April 18, 2014
In 2003 the German songwriter-poet Wolf Biermann published Elf Entwürfe für meinen Grabspruch (Eleven Sketches for My Own Epitaph), a textual encounter that places Biermann’s free-form translations in counterpoint to "Eleven Outlined Epitaphs," Bob Dylan’s Beatesque poem that originally appeared in the liner notes of The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964). Donning the identities of poet and folk singer interchangeably, both Bob Dylan and Wolf Biermann have pursued successful careers straddling the high/Iow an divide since their arrival on the respective pop music scenes of Germany and the US. As cultural documents, however, Biermann’s translations not only articulate his poetical affinity to Dylan’s art, but they also underscore the challenges of mediating the ambiguous tropes of Dylan’s vernacular contextuality to a German audience. This article sets out to examine how the reception of Bob Dylan’s music in 1960s Germany comes to bear on Biermann’s Grabspriiche vis-a-vis Dylan’s epitaphs to argue that, despite the concerted German feuilleton criticism, Biermann’s translations promulgate great understanding of Dylan’s poetry and song.