Heinrich Heine: The Lorelei (From German)

By Heinrich Heine
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original German
Click to hear me recite the English

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening's final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She's combing her golden hair.

She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He'd rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song's sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.

The Original:

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

Die Luft ist kühl, und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
In Abendsonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr goldenes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar.

Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewaltige Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh'.

Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn;
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
Die Lorelei getan.


  1. I was searching the web for the legend of Lorelei, which I heard about from one of my German friends, when I came across your page. I had seen another translation of this, (a more literal one), and was somewhat disappointed as it did not seem to capture the true poetry of the writing, but instead seemed to have more of a goal of portraying a literal meaning, which I believe is not the point of poetry.
    I read your translation and truly enjoyed it (I am only a beginning German student, self taught only so far, and have dabbled in other languages and love it!). I love that you have brought the poetry out in it, and you have gotten across the main point of the poem without getting too caught up in literal translation. Which, don't get me wrong, can be important, but there is a time and a place for both.
    I really appreciate this website you have here, and I have a feeling I will be looking through it a lot in the future.
    I am planning on going into interpretation/translation/linguistics.. I can't decide what exactly to do- I love languages to much, I'd love to learn all of them if I could! I think interpretation could be interesting, and I'd love to travel, but I would truly love to do what you are doing here (even if it were just for fun), and to use my love of english writing and foreign languages to create translations from other languages.
    Anyway- I truly appreciate this all, and I hope in the future I can be doing something similar.
    -A fellow enthusiast

  2. Hi!

    As a native German speaker and quite well learned English speaker I can't thank you enough for this wonderful translation.

    It's not a literal translation - it's better than that! This poetic translation transports the emotions and melancholy of the original.

    Thank you!

  3. thank you! I was looking for this

  4. This is truly the best translation of Lorelei ever!

  5. Can u also give me the comparison between Lorelei and Loreley

  6. This poem is also a song, I grew up with...great translation...thanks - I enjoyed it
    Drea x

  7. The best English translation I have ever read of the Lorelei poem/song. Heine would approve for sure!

  8. hey jaden... i read that you are a native german speaker. i have started learning german... but i am not that good at conversing.... would you mind helping me.... i really want to be fluent in it.... 

  9. Mein lieber Herr Foreman,
    ich bin mehr als begeistert mit Ihrer Übersetzung von der Lorelei. Es ist Ihnen gelungen, die tiefsten Gefühle des Originals tadellos ins Englische zu übertragen. Besten Dank und alles Gute.

  10. Nice translation of poem.! it was a best translation of Lorelei. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Great translation, thank you, I really enjoyed reading it and intend to learn it in both languages.

  12. wonderful translation. thanks