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Das Lied von der Erde: The Literary Changes

The text of Das Lied von der Erde underwent extensive evolution before ending up in its final form in Mahler's song-symphony. The original Chinese poems were first independently translated into French by Judith Gautier and Le Marquis D'Hervey-Saint-Denys. The French version was then translated by Hans Heilman into German. Hans Bethge then loosely "imitated" (hence the term"Nachdichtungen, which means "Paraphase poems") Heilman's translation to create his own anthology. Out of this German collection by Bethge, Die chinesische Flöte - Nachdichtungen chinesischer Lyrik, Mahler picked seven that at the time seemed appropriate for the setting of Das Lied von der Erde. He made further changes to adapt the text to his gigantic symphonic songs. This article seeks to catalog the literary editions involved in this process - from the original Chinese poems, to the final version penned by Mahler himself.

The syntactical differences between Chinese and the European languages involved have made the translation process a rather challenging task, and have therefore generated a lot of errors and misleading representations. This aspect of literary alteration has been discussed at length in another article titled "Tracking the Literary Metamorphosis of Das Lied von der Erde." These errors and misrepresentations have made the effort of tracing the identity of the original Chinese poems an even more daunting task. One such example is the poem titled "Porcelain pavilion", on which the Third movement (von der Jugend) is based. Much effort has been invested in identifying the Chinese version to no avail until very recently. However, the original poem has now been identified. This matter will be further discussed in the later section.

I thank Prof. Henry-Louis de La Grange for sharing his French volume: "Gustav Mahler: Le Génie Foudroyé", this information has been instrumental for this catalog. The full copyrights to Hans Bethge's German translation is owned by YinYang Media Verlag1. I am grateful for the generous permission by the publisher for us to make these critical poems accessible here.

No special encoding software is required to view the Chinese characters.

This article is divided according to the movements in Das Lied von der Erde, as shown in the navigation buttons across each subsequent page. Under each title, the section is then arranged in the following scheme:
Original Chinese poem English translation of Chinese poem
French translation Hans Heilman's German translation
Hans Bethge's version Mahler's text for Das Lied von der Erde
1 Die chinesische Flöte - (Mahlers Vorlage für "Das Lied von der Erde") Nachdichtungen chinesischer Lyrik
ISBN 3-9806799-5-0, YinYang Media Verlag