Hölderlin Ode Lebenslauf (The Course of Life)

Translated by Steven J. Willett

The Gravestone of Friedrich Hölderlin

Note: This ode is in the asclepiad strophe, an extremely difficult metrical form to translate, particularly due to the highly complex syntax Hölderlin deploys. It has long been one of his most popular poems in Germany.

Personal Remark: Lebenslauf is the last ode I will offer you poetry-loving readers for quite some time, but I do (hopefully) plan to post a complete translation of all nine parts to the elegiac masterpiece Brod und Wein before I leave Japan for the next six months at our home in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

More you also desired, but it is love constrains
 
 Every one of us down, grief is yet mightier;
 
    Yet never turns without a purpose
 
       Our own arc, back from where it comes.
 

 Whether upwards or down! rules in the holy night,
 
 Where mute Nature on days that are coming thinks,
 
    rules in Orcus most twisted  
 
       Not a stage, or a law still there?
 

 This I learned. For not once, masters as mortals do,
 
 Have you heavenly ones, you who preserve all best,
 
    That I knew, with my foresight
 
       Guide me over a level path.


 All a man must enquire, thus say the heavenly,
 
 That he, strongly sustained, learn to give thanks for all,
 
    And well understand freedom
 
       Burst ahead, where he wants to go. 
 

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3 Responses to Hölderlin Ode Lebenslauf (The Course of Life)

  1. Carey says:

    Thanks so much for your translations of Hölderlin, Mr. Willett. I take them in very slowly.. The M. Hamburger / Penguin book arrived, and it’s just what I was hoping for: something to really linger over, with its bilingual texts.

  2. Pollychrome says:

    THANKS, Prof. Willett, for all the lovely poems you create as you turn them into English: I’ll enjoy re-living + wondering about all of them.  SAFE Travels and Happy Times in Japan–such a special land 🎵.

  3. English Outsider says:

    I look forward to the next run of translations. They have been a real find.

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