27 November 2010

Post 239

So, it's officially Christmastime. The passing of Thanksgiving lifted my wife's moratorium on Christmas music, so I'm listening to lots of it now. I don't know what happened to me last year, but it was the first year since halfway through high school that I wasn't offended by Christmas music being played ridiculously early, and this year I found myself turning on holiday jingles whenever I was driving somewhere without my wife. It's good to wait till after Thanksgiving, though: since there are only, like, 30 or 40 really good Christmas songs in existence, I'd probably get sick of it by mid-December if I listened to it non-stop.

Anyway, the point of this post is to once again demonstrate the awesome breadth of the internet's reach. When I was very young, we got a Christmas basket from a family in the ward, and one of the things in it was a tape of really random Christmas songs. I remember several of them (one called "Santa Got a Cold on Christmas Eve," one with a refrain that began, "We are Santa's reindeer / We've learned to sing this year," one sung in a weird accent about how the kids go nuts at Christmas, a version of "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" that ended with a burglar coming in a Santa suit...), but my favorite of all of them was a song by Mel Blanc. I remember it was by Mel Blank because my eldest brother had to explain to me who Mel Blanc was when he told me who sang the song.

I loved that song as a kid, and the inventions of Google and YouTube have made me try every year to find it online. This year, I finally did (thanks to Google, not to YouTube). I can't embed it here, so just click on this link to listen. (NOTE: my wife wasn't terribly impressed; I think it'll probably appeal to you a lot more if you're, say, 7 years old.)

Merry Christmas!

15 November 2010

Post 238

So, there's a new Muppet movie coming out in about a year. It's being filmed right now. I like the Muppets, so I'm naturally inclined to be curious for the film and to hope that it isn't terrible, but I'm actually really, really excited for it.

Why, you ask? Because of the guy co-writing and guest starring in it: Jason Segel.

If you don't know who Jason Segel is, or if you do know who he is but can't quite imagine him being involved with the Muppets (or any PG comedy), I advise you to click here and watch a pretty awesome video (because I had no idea he did any sort of puppetry).

05 November 2010

Post 237

[NOTE: this post is lengthy because I'm writing it for mostly cathartic reasons. If you want to learn some interesting stuff without finding out how I myself found this stuff, just hop down to the very bottom of the post and read my findings. Otherwise, get comfy: you're gonna be here a while!]

Years ago--probably more than a decade ago--ya know, back when I was in high school--my Sunday school teacher (who had previously been my bishop) was in the habit of writing a quote on the board before class started each week. One week, it was a quote from Goethe. I don't recall how my Sunday school teacher rendered the quote, but I've always thought it was "Choose well, for your choice is brief yet endless."

I like that. I think it's very fine. Stirring, poignant. Recently I've been thinking about it a lot, and I decided that I wanted to know what the actual quote was and where it came from.

The most common rendering of the quote it, "Choose well; your choice is brief, and yet endless," though it can be found with just "yet" and just "and" and even with "but" instead of either. It appears on many, many quote pages, usually attributed to Goethe but never any of his works. I Googled and Googled and Googled trying to figure out where it came from, hoping that I could find the original German and figure out whether the double conjunction was a vital part of the quote or just the most famous translation.

Usually, if something can be found on the internet, I can find it through Google in no more than a few searches and a couple of minutes, but it took me, like, two hours to find the information I'm about to share with you, and I hope that by collecting my findings here on my blog I can aid future researchers with their quest.

The first thing I discovered is that Masons love this little line, and the reason they love it is that it came from a poem Goethe wrote about Masons (Goethe was one himself). But none of the sites about Masons and Masonry said anything about the original poem except that it was translated into English by Thomas Carlyle, and it's Carlyle's English translation that they always talked about.

Carlyle's translation (entitled "The Mason Lodge") is where the quote comes from. I looked at a few different pages that had the full poem, but they all gave Carlyle's version without any mention as to what he translated it from. But then--a breakthrough.

I found a website that had English versions of three Goethe poems about Masonry: "The Mason Lodge" translated by Carlyle, "A Symbol" translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring, and "Song Of Fellowship" also translated by Bowring. The important thing, though, is that the website says that Carlyle's "The Mason Lodge" and Bowring's "A Symbol" "are both translations of the same original, written in 1827, but so different that they even have different titles!" (source link).

"A ha!" I thought. "I'll just compare the line in the two different poems and see which I like better!"

Not that easy: Carlyle's "Choose well; your choice is / Brief and yet endless" corresponds to Bowring's "To do what is best, Unceasing endeavour!"

Somebody cheated!

I got this far in my quest in a few searches and a couple of minutes, but the puzzle I found here propelled me through my desperate search for the next few hours.

I still don't know where Carlyle's translation was published, but I found (courtesy of Google Books) a book by Bowring called The Poems of Goethe Translated in the Original Metres. I found "A Symbol" in there and found a footnote that said, "This fine poem is given by Goethe amongst a small collection of what he calls Loge (Lodge), meaning thereby Masonic pieces."

Because Bowring was interested in maintaining "the original metres," I thought that perhaps his title for the poem would resemble the original title more closely than Carlyle's, so I used a few different online translators to translate "symbol" into German, and they all gave me "zeichen."

I looked and looked for something by Goethe that had "Zeichen" or "Loge" in its title, and I found nothing except a book called Wielands Andenken in der Loge Amalia, which I could find no machine-searchable version of. I looked to see if BYU's library had a copy, and they do--on microfiche.

No good.

I Googled the web for anything that talked about Carlyle and Goethe or Bowring and Goethe; I searched for websites that had side-by-side English and German versions of Goethe's poems; I searched Wikipedia for the quote; I perused Goethe's and Carlyle's Wikipedia pages--couldn't find a thing.

I actually gave up after a while. I decided that there was no way I was going to find the original poem and decided that I would just compare the number of pages Google came up with when I searched for the quote with various conjunctions, with and without quotation marks, appending Carlyle -Goethe and -Carlyle Goethe to see who was most often given credit for the quote--all this just to know what the most common version of the quote was and who the author is most commonly supposed to be.

I learned a funny thing about Google search results a couple years ago in a class I was taking: when you search for something, and Google tells you it's come up with, say, "about 21,900 results," if you go to the bottom of the page and hop over to the very last page of results, you often find that Google only actually found, like, 153 results (those numbers come from a quick search of "brief and yet endless" [with quotation marks]). I kept this in mind as I tried to figure out which version of the quote produced the most pages, and that's why magic happened.

On the very last page of a search for the quote and Goethe and Carlyle, I found a page in German. I can't read German, but I understood well enough the phrase "Goethe und Carlyle" and I recognized a new word: Symbolum.

Symbolum??? That's not German--that's Latin!

Ah, mais bein sur! This is the 1820s we're talking about--of course the title's going to be in Latin!

I Googled Goethe Symbolum and found a Wikipedia page called "Symbolum." This page only exists in German Wikipedia, but I glanced over it and--hallelujah!--the poem was there. I had Google translate the page, and then I looked at the poem and found my line: "Missed practice not to / The forces of good!"


But at least now I had the title of the original poem. Early on in my searching, I had found a website that had the poems of Goethe in both German and English, but it had been useless to me because it had the poems organized alphabetically by German title, and they didn't have a poem called Zeichen or Loge. Now, knowing that the poem is actually called "Symbolum," I Googled my way back to that site and found the poem in both German and English.

The end of my quest, you think? Wrong: it had Carlyle's translation!


I kept looking, but all the sites I found used either Carlyle's or Bowring's translation, so I gave up on that. I went back to the German Wikipedia page for "Symbolum" and found the line I was looking for and then hopped over to Babylon online translation and translated the words one at a time.

This, of course, gave me something that was no better (even a little worse) than Google Translation's version.

In a fit of futility, I copy-pasted the entire phrase into Babylon, and that's when I finally found what I was looking for: "Do not fail to exercise the forces of good."

So Carlyle and Bowring were both cheating: neither one of them came anywhere near what the original German said!

At least now I know....

So here are the lessons learned:

1) Babylon online translation is amazing. To be able to identify and translate an imperative phrase is very impressive to me (that is assuming, of course, that it actually is an imperative phrase; I don't know German, so I really can't say for sure, but the translation sounds very convincing).

2) Perhaps everything I could ever want to know is on the internet, but sometimes it's very hard to find.

3) [and this is the important one:] "Choose well; your choice is brief and yet endless" is 100% Carlyle! It may have been inspired by Goethe, but it doesn't even approximate anything Goethe wrote, so it probably ought to be attributed to Carlyle instead. (Even though I still have no idea where Carlyle published his translation, his version is so consistent from one website to the next that there's no real reason to doubt the double conjunction.)