Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nine Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin

Translated by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover


Hyperion’s Fate Song (Hyperions Shiksaalslied)

You walk above in the light,
     Soulful genius, on a yielding floor!
         God’s shining breezes
            Gently touch you
                As the fingers of a musician
                    Play on otherworldly strings

Fateless, like a nursing infant asleep,
    The gods draw breath;
        As chastely preserved
             As modest buds,
                Their minds are always
                     In flower,
                         And their soulful eyes
                             Gaze calmly and eternally
                                In silent clarity.

But it’s our fate
    To have no place to rest,
         As suffering mortals
             Blindly fall and vanish
                  From one hour
                     To the next,
                         Like water falling
                             From cliff to cliff, downward
                                 For years to uncertainty.








When I was a boy … (Da ich ein Knabe war …)

When I was a boy
     Often a god would save me
         From the shouts and blows of men;
             I played safely and well
                 With the flowers of the fields
                      And the winds of heaven
                          Played with me.

As you make happy
The hearts of plants
When they extend to you
Their delicate tendrils,
So you make my heart happy,
Father Sun, and like Endymion
I was your favorite,
Holy Moon!

All true and neighborly gods!
If only you knew
How much I loved you then!

True, at that time, I didn’t
Know your names, and you
Never bothered to name me, like men
Who only pretend to know one another.

Yet I know you better
Than I’ve ever known anyone,
I understood the silence of the upper air,
But I’ve never understood the words of men.

I was raised by the sounds
Of the rustling grove
And learned to love
Among the flowers.

I grew up in the arms of the gods.








As when on holiday … (Wie wenn am Feirertage … )

     As on holiday, to see the field
A countryman goes out in the morning, when
Out of the hot night the cooling lightning had fallen
For a long time, and in the distance thunder sounded,
And the stream once again fills its banks,
Fresh green covers the earth,
The reassuring rain falls from the heavens,
The grapevine drips, and the trees
Of the grove stand gleaming in the quiet sun:

     So they stand in good weather,
Mastered by no one, but All-Presence,
So wonderful, holds in its light embrace
The powerful, godly beauty of Nature.
So when she seems to sleep at certain times of the year,
In the sky or under the garden leaves, or among the world’s people,
The poets’ faces are also sad,
They seem to be alone, but they’re always
Having a premonition, as Nature does when she rests.

     Now day breaks! I attended to its coming,
And what I saw my words must convey as holy,
For she herself, who is older than Time
And higher than the gods of East and West,
Nature has now awakened to the clashing of armies
And from the upper air to the abyss below,
According to fixed law, as once produced from holy Chaos,
The All-Inspiring
Begins to stir once more.

     And a fire gleams, as in that man’s eye
When he makes great plans; so
Once more, with signs for kindling,
The deeds of the world
Stir fire in the souls of poets,
And what went before, barely noticed,
Is only now revealed,
And those who happily farm our land
In the form of workers are now revealed
As the gods’ all-living powers.

     You ask where they are? Their spirit drifts in song
When the sun of day and warm earth
Grow, and storms in the air, and others
Prepared in the depths of time,
Full of meaning and murmuring to us,
Wander between heaven and earth and among the people.
They are everyone’s thoughts together
And quietly find their lodging in the souls of poets,

     So that suddenly dazed, long familiar
With the infinite, exalted by memory,
Brought to the kindling point by the holy radiance,
The fruit born of love, the work of God and men,
The song succeeds in testimony to both.
So it happened, as the poets say, when she wanted
To see the god made visible, his lightning fell
On Semele’s house, and the one struck by God
Bore holy Bacchus, the fruit of the storm.

     And so it is the songs of earth, without danger,
Now drink the fire of heaven.
Under God’s thunderstorms, fellow poets,
We must stand bare-headed to grasp
The Father’s radiance with our own hands,
Wrap the heavenly gift as song
And give it to the people.
For if only, like children,
We have pure hearts, and our hands are guiltless,

     The Father’s radiance won’t burn us,
And, deeply shaken, taking the Strong One’s sufferings
As our own, our hearts will stand fast
In God’s high down-rushing storm as he approaches.
But woe is me! when of

Woe me!

         And let me confess

I approached to see the gods,
And they themselves threw me down beneath the living,
False priest that I am, into the dark, that I
Sing my warning song to those who can be taught.
There








The Course of Life (Lebenslauf)

You too wanted more, but love
     Forces all of us under.
         Pain’s necessary curve
             Returns us to our beginnings.

Whether up or down, in the holiness of night,
     Speechless nature determines all the days to come;
         Yet in the labyrinths of death
             You can find a straight path.

I know this—not once, like mortal instructors
     Did you heavenly, all-knowing gods
         Have the foresight to lead me
             Along a level path.

Everything’s a test, say the gods.
     Having found his strength, a man gives thanks
         For everything he knows, and, knowing
             His freedom, goes where he wants to go.








The Blind Singer (Der blinde Sänger)

“Ελνσεν αινóν αχοζ απ óμματωυ Αρηζ”
— Sophocles


Where are you, young one, who would always
     Wake me in the morning, where are you light?
         My heart is awake, but the night always
             Holds and binds me in its holy magic.

Once near dawn I listened, glad to wait
     For you on the hill, and never for nothing.
         Not once did your messengers, the sweet breezes,
             Deceive me, for always you came,

All-inspiring in your loveliness,
     Down the usual path; where are you, light?
         Once again, my heart is awake, but always
             The endless night binds and constrains me.

Once the leaves greened for me; the flowers
     Would shine like my own eyes;
         Not far away, my own faces
             Shone for me, and, when I

Was a child, I saw the wings of heaven
     Traveling above and around the woods;
         Now I sit silent and alone, from one
             Hour to the next, making shapes

Of love and pain from brighter days,
     Taking comfort only in my thoughts,
         And strain far to hear if perhaps
             A kindly rescuer comes to me.

Then I often hear the voice of theThunderer
     At midday, when the honored one comes near,
         When he shakes the house, and under him
             The foundation quakes, and the mountain resounds.

Then I hear my rescuer in the night, I hear
     Him kill, this liberator, to give new life;
         From sunrise to sunset I hear the Thunderer
             Hurry on, and you call in his direction,

My strings! My song lives with him,
     And as the source follows the stream,
         Wherever he has a thought, I must also go,
             Following the sure one on his erratic path.

Where to? Where to? I hear you here and there,
     Your majesty! And all around the earth it sounds.
         Where do you end? And what, what is there,
             Beyond the clouds, and what will become of me?

Day! Day! Above the tumbling clouds, I will
     Welcome you back! My eyes will flower for you,
         O light of youth, O joy, returning once again,
             Yet now more spiritually the golden source

Flows from its holy chalice, and you,
     Green earth, in your peaceful cradle, and you,
         House of my father! And you, loved ones
             I met once in the past, draw near,

O come, that the joy will be yours,
     That you will receive the blessing of sight!
         O take this life from me, that I may
             Endure it, take the godly from my heart.








The Poet’s Vocation (Dichterberuf)

The banks of the Ganges heard how the god of joy
     Triumphed, as when all-conquering the young
         Bacchus came from Indus and with holy
             Wine awoke the people from sleep.

And you, angel of our day! Don’t you awaken
     Those still sleeping? Give us laws, give
         Us life. Triumph, master, only you,
             Like Bacchus, have the right to conquer.

Nothing else within the care and skill of man
     Is in the house and under the open sky,
         When, nobler than wild beasts, men
             Work to provide for themselves—but

A different task and calling is given to poets!
     We serve the gods alone, so that,
         More closely and always freshly sung,
             They will hear our friendly heartbeats.

And yet, you heavenly powers, and all
     You fountains and banks and groves and peaks,
         Where wonderful at first, you grabbed us
             By the hair and unexpectedly

Our imaginations overcame us
     Like a god, silencing our senses,
         And left us struck as if by lightning
             Down to our trembling bones,

You restless deeds in the wide world!
     You fateful, rapacious days, when the god,
         Calm and thoughtful, drives wherever
             The gigantic rage-drunk horses take him.

We shouldn’t keep quiet about you, and when in us
     The constant, quiet year rings sweetly out,
         Then it should sound, as if a capricious child
             Had been idly strumming, just for fun,

The master’s pure and sacred strings.
     And for that alone, poet, you heard
         Greek songs and the prophets of the East
             And lately heard divine thunder, by which

You exploit the spirit and thoughtlessly
     Mock his kind presence, heartlessly deny
         This good soul and, for a few coins,
             Bait him like a captured animal,

Until provoked to anger by those fierce stings,
     The spirit recalls his origins and cries out. Then
         The master himself appears, to leave you
             Lifeless beneath his hot death-charges.

For too long all that was godly and all
     The powers of heaven have been cheapened
         And good things wasted by a thankless,
             Lustful generation, who believe that he, the highest,

Tills their fields for them in person, that only
     They know daylight and the Thunderer
         And gaze through a telescope to count
             And name the stars of heaven.

But the father covers us with holy night,
     So we may endure on earth, eyes wide open.
         He loves nothing wild! Never will
             Our broad powers overwhelm his heaven.

Nor is it good to know too much. He knows
     Our gratitude. But the poet can’t keep
         His knowledge to himself and likes to join
             With others, who help him understand it.

But if he must, the poet remains fearless.
     Alone with god, simplicity keeps him safe
         And needs no weapons and no cunning,
             As long as God’s absence comes to his aid.1




1. In Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt, this line is discussed at length by the film director Fritz Lang, who plays himself as an émigré film director forced to work on a Hollywood production of The Odyssey. It serves to display the comparatively intellectual nature of the European tradition, as opposed to the commodity-based demands of the American producer played by Jack Palance.








Beginning at the Abyss (Vom Abgrund nemlich …)

We began of course at the abyss
And have gone forth like lions
In doubt and anger,
For men are more sensual
In the heat
Of deserts
Drunk with light, and the spirit of animals
Lies down with them. But soon, like a dog,
My voice will wander in the heat
Through the garden paths
In which people live
In France …
The Creator …
Frankfort, rather, for to speak of nature
Is to take its shape—human nature, I mean,
Umbilicus to the earth. Our time
Is also time, and of German making.
An overgrown hill hangs above
My gardens. Cherry trees. But a sharper breath
Blows through the absences in stone. And there I am,
All things at once. A slender
Nut tree bends over
The well-springs and . … Berries like coral
Hang on the bush above the wooden downspout
Which they used to make of corn. But now,
Quite frankly, it sings most forcefully of flowers.

The news from town, where the smell of lemons
And oil from Provence rises almost painfully
To the nose, for which I’d like to thank
The region of Gascony. Still to be seen,
What tamed and nourished me—
A love of the skewer and holiday roast,
The table and dusky grapes, so ripe.
            Read me please O
German flowers, O my heart is turning
To the truest crystal, in which
The German light is tested








Tinian (Tinian)

It’s sweet to get lost
In the holy wilderness,

And drink at the wolf teats
Of the waters that wander
Through the countryside
To me,
             wilder once,
But now, like orphans, accustomed to the taste.
In spring, when unfamiliar wings
Return to the warmth of the woods

            resting in solitude
Among the willow trees
Full of fragrance
Where butterflies
Mingle with bees
And your Alps

Divided from God

The divided world,

indeed they stand
Armed,



And wander as they wish, timelessly

            for they
Hazard us a falcon’s glance or,
Like gladiators, the gods decree
These outward signs to be birthmarks
Of whose child the West must be;

            Some flowers
Don’t grow from the earth, but sprout
In loose soil of their own will,
Counter-light of our days, nor should
One pick them.
For they stand golden,
Prepared only for what they are,
Leafless even
As thoughts,








Greece (Griechenland)
Third Version

Voices of fate, ways a traveler goes,
In your blue school
The blackbird’s song can be heard
At a distance, amid the uproar of heaven.
The cloud’s good mood,
Well-tempered by God’s existence—
A thunder storm.
And cries out like a watchman for
Immortality and heroes.
So many things to recall!
Ringing out upon it, like a drum skin,
The earth proceeds from its own ruins and temptations of the saints,
For the work takes shape from the beginning,
Follows great laws, and knowledge
And tenderness, and the bright, wide surface of heaven.
Later, clouds of song become visible.
Earth’s umbilicus is firmly fixed.
Its flames and common elements
Are hidden in riverbanks of grass.
The upper air lives above pure thought.
On clear days, the light is silver.
As a sign of love, the earth is violet-blue.
Even the humble have great beginnings.
Every day for the sake of men
God puts on marvelous clothes,
And though his face is beyond knowing,
He suffuses the air with art,
And space and time conceal
The awesome one
So you won’t love him too much
With your prayers or
Your souls. Like a good student,
Nature has remained open a long time—
Like leaves or lines and angles—
And suns and moons are a deeper yellow.
But at times
The ancient knowledge of earth is in danger
Of going out amid its various histories, whether grown
Or come to pass, and boldly contending like fencers. God rules on high
And on the earth. Though his pace is unmeasured,
He limits, but the soul’s energies and affections
Consort like golden flowers.
Beauty is more willing
To dwell on earth, and one spirit or the other
Shows an interest in human matters.
For it’s sweet to live under the high shade
Of trees and hills, where the paved road
Is sunny on the way to church.
In their love of life, travelers
Measure with their feet how to obey Him
The length of the journey; for them, the roads
Blossom more beautifully, where the land …




Hölderlin: “The Course of Life”

Friedrich Hölderlin: “The Course of Life”

The Course of Life

You wanted more, but love forces us all
to the ground, and suffering bends us low.
But not in vain: our arc returns us
to the same source from where we came.

Above, below, is there not in the lofty night
where Nature plots the unborn days
and in the crooked hell beneath us,
one single measure, one law we share?

This I know.  Not once, as earthly teachers do,
have the gods who guide this world of ours
led me along a straight, flat path.
There is no path like that I’ve ever seen.

The gods say this: a man must test everything,
for it is by testing that he learns to give thanks.
It is by testing that he learns he is free,
to come and go as he is moved to do.

Friedrich Hölderlin

Translated from German by Paul Weinfield, © 2013

Hölderlin's Lebenslauf

Lebenslauf/The Course of Life (Hölderlin)

1
May 26, 2013 by anelim
I may be a sociologist, but I also generally believe that poetry and literature often reveal more about the social world than (social)-scientific studies.  Sometimes this conviction causes me great distress and even contributes to an existing writing block. Sometimes I don’t mind – after all, the more different people think about stuff, the better stuff gets known. But it is always wonderful to find something in poetry or literature (or film, or a song, or other art) that deals directly with my own topic of research.
Fr._Zone_Württemberg_1947_02_Friedrich_HölderlinEarlier this week my German teacher was genuinely shocked when I confessed that I had never even heard of the German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. As a result, I remembered his name. I have a rule of life which I noticed at the age of 6 because I always stumbled across new pieces with some new bit of musical notation a few days after my piano teacher had told me about them. It did occur to me even then that this could have been a clever pedagogical plot – but it was a cool existential hypothesis, so I began to observe; it proved true in other situations without any cunning teachers in them, so I kept it.  As it often happens, Hölderlin’s name suddenly jumped out at me while I was absent-mindedly leafing through a German poetry collection I’d bought back in October. It is one of those popular collections of love poems, perfect for teenagers and clueless foreigners – but the poems were a bit steep for my German so I’d forgotten about this book until now. Long story short, in the book there is a fragment by Hölderlin called Lebenslauf. As I may have mentioned, my institute studies, among other things (work and history) also the human life course. Eurica! I googled for a translation and discovered the full poem. Oddly, it was a bit different from the book version (no more difficult, though, so I don’t know why the book editors put in this version). It turns out, Hölderlin wrote two versions of that poem, both called “lifecourse”.
Before the prolixity of this introduction reveals my total lack of poetic skills (sociology logorrhea messing up my writing again!), I shall shut up and let you read the second version of the poem – in German and then in the four English translations I found.
At the bottom there is also a youtube recording of the longer poem read by the very amazing (and the very amazing) Bruno Ganz (he is everywhere! but that’s ok, my respect for the man goes up every time I find more of his work).
Lebenslauf I (which is a nice short fragment – probably an early draft)
Hoch auf strebte mein Geist, aber die Liebe zog
Schön ihn nieder; das Laid beugt ihn gewaltiger;
So durchlauf ich des Lebens
Bogen und kehre, woher ich kam.
Lebenslauf II
Friedrich HölderlinLebenslauf (1800) in Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, vol. 1, p. 285 (G. Mieth ed. 1970)
Größers wolltest auch du, aber die Liebe zwingt
All uns nieder, das Leid beuget gewaltiger,
Doch es kehret umsonst nicht
Unser Bogen, woher er kommt.

Aufwärts oder hinab! herrschet in heil’ger Nacht,
Wo die stumme Natur werdende Tage sinnt,
Herrscht im schiefesten Orkus
Nicht ein Grades, ein Recht noch auch?

Dies erfuhr ich. Denn nie, sterblichen Meistern gleich,e
Habt ihr Himmlischen, ihr Alleserhaltenden,
Daß ich wüßte, mit Vorsicht
Mich des ebenen Pfads geführt.

Alles prüfe der Mensch, sagen die Himmlischen,
Daß er, kräftig genährt, danken für Alles lern’,
Und verstehe die Freiheit,
Aufzubrechen, wohin er will.

Translation 1 The Course of Life (Transl. by British poet, critic and translator Michael Hamburger, here as googlebook)
More you also desired, but every one of us
Love draws earthward, and grief bends with still greater power;
Yet our arc not for nothing
Brings us back to our starting place.
Whether upward or down – does not in holy night
Where mute Nature thinks out days that are still to come,
Though in crookedest Orcus,
Yet a straightness, a law prevail?
This I learned. For not once, as mortal masters do,
Did you heavenly ones, wise preservers of all,
To my knowledge, with foresight
Lead me on by a level path.
All a man shall try out, thus say the heavenly,
So that strongly sustained he shall give thanks for all,
Learn to grasp his own freedom
To be gone where he’s moved to go
Translation 2 Course of Life (transl. by Scott Horton – published in Harper Magazine May 17, 2008)
You wanted greater still, but love forces
All of us to the ground; suffering bends powerfully,
Still our arc does not for nothing
Bring us back to the starting point.
Whether up or downwards, does not prevail in the Holy Night
Where quietly Nature contemplates the days to come,
Does not prevail in the crookedest Orcus
One straightness, one Law?
This I experienced. For never, in the manner of mortal masters,
Have you Divine Ones, you who sustain our world,
Yet led me on the straight path,
Not with intent, not that I knew it.
A man must test all that comes his way, say the Divine Ones,
In order that he, powerfully nourished, give thanks for what he learns,
That he understand the freedom,
To move hence, where he wishes.
Translation 3 The course of a life (published by Poemhunter but it is not clear who are the authors of individual translations)
You also wanted better things, but love
Forces all of us down. Sorrow bends us more
forcefully, but the arc doesn’t return to its
point of origin without a reason.
Upwards or downwars! In holy Night,
where mute Nature plans the coming days,
doesn’t there reign in the most twisted Orcus
something straight and direct?
This I have learned. Never to my knowledge
did you, all preserving gods, like mortal
masters, lead me providentially
along a straight path.
The gods say that I man should test
everything, and that strongly nourished
he be thankful for everything, and understand
the freedom to set forth wherever he will.
Translation 4 The Course of a Life (I like the elegant simplicity and unassuming contemporary language of this translation by Jim Hanson – see his blog)
You also want something greater, but love
Overpowers us all, suffering bends us more forcibly
Though our arch does not vainly
Return from where it comes
Upward or downward! Don’t they reign at the holy solstice
Where silent nature reflects on the lengthening days?
They rule in the crookedest underworld
Not a degree, nor have they even a right.
This I found out. This I knew, with foresight,
That never, unlike mortal masters,
Have they, the gods, the all-conserving
Guided me away from the even paths
Check everything, man, say the gods,
And I was grateful to learn everything, to become strong
And to understand the freedom
To break away, whenever I might