These four strange and beautiful fragments were written not long before his mental collapse and are virtually the last poetry of any quality that he wrote.
Translated by Steven J. Willett
Plaque at Hölderlinturm am Neckarufer in Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg
Hier lebte u. entschlief Hölderlin“
Note: The last line of Poem No. 4 ends with a comma because the poet never completed it. In the translation I have chosen to reproduce the German compound words like goldenklingend. They are not part of normal English, but our language is quite capable of using them and that use would be a distinct advantage both in writing and translating poetry.
And no one knows
But meanwhile let me wander
And pick the wild berries
To quench my love of you
Along your paths, O earth
Here where — — —
and roses’ thorns
And sweet lime-trees shed scent beside
The beeches, at noon, when in yellow wheatfields
Growth rustles, on the upright stalk,
And the ear bends its drooping neck aside
Like autumn, but now beneath the high
Vault of oaks, as I ponder
And question upward, the clock bell
I know so well
Rings distantly, goldenchiming, at the hour, when
The bird awakes again. So all goes well.
Like slowly flying birds,
He looks ahead
The Prince and coolly all
Occasions blow against his breast when
The silence rings him, high
In the air, but richly gleaming below
Lies his dominions’ wealth, and with him are
His young in their first conquest-seeking flight.
But he restrains them with
The wingbeat’s blow.
Like seacoasts, when celestials
Begin to build and into them
Sails ceaselessly, a splendor, the work
Of waves, one after another, and the earth
Apparels herself, one of the Happiest Ones then
Setting aright all things in highest spirits, thus breaks
Amid song—with the winegod, auspicious to the interpreter,
And with the darling
Of Greece’s lands
The foamborn, glancing decorously—
The magnificent gift on shore.
When namely the juice of the vine,
The gentle vintage
searches for shade
And clustered grapes are swelling in the cool
Vault of leaves,
For men a strength,
But breathing perfume for girls,
Drowsed drunk with all the fragrance
Of spring, when the spirit, like a nursling
Of the sun, touches them, wander after it
Possessed, but when
A sunbeam burns, swerve round
With humming, divining much
on that account
the oak rustles,
I shall now look at my own budding, but scrappy, backyard grape arbor with more poetic eyes.
……….”The gentle vintage …….searches for shade
And clustered grapes are swelling in the cool
Vault of leaves,………….”
I was struck by those very words. There is something to the Platonic ideas and the objectivity of beauty.
I am German but grew up partly in North America. I must say your translation is very, very good. Congratulations!
“the oak rustles,”
That is the best ending ever! Especially for Holderlin!
Your postings have inspired me to learn more about Holderlin and about the Classical Greek poets and philosophers that were his grounding and foundation.
Holderlin’s biography is tragic but also inspiring, not least because of his later long relationship with Ernst Zimmer. I couldn’t find a good tome on Holderlin’s life; I really wanted to know more about his 30 years living in the tower in the care of Zimmer, after he’d been declared ‘incurably insane’. What a story! Someone should write that. The Wiki entry is poor. I offer this link, for those that may be interested in a brief summary of Holderlin’s life: http://solitary-walker.blogspot.com/2012/01/holderlins-tower.html
I wish I had received a classical education and learned Latin and Greek as did our forebears. We are a poorer culture for this loss.
If you know German, you might try
Rüdiger Safranski, Hölderlin: Komm! ins Offene, Freund!
I don’t know any good English biography. Unfortunately he is not at all read in America and would certainly be despised in the poet foundering MFA
They still taught Latin in public high school in the 1960s’, not sure when it passed out of the general US curriculum.
When in college also at that time we were required to have “breadth requirements”, well outside our majors, in order to qualify for a BA. Those also went by the wayside after the 1960’s and the student revolts demanding more relevant educations addressing their present “real needs”.
The irony being is every single course I was required to take for “breadth”, which I had no use for at the time, ended up being a critical part of my own evolving critical awareness of the real world outside of the ivory tower. I felt blessed, but only in retrospect, that my higher education required this classical broad based exposure if one was to claim at that time they were “college educated”.
Yes it was a lot of dead white guys, but so far they have not been replaced in the soundness of much of their underlying observations. Just the opposite. Only reinforced, as I made my way through the subsequent decades of my own life. Can one really find a more profound sweep of human insights than already set out in Greek mythology? Or ancient Sanskrit texts.
Our local community college recently changed the “Foreign Language Department” to “The School of Modern Languages”. That bespeaks volumes right there.