July 1, 2011

The Others - Wilhelm Busch

After featuring Erich Kästner a little while ago - an author who isn't at all well known outside of Europe - today I want to share my love for Wilhelm Busch with you. And, you may already have guessed (and might even be scratching your head in wonder) this is yet another author that only few people actually know about. Both left their mark on me as a child and I still appreciate their works even today.

Wilhelm Busch was an German caricaturist, painter, and poet who is best known for his satirical picture stories with rhymed texts. One of his first picture stories, Max and Moritz (published in 1865), a highly inventive and black humorous tale, told entirely in rhymed couplets, was an immediate success and has achieved the status of a popular classic and perennial bestseller. This, as well as many of his other picture stories are regarded as one of the main precursors of the modern comic strip. Who would have thought?

Intersting to know is that many couplets from Busch's humorous verses have achieved the status of adages in the German language, such as "Vater werden ist nicht schwer, Vater sein dagegen sehr" ("It's easy to become a father, but being one is harder rather") or "Dieses war der erste Streich, doch der zweite folgt sogleich" ("This was the first initial trick, but then the second follows quick"). Only through research for this blog post I even found out that only Goethe and Schiller are quoted more frequently in German than Busch is.

What makes those books so special aren't just the stories told in trochaic tetrameter (which as you'll soon see, are even maintained in the English translation), but also the fact that Busch made all the illustrations himself. Unfortunatelly it seems that only Max And Moritz has even been translated to English, which is all the more reason to share the preface to this famous story of those two rascals with you.

Ah, how oft we read or hear of
Boys we almost stand in fear of!
For example, take these stories
Of two youths, named Max and Moritz,
Who, instead of early turning
Their young minds to useful learning,
Often leered with horrid features
At their lessons and their teachers.
Look now at the empty head:
he Is for mischief always ready.
Teasing creatures - climbing fences,
Stealing apples, pears, and quinces,
Is, of course, a deal more pleasant,
And far easier for the present,
Than to sit in schools or churches,
Fixed like roosters on their perches
But O dear, O dear, O deary,
When the end comes sad and dreary!
'Tis a dreadful thing to tell
That on Max and Moritz fell!
All they did this book rehearses,
Both in pictures and in verses.

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