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Die Muttersproch / The Mother Tongue (likely early 1900s)

adam_stumpThis poem, which is the last one included in my book, was written by the Rev. Adam Stump, D.D., (1854–1922). Rev. Stump was a Lutheran pastor from York County, PA, whose ancestors had lived in that county since the 18th century. In his reference work on Pennsylvania Dutch writers, Harry Hess Reichard (1918: 269) notes that Rev. Stump’s poems were “all based on personal experience or were written for some occasion. Everything seems to him a symbol, an emblem of the perishable in this world and a reminder of the grave and the entrance into the next world.” The lyrical tribute to Rev. Stump’s beloved mother tongue that follows is consistent with this description. The spelling has not been changed from the original, which was reprinted in Reichard’s 1940 anthology of Pennsylvania Dutch poetry on p. 256. As a highly educated member of the Lutheran clergy (Rev. Stump was a graduate of Gettysburg College and Gettysburg Seminary and also earned his Doctor of Divinity degree at Susquehanna University), he was well trained in German, which is reflected in the way that he orients the spelling of his poetry toward German norms. There are also a few Germanisms he deployed apparently for metrical purposes, e.g., ei ‘kehre for eikehr (‘[I] go to’), which rhymes with vermehre (here, ‘cover, spread’).



Die MuttersprochDie erschte Worte, die mer weess,       Die’s diefscht in unsre Herze g’sunke,Die immer gut un niemols bees,       Hen mir mit Muttermilch getrunke—Wie doch des arme, schwache KindDie Sproch so siess un lieblich find!

Wie kenne mir die liewe Sproch       So leichtsinnig im Stolz verlosse!Der alte Strom, so noch un noch,       Is noch net ganz un gar verflosse.Mir henke fescht am alte Stamm,So wie die Braut am Breitigam.

Es gebt en Sproch, die is nix wert:       Die roschtig Flint is glei versprunge.Lateinisch, Greek sin g’schwind verkehrt;       Ei, sie verdrehe jo die Zunge!Ja, Englisch un Hebreisch ah—Mit denne is mer iwwel dra’.

Die Muttersproch, die lebt un geht       So gut wie Brod un Salz im Esse;Un wie der Fels am Berg dra’ steht,       So kenne mir sie net vergesse.Wie uns die Mammi g’sunge hot,So denke mir noch all’gebot.

So wie mer g’heilt hen, hen mir g’lacht       In selle siesse Kindheits-Dage,Wie Gott die Blum in d’ Welt gebracht;       Ja, eppes will ich dir grad sage;Die Blum vergesst den Dau nie net,Der sie gekisst—wann sie ah wet.

Die Traub, die hasst die Rank jo nie,       Wann mir sie ah vun ihr wegreisse.Mir sin net schlimmer wie des Vieh:       En Hund dut nie sei Friend wiescht beisse!O Muttersproch, du bischt uns lieb!In deinem Ton is sel’ger Trieb.

Weit z’rick in unsrer Zeitgebert       Bischt du schun uns entgege kumme,Un wann des Dodes Lewe plärrt,       Dann gebscht du uns ah siesse Wonne.Uf deinem Bussem schlof ich ei—Der erscht Kumrad, der bleibt getrei!

Un wann ich mol in meinem Grab,       In meinem kiehle Bett ei ’kehre,Ja, Esch zu Esch, un Staab zu Staab—       Dann mag mei Grasdach sich vermehre.Die Ihm, der Vogel, ohne Drang,Die singe mir ihr Lewe lang.

Ja, in der Schockel, in der Lad,       Bleibt unsre liewe Sproch dieselwe;So peift der Wind, so brummt’s Spinnrad;       Von dere Erd bis ans GewelweSchwetzt alles zu uns jo so klar,Wie’s als daheem ah eemol war.

O sanfte, deire Muttersproch!       Wie Hunnig fliesst sie darch mei Sinne!Un wann ich mol im Himmel hoch       Mei scheene Heemet duh gewinne,Dann heer ich dart zu meinem WohlEn Mutterwort—ja, ah ebmol.

The Mother TongueThe first words we learn       Which sink the deepest into our heartsAnd are always good and never bad,       We drank with our mother’s milk.How this poor, weak childFinds the language so sweet and dear!

How can we abandon the dear language       So frivolously in pride!The old stream, little by little,       Has not yet completely flowed away.We are holding fast to the old tree trunk,Like the bride to the bridegroom.

There is a language that is worthless:       The rusty gun is soon exploded.Latin and Greek are quickly confused,       My, how they twist tongues around!Yes, English and Hebrew, too;You’re bad off with those two.

Our mother tongue, she lives and goes       As well as bread and salt in a meal.And like the rock on the mountain,       So we cannot forget her.How Mother sang to us,That’s what we think of now and again.

As we cried, so did we also laugh       In those sweet days of childhood,Like God brought the flower into the world—       Yes, I want to tell you something now—The flower never forgets the dewThat kissed her, even if it wanted to.

The grape never hates the vine,       Even if we pluck it from it.We are no worse than cattle:       A dog never bites his friends!Oh mother tongue, you are dear to us!In your tones is blessed desire.

Long ago at the time of our birth       You already met us,And when death comes calling       You give us sweet bliss.Upon your bosom I fall asleep;One’s first friend remains loyal!

And when I go to my grave,       To my cool bed,Yes, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,       Then may my roof of grass cover me.The bee and the bird, without effort,Sing to me their whole life long.

Yes, in the cradle and the coffin,       Our dear language remains the same;So whistles the wind and the spinning wheel hums;       From this Earth to the arch of HeavenEverything speaks to us so clearly,As it always once was at home.

Oh gentle, dear mother tongue!       Like honey she flows through my senses! And when I find in Heaven       My beautiful home,Then I will hear for my comfort A mother’s word—yes, sometimes, too.