungenlied, a wonderful text that deserves a much wider audience in the English-speaking world."—Bettina Bildhauer, University of St. Andrews    

"Burton Raffel's Nibelungenlied deserves many enthralled readers."—Michael Dirda, from the Foreword

"A marvelously readable version of Das Nibelungenlied."—Ronnie Apter, Central Michigan University    

"Written around the year 1200, The Nibelungenlied is one of the glories of European literature. The epic is based on tales . . . that reach back . . . to the fifth-century destruction of the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns. Yet it speaks as powerfully to modern readers as it must have done to its first audience eight centuries ago. . . . The great narrative poem has been hailed as Germany’s Iliad. . . . The challenges for a translator are great. . . . Mr Raffel has solved the problems well. . . . He varies rhyme and rhythm when he feels the need, often with great subtlety but without betraying the senses or the spirit of the Middle High German text. . . . Raffel catches the natural urgency and excitement of the original poem."—Ian Brunskill, Wall Street Journal

"Das Nibelungenlied is a remarkable work of art. . . . Among medieval epics, it occupies the first rank, transcending even Beowulf and the Chanson de Roland in complexity and emotional intensity. . . . A modern, reliable, and readable English verse translation of this landmark in European literature is long overdue. There can be few translators as well qualified for this daunting task . . . as Burton Raffel."—Daniel Johnson, New Criterion

"Fine. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers."—Choice

"Burton Raffel takes up the challenge [of translating the Nibelungenlied] and brings to the task his considerable talents as both a translator and a poet. . . . [This] translation captures the tragedy and pathos of the original while preserving at least some of the form, which is an integral part of the poem."—Kathleen J. Meyer, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies

Selected as a 2007 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.
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