Two and a half songs

At First Things, Tristyn Bloom reports on a funny song that used to be sung by the Yale Glee Club in the old days. Then she notes:

“The Pope” is apparently actually a translation of a German drinking song, so be sure to file this away somewhere for next year’s Oktoberfest.

Passing over this so-American-it’s-almost-Japanese view of German culture, I found this interesting because on closer inspection it turns out the old Yale Glee Club version changes the tone of the song considerably. Here’s an actual translation of the German song (destroying rhyme and meter of course) side-by-side with the Yale Glee Club version. I’ve bolded the differences I found most striking:

German Yale Glee Club
The Pope lives gloriously in the world,
he never wants for indulgence money.
|:He drinks of the very best wine:
and therefore I would quite like to be the Pope.:|
The Pope he leads a jolly life,
He’s free from every care and strife;
|:He drinks the best of Rhenish wine,
I would the Pope’s gay life were mine.:|
But no, he is a poor wretch,
a fair girl kisses him not ;
|:he sleeps in his bed alone:
and therefore I wouldn’t like to be the Pope.:|
But he don’t lead a jolly life,
He has no maid or blooming wife,
|:He has no son to raise his hope,
Oh! I would not be the Pope.:|
The Sultan lives on high,
he dwells in a brothel
|:full of gorgeous maids:
therefore I would quite like to be the Sultan.:|
The Sultan better pleases me,
His life is full of jolity,
|:He’s wives as many as he will,
I fain the Sultan’s throne would fill.:|
But no, he is a poor man,
for if he follows his Al-Koran,
|:then he drinks not a drop of wine:
therefore I wouldn’t like to be Sultan either.:|
But still he is a wretched man,
He must obey the Al-Koran,
|:He dare not drink one drop of wine,
I would not change his lot for mine.:|
Divided I despise both’s bliss
and return to my station;
|:but this I happily incur:
half Sultan and half Pope to be.:|
Therefore, girl, give me a kiss,
for now I am your Sultan!
|:You close brothers, pour in,
so that I can be the pope too!:|
So when the maiden kisses me,
I’ll think that I the Sultan be,
|:And when my Rhenish wine I tope,
Oh then I’ll think that I’m the Pope.:|

It turns out there’s an even older Latin version, and I don’t know which one inspired the one that used to be sung at Yale.

Minor points: On his way from Latin over German to English, the poor pope is reduced from Falernian to generic and then finally to Rhenish wine. That’s just mean, but it’s interesting Rhenish wine was at least in competition for being best among American student drinking song translators of old. Also interesting that the translator may have omitted the idea of a station/estate to return to, but then if he was going by the Latin version that wasn’t even there in the first place.

But the actually striking difference is in the more obvious Bowdlerizations: The pope is just rich rather than living on abundant  indulgence money. (The Latin version may or may not be old enough for that to have been true, but it was as clearly a past thing at the time of the German translation as it was at whenever the English version was made.)

But most strikingly, American-version!pope is a poor sap mostly because he doesn’t get to have a family, while German-and-Latin-version!pope is a poor sap mostly because he doesn’t get to have sex. Likewise, American-version!Sultan has lots of wifes, while the other two versions have lots of slave-girls. And finally, the kiss is demanded in the Latin and German versions and freely given in the Yale version. I wonder whether the translator was catering to early feminist or late Christian sentiments there.

I think I actually approve of those Bowdlerizations. It’s still edgy enough for a good drinking song, but balanced with a glimpse of wholesomeness. And who could dislike wholesome drinking songs?

This entry was posted in Feuilleton and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two and a half songs

  1. Julia says:

    It exists in Russian, too.  Rhyming translation is really hard – I’m not surprised they all came out a bit different.

  2. Jaakko H. says:

    There’s also a Finnish version, which is sung broadly and quite commonly among the engineer students in Finland. In Finnish the rhyming works really well — and the lyrics altogether!

    Paavi ja sulttaani

    On paavin elo ihanaa,
    hän kaikki anerahat saa.
    :,: On viini kallein juomansa
    – Oi, jospa paavi oisin ma. :,:

    Mutt’ ei, ei koskaan maistaa saa,
    hän nuoren naisen suudelmaa.
    :,: Käy illoin yksin nukkumaan
    – en paavi olla tahtoiskaan! :,:

    Mutt’ sulttaani hän hummailee
    ja haaremissaan elelee.
    :,: Keskellä naisten viehkeäin
    – sulttaani oisin mielelläin. :,:

    Mutt’ ei, hän ompi polo mies
    hänt’ painaa Koraaninsa ies.
    :,: Ei maista viinin tippaakaan
    – en sulttaaniksi tahtoiskaan. :,:

    En yksin olla tahtoisi
    mä paavi enkä sulttaani.
    :,: Mutt’ vuoroin virkaan kumpaankin
    mä mielelläni astuisin. :,:

    Suo suukko mulle neitonen,
    oon sulttaani mä hetkisen.
    :,: Hei, veikot, maljat täyttäkää,
    kun paaviks’ muuttuu poika tää. :,:

Comments are closed.