Remnants of a Hero

Frederick's Poetry | Response by German Poets | Remnants of a Hero

Frederick became famous not only for his heroic deeds, prolific writings and fine palaces but also for his exquisite collection of snuff boxes. The satirical poet Joachim Ringelnatz (real name Hans Bötticher, 1883-1934) gives an irreverent snapshot of Frederick’s reputation prior to the First World War – though for more militaristically inclined contemporaries, he remained the epitome of living Prussian prowess rather than a dull inhabitant of history books.

 

Die Schnupftabaksdose (1912)

Es war einmal eine Schnupftabaksdose,
Die hatte Friedrich der Große
Sich selbst geschnitzelt aus Nußbaumholz.
Und darauf war sie natürlich stolz.

Da kam ein Holzwurm gekrochen.
Der hatte Nußbaum gerochen.
Die Dose erzählte ihm lang und breit
Von Friedrich dem Großen und seiner Zeit.

Sie nannte den alten Fritz generös.
Da aber wurde der Holzwurm nervös
Und sagte, indem er zu bohren begann:
„Was geht mich Friedrich der Große an!“

Joachim Ringelnatz

 

The Snuffbox

There lived a snuffbox on the shelf
That Frederick the Great himself
Had carved from walnut wood by hand.
The snuffbox thought itself quite grand.

A woodworm turned up there as well,
Attracted by the walnut smell.
The snuffbox started to relate
The life of Frederick the Great.

“Old Fritz,” the story went, “Was born...”
At which the woodworm gave a yawn
And said, as it began its tea:
“What’s Frederick the Great to me?”

Joachim Ringelnatz
Translated by David Cram

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© 2012 Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford
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