Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friedrich Hölderlin

Germany Friedrich Hölderlin

Amazingly enough there was no thread for the German poet Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (20 March 1770 – 7 June 1843). The usual Wikipedia search will give you the facts of his life, spent like Proserpine's existence, half in the daylight and half in the shadows (of madness).

I'd like to just point out that the reason for his madness was the fear he felt for the oppressive nature of the State where he lived. If there ever was a reason to dislike prying and monitoring rulers it's this, we lost decades of Hölderlin's mature poetry to a repressive and surveying system. Having that kind of snitches, spies and similar scum State is something that too many Germans experienced in the past (Stasi anyone?).

I'd also like to remark how Hölderlin draw much of his inspiration from the idea of Greece and Classical Greek Poetry. And, despite the fact that Goethe and Schiller laughed at his translations of Sophocles, nobody has better reflected a true renaissance of the spirit of Classic Greece in modern times than Hölderlin.

I'm on the record somewhere else on the WLF as saying that the only poet who can match the intensity and power of the best poems of Neruda's Residence on Earth is Hölderlin. Let me extend that praise even further, Hölderlin is also the deepest poet I have read in any language (no, not even Yosa Buson and his meditations on time or Wang Wei and his Zen insights or Mirza Ghalib and his complex ghazals about God and Love or the Bhakti poets and their holy human poems can top him). This mixture of intensity and depth is what makes Hölderlin arguably the greatest German poet (despite competition from the likes of Goethe, Rilke, Brecht and Huchel!).

There is already an excellent WLF thread on his 'Half of Life' poem. I'd like to start this thread with its twin poem:

Ages of Life

You cities of the Euphrates!
You streets of Palmyra!
You forests of columns in the desert plains,
What are you now?
Your crowns
Because you crossed
The bounds of those breathing,
Were taken away
By Heaven's vapor of smoke and flame;
Now though I sit under clouds (each one
Of which has its own peace) amidst
The ordered oaks, upon
The heath where deer gather, and strange
They appear, dead to me,
The spirits of the blest.

There was something about the nature of time that brought out the best in Hölderlin. When Hölderlin was already mad he continued to write poetry at the request of visitors. One of those visitors, J. G. Fischer recorded that, upon asking Hölderlin for a poem, he replied: 'shall they be verses about Greece, Spring or the Nature of Time?'. The poem written to answer that request, In Lieblicher Blaue (In Lovely Blue) made William H. Gass gasp and go all 'Oh My God':

In Lovely Blue

In lovely blue the steeple blossoms
With its metal roof. Around which
Drift swallow cries, around which
Lies most loving blue. The sun,
High overhead, tints the roof tin,
But up in the wind, silent,
The weathercock crows. When someone
Takes the stairs down from the belfry,
It is a still life, with the figure
Thus detached, the sculpted shape
Of man comes forth. The windows
The bells ring through
Are as gates to beauty. Because gates
Still take after nature,
They resemble the forest trees.
But purity is also beauty.
A grave spirit arises from within,
Out of manyfold things. Yet so simple
These images, so very holy,
One fears to describe them. But the gods,
Ever kind in all things,
Are rich in virtue and joy.
Which man may imitate them?
May a man look up
From the utter hardship of his life
And say: Let me also be
Like these? Yes. As long as kindness lasts,
Pure, within his heart, he may gladly measure himself
Against the divine. Is God unknown?
Is he manifest as the sky? This I tend
To believe. Such is man’s measure.
Well deserving, yet poetically
Man dwells on this earth. But the shadow
Of the starry night is no more pure, if I may say so,
Than man, said to be the image of God.
Is there measure on earth? There is
None. No created world ever hindered
The course of thunder. A flower
Is likewise lovely, blooming as it does
Under the sun. The eye often discovers
Creatures in life it would be yet lovelier
To name than flowers. O, this I know!
For to bleed both in body and heart, and cease
To be whole, is this pleasing to God?
But the soul, I believe, must
Remain pure, lest the eagle wing
Its way up to the Almighty with songs
Of praise and the voice of so many birds.
It is substance, and is form.
Lovely little brook, how moving you seem
As you roll so clear, like the eye of God,
Through the Milky Way. I know you well,
But tears pour from the eye.
I see gaiety of life blossom
About me in all creation’s forms,
I do not compare it cheaply
To the graveyard’s solitary doves. People’s
Laughter seems to grieve me,
After all, I have a heart.
Would I like to be a comet? I think so.
They are swift as birds, they flower
With fire, childlike in purity. To desire
More than this is beyond human measure.
The gaiety of virtue also deserves praise
From the grave spirit adrift
Between the garden’s three columns.
A beautiful virgin should wreathe her hair
With myrtle, being simple by nature and heart.
But myrtles are found in Greece.
If a man look into a mirror
And see his image therein, as if painted,
It is his likeness. Man’s image has eyes,
But the moon has light.
King Oedipus may have an eye too many.
The sufferings of this man seem indescribable,
Inexpressible, unspeakable. Which comes
When drama represents such things.
But what do I feel, now thinking of you?
Like brooks, I am carried away by the end of something
That expands like Asia. Of course,
Oedipus suffers the same? For a reason,
Of course. Did Hercules suffer as well?
Indeed. In their friendship
Did not the Dioscuri also suffer?
Yes, to battle God as Hercules did
Is to suffer. And to half share immortality
With the envy of this life,
This too is pain. But this also
Is suffering, when a man is covered with summer freckles,
All bespattered with spots. This is the work
Of the gun, it draws everything out.
It leads young men along their course,
Charmed by rays like roses.
The sufferings of Oedipus seem like a poor man
Lamenting what he lacks.
Son of Laios, poor stranger in Greece.
Life is death, and death a life.

J. G. Fischer, of course, dismissed this poem as the ravings of a lunatic, and quoted it IN PROSE to prove this point. Nick Hoff on the introduction to his translation of the Odes and Elegies (from where I took the Ages of Life translation) says that Holderlin was the first modern poet, which would explain why most readers at the time Holderlin was alive would not be prepared for this new kind of poetry. Lines like 'Man’s form has eyes/But the moon has light' are particularly good meditation points even for Buddhists and Advaita Vedanta practitioners. This is part of the reason why later German philosophers and thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Rilke, Heidegger, etc. were so impressed by Hölderlin.

But the depth of the thought is not all that Holderlin has going on, the sheer beauty and mystery of sentences like: 'Under The ordered oaks, and upon The deer's heath, and strange They appear, dead to me, The spirits of the blest /Unter Wohleingerichteten Eichen, auf Der Heide des Rehs, und fremd Erscheinen und gestorben mir Der Seligen Geister' or like 'Ah, where in the winter will I come upon flowers, and where The sun's light And shadows of the earth?/Weh mir, wo nehm ich, wenn Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo Den Sonnenschein, Und Schatten der Erde? ' is almost overwhelming.

For this year's (2012) Cervantes Prize the runner ups were the usual suspects, the Goytisolo brothers, Munoz Molina, Eduardo Mendoza, the scholar Fernando Savater and the poet and blogger Felix de Azua. Well, Felix de Azua on his blog has stated that the greatest poet he knows of in any language is Hölderlin, and to him the greatest poem of all is Hölderlin's Archipelago. Sadly, the Archipelago poem is several pages long, and thus too long to quote in full, so let me just give you a taste of it, on David Constantine version:

The Archipelago

Are the cranes coming home to you? Are the ships
Resuming their course to your shores? Do breaths of the breezes
We longed for move on your quietened waves? Does the dolphin,
Lured from the depths, sun his back in the daylight again?
Is Ionia in flower? Is it time? In spring
When the living take heart and their first love
Revives and the memory of golden times then always
You draw me. I come. I salute you: age-old and silent
You live as you were, unlessened, the mountains lend you
Shade to lie in, you embrace with the arms of a youth still
A beautiful land, and of all your daughters, father,
Of all the flowering islands, not one has been lost.
Crete stands and grassy Salamis and Delos lifts from among
Dark laurels spiked with light at every dawn
Her ecstatic head and Tenos has and Chios
Purple fruits in abundance, on drunken hills
The Cyprian drink wells up and from off Calauria silver
Streams fall, as they always did, into the sea, their father.
All live still, all the mothers of heroes, the islands,
Flowering from year to year, and though the abyss let loose
Sometimes a flame in the dark, a nether tempest, and seized
One hold and she died and sank in your cherishing lap,
You lasted, for much has gone down and
Risen in your depths and your darkness, sea-god.
Also the gods who inhabit the heights and the stillness
Far off, and who bring with the largesse of power
Sleep and the cheerful daylight and dreaming thoughts
Over the heads of sentient men, they are what they were:
Your companions, and often when evening falls
And over the mountains of Asia the holy moonlight
Lifts and the stars encounter themselves in your waves
You shine as if it were Heaven lighting you
Under the traveling stars and your waters switch and your brothers'
Lullaby above echoes from your loving heart.
Then when the light comes, star of the east, the wonderworker
When the daystar comes and illuminates all things
And the living begin their lives in the golden dream
That the sun, like a poet, presents them with daily
For you in your grief, his magic is kinder still,
Kinder than his light, even more beautiful is the wreath
that he still wears, as he always did, for a token,
Remembering you, winds in your wintry hair...
Last edited by Cleanthess; 05-Dec-2012 at 17:18

Friedrich Hölderlin - Hälfte des Lebens

I would like to make a survey concerning different translations of this famous Hölderlin poem into English. Please tell me which translation you prefer and possibly why.

Original poem:

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Kässen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilign?chterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Literal translation (by me):

Half of Life

With yellow pears hangs
And full with wild roses
The land into the lake,
You graceful swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip the head
Into the holy-sober water.

Woe is me, where do I take, when
It is winter, the flowers, and where
The sunshine
And the shadow of the earth?
The walls stand
Speechless and cold, in the wind
The banners clink.

1) Translation by Michael Hamburger

The Middle of Life

With yellow pears the land
And full of wild roses
Hangs down into the lake,
You lovely swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
Into the hallowed, the sober water.

But oh, where shall I find
When winter comes, the flowers, and where
The sunshine
And shade of the earth?
The walls loom
Speechless and cold, in the wind
weathercocks clatter.

2) Translation by Richard Sieburth

Half of Life

With its yellow pears
And wild roses everywhere
The shore hangs in the lake,
O gracious swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
In the sobering holy water.

Ah, where will I find
Flowers, come winter,
And where the sunshine
And shade of the earth?
Walls stand cold
And speechless, in the wind
The weathervanes creak.

3) Translation by David Constantine

Half of Life

The land with yellow pears
And full of wild roses
Hangs into the lake
O gracious swans
And drunk with kisses
You plunge your heads
Into the holy, the sober water.

Alas, for where in winter
Shall I come by flowers and where
The sunlight and
The shade of the earth?
The walls stand
Speechless and cold, the wind
Clatters the weathervanes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tres filósofos alemanes

Hegel, Schelling y Hölderlin - Primer programa de un sistema del idealismo alemán

Hegel Schelling Hölderlin

Por Hegel, Schelling y Hölderlin

... una ética. Puesto que, en el futuro, toda la metafísica caerá en la moral, de lo que Kant dio sólo un ejemplo con sus dos postulados prácticos, sin agotar nada, esta ética no será otra cosa que un sistema completo de todas las ideas o, lo que es lo mismo, de todos los postulados prácticos. La primera idea es naturalmente la representación de mí mismo como de un ser absolutamente libre. Con el ser libre, autoconsciente, emerge, simultáneamente, un mundo entero —de la nada—, la única creación de la nada verdadera y pensable. Aquí descenderé a los campos de la física; la pregunta es ésta: ¿Cómo tiene que estar constituido un mundo para un ser moral? Quisiera prestar de nuevo alas a nuestra física que avanza dificultosamente a través de sus experimentos. 
Así, si la filosofía da las ideas y la experiencia provee los datos, podremos tener por fin aquella física en grande que espero de las épocas futuras. No parece como si la física actual pudiera satisfacer un espíritu creador, tal como es o debiera ser el nuestro. 
De la naturaleza paso a la obra humana. Con la idea de la humanidad delante quiero mostrar que no existe una idea del Estado, puesto que el Estado es algo mecánico, así como no existe tampoco una idea de una máquina. Sólo lo que es objeto de la libertad se llama idea. ¡Por lo tanto, tenemos que ir más allá del Estado! Porque todo Estado tiene que tratar a hombres libres como a engranajes mecánicos, y puesto que no debe hacerlo debe dejar de existir. Podéis ver por vosotros mismos que aquí todas las ideas de la paz perpetua, etc., son sólo ideas subordinadas de una idea superior. Al mismo tiempo quiero sentar aquí los principios para una historia de la humanidad y desnudar hasta la piel toda la miserable obra humana: Estado, gobierno, legislación. Finalmente vienen las ideas de un mundo moral, divinidad, inmortalidad, derrocamiento de toda fe degenerada, persecución del estado eclesiástico que, últimamente, finge apoyarse en la razón, por la razón misma. La libertad absoluta de todos los espíritus que llevan en si el mundo intelectual y que no deben buscar ni a Dios ni a la inmortalidad fuera de sí mismos. 
Finalmente, la idea que unifica a todas las otras, la idea de la belleza, tomando la palabra en un sentido platónico superior. Estoy ahora convencido de que el acto supremo de la razón, al abarcar todas las ideas, es un acto estético, y que la verdad y la bondad se ven hermanadas sólo en la belleza. El filósofo tiene que poseer tanta fuerza estética como el poeta. Los hombres sin sentido estético son nuestros filósofos ortodoxos. La filosofía del espíritu es una filosofía estética. No se puede ser ingenioso, incluso es imposible razonar ingeniosamente sobre la historia, sin sentido estético. Aquí debe hacerse patente qué es al fin y al cabo lo que falta a los hombres que no comprenden [nada de las] ideas y que son lo suficientemente sinceros para confesar que todo les es oscuro, una vez que se deja la esfera de los gráficos y de los registros. 
        La poesía recibe así una dignidad superior y será al fin lo que era en el comienzo: la maestra de la humanidad; porque ya no hay ni filosofía ni historia, únicamente la poesía sobrevivirá a todas las ciencias y artes restantes. Al mismo tiempo, escuchamos frecuentemente que la masa [de los hombres] tiene que tener una religión sensible. No sólo la masa, también el filósofo la necesita. Monoteísmo de la razón y del corazón, politeísmo de la imaginación y del arte: ¡esto es lo que necesitamos!.
Hablaré aquí primero de una idea que, en cuanto yo sé, no se le ocurrió aún a nadie: tenemos que tener una nueva mitología, pero esta mitología tiene que estar a servicio de las ideas, tiene que transformarse en una mitología de la razón. 
Mientras no transformemos las ideas en ideas estéticas, es decir en ideas mitológicas, carecerán de interés para el pueblo y, a la vez, mientras la mitología no sea racional, la filosofía tiene que avergonzarse de ella. Así, por fin, los hombres ilustrados y los no ilustrados tienen que darse la mano, la mitología tiene que convertirse en filosófica y el pueblo tiene que volverse racional, y la filosofía tiene que ser filosofía mitológica para transformar a los filósofos en filósofos sensibles. Entonces reinará la unidad perpetua entre nosotros. Ya no veremos miradas desdeñosas, ni el temblor ciego del pueblo ante sus sabios y sacerdotes. Sólo entonces nos espera la formación igual de todas las fuerzas, tanto de las fuerzas del individuo mismo como de las de todos los individuos. No se reprimirá ya fuerza alguna, reinará la libertad y la igualdad universal de todos los espíritus. Un espíritu superior enviado del cielo tiene que instaurar esta nueva religión entre nosotros; ella será la última, la más grande obra de la humanidad.

The Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism [Full text]

Hegel, Schelling, Hölderlin
Idealismo Alemán

An Ethics. Since all metaphysics will henceforth fall into morals-- for which Kant, with both of his practical postulates has given only an example and exhausted nothing, so this ethics will contain nothing other than a complete system of all ideas, or what is the same, of all practical postulates. The first idea is naturally the conception of my selfas an absolutely free being. Along with the free, self-conscious being an entire world emerges simultaneously-- out of nothingness-- the only true and conceivable creation out of nothingness-- Here I will descend to the fields of physics; the question is this: How should a world be constituted for a moral being? I should like to give our physics, progressing laboriously with experiments, wings again. 

So whenever philosophy provides the ideas, experience the data, we can finally obtain physics on the whole, which I expect of later epochs. It does not seem as if present day physics could satisfy a creative spirit such as ours is or should be.

From nature I come to man's works. The idea of the human race first-- I want to show that there is no idea of the state because the state is something mechanical, just as little as there is an idea of a machineOnly that which is the object of freedom is called idea. We must therefore go beyond the state!-- Because every state must treat free human beings like mechanical works; and it should not do that; therefore it should cease. You see for yourself that here all the ideas, that of eternal peace, etc., are merely subordinate ideas of a higher idea. At the same time I want to set forth the principles for a history a human race here and expose the whole miserable human work of state, constitution, government, legislature-- down to the skin. Finally the ideas of a moral world, deity, immortality-- overthrow of everything ((superstition)) pseudo doctrines, persecution of the priesthood, which recently poses as reason, come through itself. --(The) absolute freedom of all spirits who carry the intellectual world within themselves, and may not seek either God or immortality outside of themselves.

Finally the idea which unites all, the idea of beauty, the word taken in the higher taken in the higher platonic sense. I am convinced that the highest act of reason, which, in that it comprises all ideas, is an aesthetic act, and that truth and goodness are united like sisters only in beauty-- The philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet. The people without aesthetic sense are our philosophers of the letter. The philosophy of the spirit is an aesthetic philosophy. One cannot be clever in anything, one cannot even reason cleverly in history-- without aesthetic sense. It should now be revealed here what those people who do not understand ideas are actually lacking-- and candidly enough admit that everything is obscure to them as soon as one goes beyond charts and indices. 
Poetry thereby obtains a higher dignity; it becomes again in the end what it was in the beginning-- teacher of (history) the human race because there is no longer any philosophy, any history; poetic art alone will outlive all the rest of the sciences and arts. 

At the same time we so often hear that the great multitude should have a sensual religion. Not only the great multitude, but even philosophy needs it. Monotheism of reason and the heart, polytheism of the imagination and art, that is what we need!

First I will speak about an idea here, which as far as I know, has never occurred to anyone's mind-- we must have a new mythology; this mythology must, however, stand in the service of ideas, it must become a mythology of reason.

Until we make ideas aesthetic, i.e., mythological, they hold no interest for the people, and conversely, before mythology is reasonable, the philosopher must be ashamed of it. Thus finally the enlightened and unenlightened must shake hands; mythology must become philosophical, and the people reasonable, and philosophy must become mythological in order to make philosophy sensual. Then external unity will reign among us. Never again the contemptuous glance, never the blind trembling of the people before its wise men and priests. Only then does equal development of all powers await us, of the individual as well as if all individuals. No power will be suppressed any longer, then general freedom and equality of spirits will reign-- A higher spirit sent from heaven must establish this religion among us, it will be the last work of the human race.

Un poema de Hegel!

W. F. Hegel - Eleusis - A Hölderlin (agosto 1796)

24 de enero de 2008 ·

Hegel y Hölderlin 

En torno a mí, dentro de mí la calma habita -los atareados
con su incansable ansia duermen, proporcionándome la libertad
y el ocio-, gracias a ti, libertadora mía,
¡oh noche! Con un blanco cendal de neblina
cubre la luna la frontera incierta
de las lomas lejanas; amablemente me llama
la clara franja de aquel lago;
se aleja el recuerdo del tumulto monótono del día,
como si hubiera años de distancia entre él y el ahora.
Y tu imagen, querido, se presenta ante mí; tu imagen
y el placer de los días que han huido, aunque pronto los borra
la dulce espera de volver a vernos...
Se me presenta la escena del abrazo
anhelado, fogoso; más tarde las preguntas, el interrogatorio
más profundo, recíproco,
tras cuanto en actitud, expresión y carácter
el tiempo haya cambiado en el amigo...placer de la certeza
de hallar más firme, más madura aún la lealtad de la vieja alianza,
alianza sin sellos ni promesas,
de vivir solamente por la libre verdad y nunca, nunca,
en paz con el precepto que opiniones y afectos reglamenta.
Ahora con la inerte realidad pacta el deseo
que atravesando montes y ríos fácilmente hasta ti me llevó,
pero pronto un suspiro lanza su desacuerdo
y con él huye el sueño de dulces fantasías.

Mi vista hacia la eterna bóveda celestial se alza,
hacia vosotros, ¡astros radiantes de la noche!,
y el olvido de todo, deseos y esperanzas,
de vuestra eternidad fluye y desciende.

(El sentir se diluye en la contemplación;
lo que llamaba mío ya no existe;

hundo mi yo en lo incomensurable,
soy en ello, todo soy, soy sólo ello.
Regresa el pensamiento, al que le extraña
y asusta el infinito, y en su asombro no capta
esta visión en profundidad.
La fantasía acerca a los sentidos lo eterno
y lo enlaza con formas) ...

¡Bienvenidos seáis,
oh elevados espíritus, altas sombras,
fuentes de perfección resplandecientes!
No me asusta... Yo siento que es mi patria también
el éter, el fervor, el brillo que os baña.
¡Que salten y se abran ahora mismo las puertas de tu santuario,
oh Ceres que reinaste en Eleusis!
Borracho de entusiasmo captaría yo ahora
visiones de tu entorno,
comprendería tus revelaciones,
sabría interpretar de tus imágenes el sentido elevado,
oiría los himnos del banquete divino,
sus altos juicios y consejos...

Pero tu estruendo ha enmudecido, ¡oh Diosa!
Los dioses han huido de altares consagrados
y se han vuelto al Olimpo;
¡huyó del profanado sepulcro de los hombres
de la inocencia el genio, que aquí les encantaba!.. .
Tus sabios sacerdotes callaron; de tus sagrados ritos
no llegó hasta nosotros por curiosidad que por amor,
a la sabiduría (tal hay en los que buscan y a Ti te menosprecian) ...

¡Por dominarlas cavan en busca de palabras
que conserven la huella de tu excelso sentido!
¡En vano! Sólo atrapan polvo, polvo y ceniza
en las que no retorna nunca jamás tu vida.
¡Aunque lo inanimado y el moho les contentan
a los eternos muertos!..., ¡los muy sobrios!..., en balde...,
no hay señal de tus fiestas ni huella de tu imagen.
Era para tu hijo tan abundante en altas enseñanzas tu culto,
tan sagrada la hondura del sentimiento inexpresable,
que no creyó dignos de ellos secos signos.

Pues casi no lo era el pensamiento, aunque sí el alma,
que sin tiempo ni espacio, absorta en el pensar de lo infinito,
se olvidó de sí misma y se despierta ahora de nuevo a la conciencia.
Pero quien de ello quiera hablar a otros,
aun con lengua de ángel, sentirá en las palabras su miseria.
Y le horroriza tanto haberlas empleado en empequeñecerlo
al pensar lo sagrado, que el habla le parece pecado
y en vivo se clausura a sí mismo la boca.

Lo que así el consagrado se prohibió a sí mismo, una ley sabia
prohibió a loso más pobres espíritus hacer saber
cuanto vieran, oyeran o sintieran en la noche sagrada:
para que a los mejores su estrépito abusivo
no molestara en su recogimiento ni su hueco negocio de palabras
les llevara a enojarse con lo sagrado mismo, y para que éste
no fuera así arrojado entre inmundicias, para que nunca
se confiara a la memoria, ni tampoco
fuera juguete y mercancía del sofista
vendida igual que un óbolo,
ni manto del farsante redicho, ni tampoco
férula del muchacho piadoso, y tan vacío
quedara al fin que solamente en eco extrañas lenguas
siguieran conservando raíces de su vida.
Porque tus hijos, Diosa, no exhibieron
por calles y por plazas tu honor, sino que avaros
en el santuario de tu pecho lo guardaban.
Por eso no vivías tú en su boca.
Te honraban con su vida. Aún vives en sus hechos.
¡También en esta noche te he escuchado, divinidad sagrada,
a ti, que me revelas a menudo la vida de tus hijos;
a ti, que yo presiento que a menudo eres el alma de sus hechos!
Eres el alto pensamiento, la fe sincera,
que una Deidad, aunque todo se hunda, nunca se desmorona.

Trad.: J. M. RipaldaEn Escritos de juventud, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003
Aporte de Carmen Blázquez en Factor Serpiente




Friday, May 16, 2014

Robert Schumann: Violin Concerto

By Anne-Marie Minhall

The mysterious story of the discovery of Schumann's only violin concerto. Full Works Concert Highlight of the Week, 16 May 2014

In March 1933, one Baron Erik Kule Palmstierna – Sweden’s ambassador to London and an avid psychic researcher – was hosting a séance with his intimate circle of friends. Among them were two flamboyant violinists: the succulently-named Jelly d’Arányi and her sister, Adila Fachiri, great-nieces of the legendary Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim.

Adila was Baron Palmstierna’s medium of choice. She communicated with the departed using an ouija board with a glass as a pointer. It was placed in the centre of the table and very lightly touched by her and a couple of the other participants.
On this particular occasion, as the glass began to move, the disembodied scribe told the gathering he wanted Jelly to find and play his unpublished violin concerto. They asked his name. The reply? Robert Schumann .
Two weeks later, the group received another mysterious communication, directing them towards the noted music scholar, Sir Donald Francis Tovey. He had seen the work mentioned in Joachim’s biography – a Violin Concerto that had remained hidden away and mostly unheard of for eight decades.
Schumann wrote the Concerto for Joachim between 11 September and 3 October 1853. By then the mentally disturbed composer was suffering serious delusions, saying the spirits of Schubert andMendelssohn were dictating music to him. After Schumann’s death in 1856, Joachim told the composer’s wife Clara that the Violin Concerto was the inferior product of an unstable mind. It possessed 'a certain exhaustion,' the violinist wrote, 'which attempts to wring out the last resources of spiritual energy'.
With Clara's blessing, Joachim refused to publicly perform the work and kept a tight rein on it for the rest of his life. After his death, the manuscript was sold by his son to the Prussian State Library in Berlin. Joachim had stated in his will that the Concerto should be neither played nor published until 100 years after Schumann’s death.
At a further séance, when Joachim’s great-nieces received contact from their illustrious ancestor, he told them the piece was in the Hochschule Museum in Berlin. They wrote to the museum but received no reply. Schumann's ghost later communicated to them that the man to whom they had written was on holiday! 
Another psychic message urged them to write to Baron Palmstierna, then in Sweden, and ask him to seek the work in Berlin on his return. At the Hochschule, the Baron was shown a folder labelled 'Schumann' but it contained only works by other composers. A visitor, however, overheard his enquiries and advised him to visit the archives in the Prussian State Library. There, a reluctant official showed the Baron a file which contained the concerto with Joachim’s name on the label. Although the manuscript seen by Palmstierna was marked ‘unfinished’, Schumann’s ghost was adamant at subsequent séances that the work was complete, 'though it might need some arranging'.
Thrilled at the discovery, Jelly d’Arányi claimed the right of first performance on the basis of the psychic interventions that she said had guided her to it. But the Nazi government intervened - they were on the look out for a new German violin concerto to replace the Mendelssohn which, because of the composer’s Jewish roots, now no longer officially existed. Rejecting the 100-year no-play rule slapped on the Concerto by Joachim, they insisted that a German must give the first a performance. The violinist Georg Kulenkampff played it in front of Goebbels on 26 November 1937 with the Berlin Philharmonic, and recorded it soon after the première. The young Yehudi Menuhin gave the second performance – in a violin and piano version – at Carnegie Hall on 6 December 1937 and Jelly d'Aranyi had to be satisfied with giving the first London performance.

It was not an overnight success. Critics initially agreed with Joachim’s opinion of the work - the New York Times described it as 'very weak' showing 'a failing inspiration and lack of strength.' A British commentator said, 'Of this dismal fiasco, the less said the better.'
Today, the Concerto has firmly become part of the mainstream of the violin repertoire and is considered an important late Schumann work. Menuhin hailed it as the 'missing link' between Beethoven andBrahms , with the 'same human warmth, caressing softness, bold manly rhythms, the same lovely arabesque treatment of the violin, the same rich and noble themes and harmonies'.
Naturally the authenticity of the ghostly messages that led to the Concerto's discovery has been called into question many times over the years. It is possible that the violinist and her medium sister may have been aware that the Concerto's first movement had actually been performed three years before their famous séance. Being young women at the time of Joachim’s death, they could also have been well aware of the provisions of his will, asking for the work to be kept under lock and key for 100 years. 
Whatever the truth, Jelly d’Arányi and Baron Palmstierna’s version of events in uncovering this important concerto certainly contributed an added degree of mystery to its emergence from obscurity.


Robert Schumann ComposerRobert Schumann

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A Poem by Huchel

Peter Huchel--German

Peter Huchel

Huchel was born near Berlin in 1903. He studied literature and philosophy in Germany and in Vienna. His early poetry spoke mostly to the culture and nature of the Brandenburg, Germany area. From 1934-40 he wrote plays for German radio. During the war he was a pilot in the Luftwaffe and taken prisoner by the Russians in 1945. After the war he worked for East German radio, and in 1949 became editor of Sinn und Form, an influential poetry magazine. Soon after the Berlin Wall was built, Huchel came under attack for his views. He was forced into isolation, but was permitted to leave the German Democratic Republic for Rome. He later returned to Germany where he died in 1980.
The Ammonite
For Axel Vieregg

Tired of the gods and of their fires,
I lived without laws
in the dip of the valley of Hinnon.
My old companions left me,
the balance of earth and sky,
only the ram, trailing its footrot limp
across the stars, remained loyal.
Under its horns of stone
that shone without smoke, I slept by night,
every day baked urns
that I shattered against the rock
in face of the setting sun.
In the cedars I did not see
the cats' twilight, the rising of birds,
the splendor of water
flowing over my arms
when in my bucket I mixed the clay.
The smell of death made me blind.

Hölderlin, by Aleksander Wat

Aleksander Wat: Truth on a Toilet Wall

During his last 36 years Friedrich Hölderlin, mentally ill, lived in the
house of a carpenter named Zimmer in Tübingen. He addressed visitors
as "Altesse Royale" and always answered questions with "No." His last
poems are signed, "avec humilité, Scardanelli." The fragments "the Road
from the Alps," "the cities on the Euphrates," and "poetry tends to the
land" ("dichterich wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde") are taken from
his poems. The quatrine in quotation marks reads in the original, "De
Angernehme dieser Welt hab' ich genossen,/Die Jugendstunden sind, wie
lang! wie lang! verflossen,/April und Mai und Julius sind ferne./Ich bin
nichts mehr, ich lebe nicht mehr gerne!" [Wat's footnote]


I lift the black lid of the harpsichord
And break the strings—until there are two.
With them I play my last song—
One plays YES! While the other NO!

YES—I sing in awe to the Unchanging She
While for you I have—Nein, Altesse.
A serpent watches me from a grove.
What am I? Scardanelli, avec humilité.

The model for me was Empedocles
Though not his royal wisdom or seer's vanity—
Like he into Mount Etna, into insanity
I jump to affirm my singularity.

Into the wildest mountains and ravines
And to the farthest crossings of entangled roads!
How to escape the Hunter, how to join the Hunt.
Where to be the ruler or the last of the ruled?

—Poetry tends to the land, therefore we too
Shall humbly tend without delusions.
Down is the Neckar, take walks in the summer,
In the winter listen to the songs of Lotta Zimmer.

He must be insane who all his thoughts and heart
Puts into chasing Chimeric meanings and shapes.
Empty are the cities on the Euphrates, the road from the Alps,
And no heavenly dwellers In the carpenter's house.

"I have enjoyed this agreeable world,
The youthful hours, how long! how long! are gone,
Distant are the Aprils, Mays and Junes,
I am nothing now, I wish I lived no more!"

Birds depart in weary keys
When the bell of gold announces their time.
Everywhere I see ominous signs,
All the roads are wrong, the night comes down to a rhyme.

The garlands of owls garnish the pines and the wind
Wrinkles your face in the water mirror, Diotima,
Mountain campfire smoke enwraps me.
Fifers call me for a long night's march.

(translated from the Polish by Frank L. Vigoda)

Sunday, May 11, 2014



Meditar en el origen de la verdad:
sus raíces envueltas en arena,
su huella,
el movimiento medible del aire,
cuando llegó como pájaro.

Conocimientos gracias al Pervitin (1)
reunidos para la partida con las golondrinas.
¡Fuera, fuera, en la noche y sobre la montaña!

Otros, señales de picapedreros en el follaje,
sólo comprensibles en el sueño
e idénticos a las bromas de las abuelas.
Cierra los ojos:
lo que entonces ves
te pertenece.

(1) Droga de efectos similares a las anfetaminas (N.del T.)

Günter Eich

(Traducción de Rodolfo Modern)


Die Herkunft der warheit bedenken:
ihre mit Sand behafteten Wurzeln,
ihre Fusspur,
die messbare Bewegung der Luft,
wenn sie als Vogel kam.

Einschten aus Previtin,
zum Abflug gesammelt mit den Schwalben.
Fort, fort, in den Abend und übers Gebirge!

Andere, Steinmetzzeichen im Laub,
nur begreiflich dem Schlafe
und eins mit den Scherzen der Grossmütter:
Mach die Augen zu,
was du dann siehst,
gehört dir.

(Lebus, 1907-Salzburgo, 1972) Escritor alemán. Estudió derecho y lenguas orientales. Notable por su producción lírica, sus libros más importantes son Poemas (1930), Mensajes de la lluvia (1955) y Ocasiones y jardines de piedra (1966). Escribió piezas para radio (Las muchachas de Viterbo, 1952) y relatos humorísticos.

The Spanner in the Works

Posted By brb On March 30, 2011 @ 7:03 pm In Literature & Criticism,Poetry | Comments Disabled
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by Axel Vieregg
Günter Eich (Photo by Hilde Zemann; used with kind permission of the copyright holder, H. Mulzer)
At last a major portion of the poetry of Günter Eich (1907 – 1972) has been made accessible to an English-speaking readership in a new translation. Angina Days is the title that Michael Hofmann, the translator and himself an acclaimed poet, gave to his selection, quoting a line from one of Eich’s poems. Eich would have enjoyed the ambiguity: “Angina”, in German, is a harmless tonsillitis, and so it is in the poem, while in English it is a critical heart disease. On another  level, the difficulty any translator of poetry has with rendering not just words but also meaning is, in this instance, resolved: “Angina” is a cognate of “Angst” – and that is a feeling which pervades much of Eich’s work.
In an interview of 1964 Eich stated that his main concern had been to “make suffering visible”, to prevent it from being overlooked. He had had high hopes after the end of the war in 1945 that a better world would rise from the ashes. His famous Inventur (Inventory), written when he was still in an American P.O.W. camp on the banks of the Rhine ranks as one of the most striking examples of that spirit of “Zero Hour”, which saw in a radical break with tradition the precondition of a new beginning. Defiantly, the poem lists the writer’s building blocks, his most basic possessions:
This is my cap,
my coat,
my shaving kit
in the burlap bag.
This tin can:
my plate and my cup.
I scratched my name
in the soft metal.
Scratched it
with this precious nail,
which I keep out of sight
of thieving eyes. [...]
The pencil lead
is my favourite:
by day it writes out lines
that come to me at night.
This is my notebook,
this is my canvas,
my towel,
my thread.
Language is here pared back to the minimum, rhyme and conventional poetic vocabulary have disappeared. The poem culminates in the utensils of the craft of the writer, “pencil lead” and “notebook” as if to say: Mind will triumph over matter. The pen will be mightier than the sword.
Michael Hofmann’s judicious selection allows the reader to follow Eich’s development as a poet in detail. It is a journey which accompanies and reflects upon the personal, political and social issues of his time, the Cold War, rearmament, the German “Economic Miracle”, the  Vietnam War, the suffering of the poor and oppressed. It is also an inner journey which was going to lead Eich far away from his earlier beginnings. Needless to say that the optimism expressed in Inventur was not going to last.
In his poetry Eich hardly ever addresses issues directly. Rather, they seem to loom behind his texts, affecting imagery, mood and tone – one of the characteristics that make Eich’s later texts seemingly enigmatic. That is a challenge, and in most cases Michael Hofmann has met it admirably. Fluid and succinct, his translations catch Eich’s dry and laconic sound extremely well. Problems, however, arise when subtleties are overlooked, or when the nature of the text is such that an adequate rendering into readable English is well-nigh impossible.   
What follows here is therefore not intended as a critique, but as annotations and footnotes  meant to clarify some of Eich’s major concerns. Too awkward in a handsome volume of poetry, they seem to me nevertheless required in order to shed additional light on the work of one of the leading poets of post-war Germany, who has been “unjustly neglected in English”, as Hofmann rightly says.
Older Germans will remember the hours they spent listening to their valve radios when a new radio play by Günter Eich was broadcast at primetime. In the 1950s, television, in both East and West Germany, was still a novelty and few people owned a set. Radio plays provided the sounds that entered the mind more deeply and affected it more personally than any TV image ever could. Voices became inner voices, dramatic conflicts became inner conflicts. The medium suited Eich ideally: “I perceive the world through the ear rather than through the eye”, he once said, and his probing, questioning and searching enquiry into ever elusive certainties and realities made for an enthralling radio experience.
Eich’s approach was also ideally suited for the early post-war period. There was in Germany, at a time when the  Cold War was looming and before the  “economic miracle” began  benefiting the individual, an all-pervading sense of unease, of Angst  (Eich uses the word repeatedly). There was an awareness of loss: the loss of lives, of property, of beliefs and old certainties, even of self-worth. There was also an underlying feeling of guilt, mostly unacknowledged and hidden under self-pity, complacency and – almost frenzied – efforts to rebuild one’s own life, home, and self-respect. Eich saw through such efforts, exposed the unease and underlying guilt, but, first and foremost, he called for vigilance to avoid a relapse into an unfeeling barbarism.
The point of departure – and often it is an actual departure – of his “classic radio plays (1950 – 1958) is the sudden loss of the security of empirical reality. Träume – “Dreams”- is the characteristic title of the first of his great post-war radio-plays (1950). It hit the German radio audience like a bombshell and drew furious responses from many listeners who wanted to be entertained rather than disconcerted.
In “Dreams” Eich describes our waking state as a sleep “into which we have all been lulled” while to dream means in fact to awaken in the true reality. The listener is confronted with five endgames, each located in a different continent and hence universal. They are parables of man’s bleak existential situation, recognised with terror in the dream, but immediately forgotten on awakening. The play ends with the ever louder gnawing sound of termites and the crumbling to dust of a world where “the ground on which we stand is just a thin skin, everything is hollow inside.”
Eich then adds a coda which became famous as a poem in its own right (translation Hofmann, my own closer reading in square brackets):
Wake up, your dreams are bad! Stay awake, the nightmarishness [horror] is coming nearer.
To you it is coming, though you live far from the places of bloodshed. [...]
No, don’t sleep while the governors of the world are busy!
Be suspicious of the power they claim to have to acquire on your behalf!
Do what is unhelpful [what cannot be used], sing songs from out of your mouths that go against expectation [those songs they don’t expect to hear from your mouths]!
Be ornery [Be obstreperous], be as sand, not oil in the thirsty machinery of the world!
Or: “Gum up the works” as Hofmann himself suggests, in his introduction, as an alternative rendering of Eich’s ringing appeal: “seid Sand, nicht Öl im Getriebe der Welt!” – “be the spanner in the works” would be the closest idiomatic equivalent of the German saying. A clear understanding of these lines is important. Because it is from here that Eich’s concerns, his motives and motifs, as well as his imagery can best be traced.
Few people recognised at the time to what extent the appeal owed its intensity to Eich’s very own and very personal feelings of guilt. Not until the 1980s, through the investigations of Glenn R. Cuomo in the United States and those by Hans Dieter Schäfer and Wolfram Wessels in Germany, did it become apparent that Eich had indeed been “oil in the machinery” of Hitler’s Third Reich. The 1991 edition of his Collected Works, as well his correspondence which had by then become accessible, could confirm that, with over 160 contributions to the Nazi broadcasting system, which culminated in the 1940 anti-British propaganda play Die Rebellion in der Goldstadt, Eich had been one of the most prolific and popular radio authors of the Third Reich. He was no follower of the regime, but, as the title of Cuomo’s investigation Career at the Cost of Compromise suggests and his investigation then shows, had certainly not sung songs “which go against expectations”. His ”songs” had met them rather: numerous pieces of light, folksy entertainment, as demanded by the authorities, precisely to “lull” the German audience “asleep”. His assertion, in his CV of 1946 or 47, which Hofmann quotes, that in the previous “ten years I did not write a line” (i.e. of poetry, but that, too, is not strictly correct) rings hollow. 
While Eich never revealed his involvement in Third Reich broadcasting openly and in plain prose, much of his post-war production reflects his attempt to come to terms with the past, to distance himself from it, to warn against gullibility and to draw the moral and aesthetic consequences. Fallibility and awakening, guilt and atonement, the appeal to recognise and to mitigate suffering, self-sacrifice in the service of others – these then become the dominant themes. Despair that so little has been learnt, indeed that Creation itself is deeply flawed, characterises the work of his final years.
A poem written in 1961 and dedicated to the Jewish (!) poet and Nobel-Prize winner Nelly Sachs comes closest to a confession. It also clearly develops Eich’s aims as a writer:
Game Paths
for Nelly Sachs
Don’t mention the hunters!
I sat by their fires,
I understood their language.
They know the world from the beginning
and do not question the woods.
You nod to their answers,
the smoke of their fires, too, affirms them,
and they are practiced
not to hear the scream
which annuls all world orders.
No, we want to be alien
and be astounded at death,
collect the breaths of the uncomforted,
cut across the tracks
and deflect the barrels of the rifles.
(translation A.V.)
It is hardly necessary to consult Nelly Sachs’ poetry for the numerous inter-textual references Eich makes to recognise what is meant by the hunters, their game, their fires, by the smoke. Michael Hofmann, in his introduction, talks about Eich’s many “gestures of refusal”: “Eich affirms one of the most ancient human freedoms, that of saying ‘no’”. This poem, which Hofmann does not include, could have served as an illustration.
There are other, oblique references which Eich makes to his past. The shortest is a three-line poem where the “gesture of refusal”, the rejection of any demands made on him is dialectically linked to his early entrapment. Unfortunately, due to the impossibility of rendering the ambiguity in English, the reference is lost. Michael Hofmann translates:
Thank you, but leave us.
We have already been to the caves
of the rat catchers.
Whereas Eich really says: “Long ago we had already been inside the caves / of the Pied Pipers”, (“in den Höhlen der Rattenfänger“). It is a “Once bitten twice shy”, or, as the equivalent German saying goes: “Gebranntes Kind scheut das Feuer”, a burnt child shies away from the fire. That is the meaning of “the burnt children” – “die gebrannten Kinder” – in the poem Brothers Grimm, an allusion which the literal translation in Angina Days also cannot convey. German 20th ct. history is indeed a Grim(m) fairy tale!
Increasingly, Eich developed a cryptic, hieroglyphic style of writing. “Templates for meditation” he called his late texts. The reader is sent on a quest for meaning – through empathy, through following cross references and deciphering key words, through unravelling plays on words. This presents a daunting challenge to any translator. Michael Hofmann translates the last lines of Bestellung (Order) as follows:
hurry up and serve the dishes
that don’t exist,
and uncork the marvels!
Then we won’t mind
opening our mouths
and paying what we owe.
Lost in this translation is Eich’s play on words in the last line, and lost with it is the theme of the poem: “was wir schuldig sind” translates not just as “what we owe” but as “for what we are guilty of”. Currency is the obolus for Charon: “the penny under the tongue”. An early draft of the poem underscores the context of guilt and atonement. One of the “marvels” the speaker wants “uncorked” is a “brandy distilled from tears”.  A similar constellation occurs in the earlier poem Andenken, (Memorial). While the fires are out, their smoke still lingers: “The wind is full of black dust. / It scours the names off the gravestones / and etches in ours / on this day today” – and not “etches this day into us” as Michael Hofmann translates.
Eich’s “gestures of refusal” focus on the opposition to all forms of “Einverständnis”, i.e. agreement, acceptance, assent and affirmation. In Dreams and in its coda, or in Wildwechsel, the emphatic “no” can be understood as a largely political and social protest. Gradually, however, Eich’s rejection of any “establishment” widens into an all-embracing existential revolt, a revolt against God: “I am mad at the establishment, not just the political, but the establishment of Creation”, he said in 1970 in an interview with students from a Berlin High School. Or again in 1971, a year before his death: “Today I no longer accept nature: even although it is unalterable. I am against acceptance [das Einverständnis] of things in Creation. It is always the same thought process: acceptance no longer [das Nichtmehr-einverstandensein].”
Such a rejection of consent calls for persistent questioning, for a rejection of “answers” to which one simply “nods”, as in Wildwechsel.  “With my verse I raise questions. My faith in answers is minimal, my agreement [Einverständnis] is lacking.” The ultimate question for Eich is that which, with the black humour so characteristic of his late work, he calls the “Schlupfwespenfrage (I, 341), i.e. the “ichneumon-question”. It is, of course, the age-old philosophical problem of theodicy, the question why God allows evil and suffering to exist. A passage from the project of a requiem (1957) which remained unpublished during Eich’s lifetime illustrates what is meant:
[...] you can add Creation,
tally-ho and feast of slaughter,
the mouse between the teeth of the cat,
eggs of the ichneumon
in the paralysed body of the caterpillar,
the harmony of horror…
The ichneumon-fly with its sting paralyses the caterpillar, lays its eggs into its body, which is then eaten alive by the larvae. That, for Eich, made Creation a scandal. Such is the scandal that it makes even the dead stir in protest: “the shaking of the gravestones / when the caterpillar arches under the paralysing sting” (Two in the Afternoon). But this is not what the reader finds in Angina Days. Michael Hofmann’s translation fails to evoke the significance of this central concept of Eich’s, and so the line reads instead: “the crippled caterpillar wriggles” – which eliminates the sting, and with it the ichneumon-fly.
Such a scandalous state of the world convinced Eich that any seeming harmony and beauty in nature were just a thin veneer, a ploy even, to make us acquiesce, so as to obtain our “Einverständnis” with the world as it is: “In the evenings / the sunsets are intended to reassure you”, he wrote already in 1955. In his late subversive prose pieces, the Maulwürfe (“moles”, because they undermine all accepted tenets), Eich revisits his themes in a self-mocking theatre of the absurd. In Hausgenossen (“Flat Mates”) “Mother Nature” enters, her mouth smeared with blood, and proudly displays her latest model: “Here, the praying mantis. While his abdomen copulates with her, she gobbles up his thorax. Yuck, mama, I say, you are unappetising. But the sunsets, she giggles.”
In Michael Hofmann’s selection all these aspects are present, but, unfortunately, his translations frequently obscure or ignore them. In Poor Sunday he gives a splendid English rendering of Eich’s mocking picture of the good citizens, all dressed up for their Sunday outing: “it’s hoist all sails and nipples / erect and health here we come.” Basking in self-satisfaction it is their hour: “hour of the magnificent” (“Stunde der Prächtigen”), and one might well hear an echo of “Lorenzo der Prächtige”, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Medici banker. (Before the advent of leisure-wear, conservative Germans used to don their “Sunday Best” – “hoist all sails” – for a stroll through the park; that was then to become designer sportswear.) These are the yes-men, those who have all the answers. But Hofmann translates the line as “hour of splendor” and so the people and the allusions disappear. For Eich, after all, it is but a “poor Sunday”. He mocks the show of wealth and jollity which cannot hide the existential void, nor can the beauty of nature, in this case that of the “sycamore glades”. Their “abgekartete Schönheit” does not translate as “hand-me-down beauties”, as Hofmann has it, but as a beauty “rigged”, a beauty “connived”. Consequently, a useless reject, it can now be consigned to “the museum of consolations” [where] “the drooling sun / points at the merry dust.” Dust to dust – it is a poem about the vanity of all things, a mockery of all solace.
There is a similar derision in Ohne Unterschrift where Eich does list “The answers: caterpillars under the bark / of felled poplars [...] // A world order of cut flowers / and the pleasing line of forest edges. [...] // no more questions now, assent [Einverständnis]…” But, with the caterpillars, the ichneumon is not far. These answers are not his answers: he refuses to subscribe to such cheap and naive satisfaction. The title translates as Unsigned. Rather, these answers are those of “my enemies / with their assent”, as he says in Zwei [Two]: “die Feinde / mit ihrem Einverständnis.” Here, however, Michael Hofmann translates: “with their common purpose”. Consistency is lost and with it a central element of Eich’s thinking.
Eich’s late work is steeped in utter pessimism: “Vain the cruel hope / that the screams of the tortured / might pave the way for a brighter future” (Topography of a Better World). Vain also – Eich had come to realise – was any hope that his writing, intended “to make suffering visible”, could have any consequences. The optimism expressed in the Inventory of 1945 is refuted in a poem from 1966, not included by Hofmann. The similarity of its minimalism makes it almost look like a companion piece, but this time it is a balance sheet – with nothing under the bottom line:
Fewer goals
and smaller,
rice-grain sized.
Not lavish,
most things
in meditations.
Already suited
for poverty and
Brief screams still
across the tarmac,
Told or
and rice-grain sized.
(Translation A.V.)
The “screams” of the suffering which Eich wanted his readers to hear in so many of his texts (cf. Game Paths) still re-echo, but whether “told or untold”, it makes no difference. By now, Eich had reached his ultimate position: that of the Oriental sage, withdrawn into his “rock garden”, meditating over a grain of rice: “I have been here / and here / I could have / gone there too, or stayed at home. / You can understand the world / without leaving home. / I encountered Lao Tse / before I met Marx.[...]”. (Delayed, from Occasions and Rock Gardens) Eich had indeed studied Sinology.
The “meditations” are reflected and passed on in what became Eich’s final literary triumph, the anarchic short prose texts of his “Moles”, “Maulwürfe”, most of them still waiting to be translated into English. They are cackling deconstructions of any form of “Einverständnis”, of acceptance, including that of logic and grammar, a rejection of and reduction to absurdity of a world gone awry. A poem written shortly before Eich´s death, and definitively rendered by Michael Hofmannn, points the way:
Fog fog fog,
in my ears, a
and Raissa’s sweet laugh.
Experience tells
what belongs with what
what belongs with and,
only with and.
No rationale.
It will last
as long as the and doesn’t
slip my mind like the other words.
It’s enough, thanks, it’s plenty.
Günter Eich: Angina Days. Selected Poems
Translated and introduced by Michael Hofmann
Princeton University Press, Princeton 2010.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4008-3434-1
Cloth, 216 pages, US$24.95
Axel Vieregg has written extensively on  Günter Eich and edited Vols. I and IV of his Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works), 1991. He lives in Palmerston North, New Zealand, where he was a professor of German literature at Massey University.
(c) 2011 The Berlin Review of Books.

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Game Paths by Günther Eich

A poem written in 1961 and dedicated to the Jewish (!) poet and Nobel-Prize winner Nelly Sachs comes closest to a confession. It also clearly develops Eich’s aims as a writer:

Game Paths

for Nelly Sachs

Don’t mention the hunters!
I sat by their fires,
I understood their language.
They know the world from the beginning
and do not question the woods.
You nod to their answers,
the smoke of their fires, too, affirms them,
and they are practiced
not to hear the scream
which annuls all world orders.

No, we want to be alien
and be astounded at death,
collect the breaths of the uncomforted,
cut across the tracks
and deflect the barrels of the rifles.

(translation Axel Vieregg)

After World War II the German language, distorted by propaganda and shattered by lies, seemed lost as a vehicle for literary expression. It was Gunter Eich, a soldier and prisoner of war, who most of all among his generation began to resurrect his native tongue as a language for poetry. He accomplished this through an honesty and simplicity that developed into increasingly complex poetic structures and the prose poems, "moles," of his old age.
This volume, published in 1981, was the first to bring Germany's most important postwar poet to the attention of English-speaking readers. It belongs in the library of anyone who cares about modern and postmodern poetry.

And let the snow
come through the door-cracks,
the wind blows, that's his job.
And let Lena be forgotten,
the girl who drank
the spirits from the lamp.
Went into the il-
lustrations of Meyer's Lexicon,
Brehm's Wildlife.
Intestines, mountainranges, beach carrion,
and let the snow
come through the door-cracks
up to the bed, up to the spleen,
where the memory sits,
where Lena sits,
the leopard, the feverish gull,
arithmetic puzzles in yellow
wrappers, by subscription.
And let the wind blow
because that's all he can do
and don't begrudge Lena
one more swig from the lamp
and let the snow
come through the door-cracks.

--Gunter Eich
translated by David Young

Copyright c 1981 by Oberlin College. May not be reproduced without permission.