April 29, 2006

The multilingual anthem

In the Washington Post's reporting on the "Nuestro Himno" controversy, David Montgomery wrote:

At least 389 versions [of "The Star-Spangled Banner"] have been recorded, according to Allmusic.com, a quick reference used by musicologists to get a sense of what's on the market. Now that [Jimi] Hendrix's "Banner" has mellowed into classic rock, it's hard to imagine that once some considered it disrespectful. The other recordings embrace a vast musical universe: from Duke Ellington to Dolly Parton to Tiny Tim. But musicologists cannot name another foreign-language version.

I don't know which "musicologists" Montgomery consulted, but Wikipedians have had better luck finding other foreign-language versions of the anthem. So far contributors to the Wikipedia page for "Nuestro Himno" have turned up examples in German, Yiddish, Samoan, French, and Latin. Not only that, they discovered a number of other Spanish versions reproduced on the website of the U.S. State Department. (Will this page be removed now that President Bush has declared that the anthem "ought to be sung in English"?)

A site on German lieder provides two translations into German, the first by Niklas Müller from 1861 and the second by an unknown composer published between 1861 and 1864. The first stanza of each rendering:

[Version 1:]
O, sagt, könnt ihr seh'n
Bei der Dämmerung Schein,
Was so stolz wir begrüßten
In Abendroths Gluten?
Dess Streiffen und Sterne,
Durch Kämpfender Reih'n,
Auf dem Walle wir sahen
So wenniglich fluten;
Die Raketen am Ort
Und die Bomben vom Fort,
Sie zeigten bei Nacht,
Daß die Flagge noch dort.
O sagt, ob das Banner
Mit Sternen besäet
Über'm Lande der Frei'n
Und der Tapfern noch weht?

[Version 2:]
O! sagt, könnt ihr seh'n
In des Morgenroths Strahl,
Was so stolz wir im schei-
denden Abendroth grüßten?
Die Sterne, die Streifen,
Die wehend vom Wall,
Im tödlichen Kampf
Uns den Anblick versüßten?
Hoch flattere die Fahne
In herrlicher Pracht,
Beim Leuchten der Bomben
Durch dunkle Nacht.
O! sagt, ob das Banner,
Mit Sternen besä't,
Über'm Lande der Freien
Und Braven noch weht?

On Mendele, a Yiddish literature and language mailing list, Leonard Prager supplied the lyrics for a Yiddish version of the anthem by Ber Gri (taken from In dinst fun folk; almanakh fun yidishn folks-ordn, New York: Book League of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order I.W.O., 1947, p. 112). The first stanza:

"Star spengld bener"
fun Frensis Skat Ki
O zog! konstu zen in likht fun sof nakht,
Vos mir hobn bagrist in demer-shayn mit freyd?
Di shtrayfn, di shtern -- in flaker fun shlakht
Fun di shuts-vent mir hobn mit bang in blik bagleyt.
Un der blits fun raket, un der knal fun kanon
Durkh der nakht gerufn hobn zey: es lebt di fon.
O zog! di fon mit di shtern iz zi nokh tsehelt
Iber land fun fraye un iber heym fun held?

Here are the lyrics to a Samoan version, which the Samoa News reports has been proposed as the official anthem of American Samoa:

Aue! se'i e vaai, le malama o ataata mai
Na sisi a'e ma le mimita, i le sesega mai o le vaveao
O ai e ona tosi ma fetu, o alu a'e i taimi vevesi tu
I luga o 'Olo mata'utia, ma loto toa tausa'afia
O Roketi mumu fa'aafi, o pomu ma fana ma aloi afi
E fa'amaonia i le po atoa, le fu'a o lo'o tu maninoa
Aue! ia tumau le fe'ilafi mai, ma agiagia pea
I eleele o Sa'olotoga, ma Nofoaga o le au totoa

The Wikipedia article also notes a reference to a French version of the anthem translated by an Acadian (Cajun) organization in Louisiana, though no lyrics are given. And finally, Christopher Brunelle has translated the third stanza into Latin (found on the abovementioned German lieder page as well as the Classics-L mailing list):

ubi nunc isti sunt
tam superbo voto
furiali pugna territos et clamore
esse nos cum terra
carituros domo?
caligata lues expurgatast cruore!
mercennarius et
servus effugiet
acherunta frustra nec servabit semet
et vexillum stellatum
vibrat in triumpho
libera in patria et in forti domo

In case you're wondering about the original lyrics for the anthem's rarely sung third stanza, here they are:

And where is that band
Who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country
Will leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution!
No refuge can save
The hireling and slave
From the terror of death and the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner
In triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

[Update #1: The anthem was sung in the Uto-Aztecan language of Tohono O'odham at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.]

[Update #2: T. Carter Ross sends along a link to a French version of the anthem by the Cajun group Les Amies Louisianaises:

La Bannière Étoilée,
l'hymne national américain
(The Star Spangled Banner)
(Trad., P.D., French words David Émile Marcantel
Vocal arrangement Jeanette Aguillard)

O dites, voyez-vous
Dans la lumière du jour
Le drapeau qu'on saluait
À la tombée de la nuit ?
Dont les trois couleurs vives
Pendant la dure bataille
Au-dessus des remparts
Inspiraient notre pays.
Et l'éclair des fusées,
Des bombes qui explosaient,
Démontraient toute la nuit
Que le drapeau demeurait.
Est-ce que la bannière étoilée
Continue toujours à flotter
Au-dessus d'une nation brave,
Terre de la liberté ?

A clip of the song can be heard here.]

[Update #3: Some interesting discussion on MetaFilter, including a link to a 1936 audio clip of the anthem being sung on the radio in Yiddish, courtesy of the Yiddish Radio Project.]

[Update #4: More good linkage at Boing Boing, including the sheet music for a 1919 Spanish rendering of the anthem (one of the four on the State Department site).]

[Update #5: Jack Balkin links to sheet music for yet another Yiddish version of the anthem, a 1943 translation by Dr. Abraham Asen:

O'zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der "Star Spangled Banner" flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!

And how about Polish?

Gwiaździsty Sztandar

O, powiedz, czy widzisz,
w świetle wczesnego świtu
to, co tak dumnie pozdrawialiśmy
w ostatnim migotaniu zmierzchu?
Czyje pasy i błyszczące gwiazdy
podczas strasznej walki
ponad wałami obronnymi obserwowaliśmy
jak wspaniale powiewały?
A czerwień oślepiających rakiet,
bomby wybuchające w powietrzu
dały dowód przez noc,
że nasza flaga wciąż była.
O, powiedz czy gwiaździsta
flaga jeszcze powiewa
nad krajem wolnych
i ojczyzną odważnych?

[Update #6: Christopher Shea of the Boston Globe provides further background on many of the above translations here.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at April 29, 2006 11:05 AM