New Translations of Friedrich Hölderlin by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover

 

To the Fates (An die Parzen)

Give me just one summer, stark sisters,
     One more autumn to ripen my song.
          Then I’ll gladly die, my heart filled
                With that sweet music.

The soul, which never had its godly rights
     In life, won’t find peace in Orkus either.
          When just once the sacred lies
                 In my heart, the poem is perfected.

Then I will welcome the world
     Of silence and shadows and happily leave
          My song behind — once I’ve lived
                 Like the gods, what else is there?

 


Brevity (Die Kürze)

“Why are you so brief?  Don’t you love
     Your songs as once you did?  When in your youthful
          Days of hope, you wanted your singing
               Never to come to an end?”

My joy is like my song. — wouldn’t you happily bathe
     In the red glow of evening?  Now it’s gone away,
          The earth is cold, and the bird of night
               Flies down, so close you cover your eyes.

 


To the Sun-God (Dem Sonnengott)

Where are you?  Drunk, my soul grows dim
     From all your delight; for only now
          I watched how, exhausted by his travels,
               The enchanting young god

Bathed his hair in golden clouds,
     And now my eyes fill with the sight of him;
          Though already he’s far from here, well along his way
              To the pious folk who revere him.

I love you, Earth, who joins me in mourning him,
     And our sadness turns to sleep like the grief
          Of children, and, as the winds flutter
               And whisper in the strings of the lyre

Until the master’s fingers unlock a purer sound,
     Fog and dreams play all around us
          Until the loved one returns,
               Igniting in us love and spirit.

 


The Spirit of the Age (Der Zeitgeist)

For too long you have ruled above my head,
     You in the dark cloud, you God of Time!
          Too wild and fearful around me,
               Whatever I look at shatters and wavers.

Like a boy, I looked down at the ground,
     Sought refuge from you in caverns, and, weakling
          That I am, must find a place where you,
               Breaker of all things, might not be.

Finally, Father, let me meet you
     With open eyes!  Wasn’t it you who first
          Flashed awake the spirit within me, you
               Who so splendidly brought me to life, o Father! —

It’s true, a sacred force gathers in young vines;
     In mild air or when they wander calmly
          Through the grove, men meet a serene God;
               Yet, all-powerful, you awaken

The pure souls of youth and teach
     The old, wise arts; the bad only
          Grow worse, sooner to meet their end,
               When you will seize them, violent one.

 


My Possessions  (Mein Eigentum)

Now the autumn day rests in its fullness,
     The grape is pure and the orchard red
          With fruit, but many lovely blossoms,
               In thanks, fell to the earth long ago.

And around the field, where I cross the path
     In silent thought, are the satisfied men whose crops
          Have ripened, and their months of work
               Have won them much wealth.

From heaven to those busy ones, a mild light
     Filters down through their trees,
          To share their pleasure, for human hands
              Alone don’t make the fruit grow.

O goldenness, will you also shine on me?
     Also, little breeze, please blow some
          Happiness my way, as once before;
               Lose your way and bring joy to my heart.

In my innocent youth, I too was once
     Ephemeral as a rose, ah! but too often now
          The lovely stars that remain to flower
               For me serve as a warning.
              
Blessed is a man who, loving a faithful wife,
     Can live beside his hearth in a worthy country;
          The more certain a man of his heaven,
               The more brightly he walks on the ground.
              
For like the plant unable to root in its own ground,
     The soul of a mortal will quickly die out,
          Who must roam in daylight, a poor man
              Wandering the holy earth.

Too strongly, ah!  You pull me toward the heights
    Of heaven, storms that rage on a bright day,
          I feel them ripping my very heart, O changing ones,
               And they destroy me with their godly power.

Today, however, in silence, let me walk the usual path
     To the grove where the golden tree-tops are
          Decorated with dying leaves, and also touch
               My brow with loving memories,

So that my mortal heart can be saved,
     And, as others find a resting place or home,
          And so that my soul will never be homeless
               And not over-reach life in its longing.

Stay, you song, my friendly asylum, and you,
     Giver of joy, tend to me with loving care;
          In the garden, where I wander among
               Eternally  youthful blossoms,

I live in a kind of innocence, while outside me,
    With its waves, powerful, almighty Time,
          So changeable, roars far away,
               And the quiet sun benefits my labors.

Above us mortals, you bless our possessions,
     Heavenly powers, each to his own degree,
          O bless mine also, so that fate won’t put
               Too early an end to my dreaming.

 


The Neckar (Der Nekar)

In your valleys my heart awakened to life,
      Your small waves played around me,
            And of all the gracious hills that know you,
                  Wanderer, not one is foreign to me.

Often on your peaks, the air of heaven
     Relieved the pain of my labors, and from the valley,
          Like life from the cup of original joy,
               A silver and blue wave glittered.

The mountain streams hurried down to you;
     With them came my heart, and you carried us along
          The calm and lofty Rhine, to your
               Cities below and pleasure-giving islands.

The world still looks lovely, and my sight
     Is drawn away by earth’s many enticements,
          To golden Pactoclus, the coast of Smyrna,
               Or Ilium’s forest.  I’d also like to land

At Sunium, to ask the silent path
     About your pillars, Olympion!
          Before age and storm-winds
               Bury you too in the rubble

Of Athens’ temple and her images of God,
     For a long time you stand alone, O pride
          Of a vanished world, and you O lovely
               Ionian islands, where the sea-breeze

Cools the hot shore and rustles through
     The laurel trees, when sunlight heats the vines.
          Oh!  Where the golden autumn changes
               The sighing of the poor to songs,

When the pomegranate ripens, when in the green night
     An orange shines, resin drips
          From mastic trees and the kettledrum and cymbal
               Resound throughout the labyrinth-dances.

Perhaps to you, my islands, my guardian god
     One day will take me.  But still I won’t surrender
          My true feelings for this river, with its
               Lovely meadows and shoreline willows.
  

 


Love (Die Liebe)

When you forget a friend who was everything to you,
     You grateful ones, when you slight your poets,
          May God forgive you, but always
               Respect the souls of lovers.

Where do men live humanly, I ask,
     Now that we’re slaves to worry?
          Likewise, the gods have wandered
               Indifferently over our heads.

Yet no matter how cold and songless the year,
     At the right time and in season
          Spring grass turns the white field green,
               And often a lonely bird sings.

As the woods fills in with leaves and the river stirs,
     At the appointed hour
          Milder winds blow gently from the South,
               Sign of a better season.

We believe that from the virgin, unshakeable
     Soil, proud and self-satisfied,
          Noble and pious, Love, God’s daughter,
               Comes from him alone.

As the ethereal powers of nature
     Nourish you like nectar, and you ripen
          From highest light, let me bless you,
               Love, with my song,

Grow and become a wood!  A living soul,
     A fully blossoming world!  May the language
          Of lovers be our native tongue,
              Their souls the speech of men.

 


The Poet’s Courage  (Dichtermuth)

Isn’t everything alive already in your blood?                               
     Doesn’t Fate herself keep you in her service?
          Wander defenseless, therefore,
               Through life and don’t worry!

Whatever happens will be sacred to you;
     Be expert in joy!  For what could
          Harm you, heart!  What could
               You suffer, where you must go?

For, as on quiet shores, or in the silver
     Distantly echoing flood, or upon the silent
          Deep-running water the weakening
               Swimmer travels, that’s how we are,

We, the poets of the people, who like to be
     Where people live and breathe around us,
          And, trusting in each one; how else
               To sing him in the voice of his god?

When the wave smashes a courageous man under,
     Where he truly dares to go,
          And the voice of that singer
               Falls silent as the hall turns blue;

He dies there gladly, but still his lonely groves
     Lament the fall of the one they loved most;
          Often a young woman will repeat
               In distant branches his cheerful song.

When at evening a man like us comes past
     The place where his brother drowned
          He’ll think many things in the way of warning 
               And silently walk on, all the wiser.


Maxine Chernoff is the author of eight poetry collections including The Turning (Apogee Press, 2008).  She is Chair of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.  

Paul Hoover's most recent poetry collection is Edge and Fold:  Two Poems (Apogee Press, 2006); he is also editor of Postmodern American Poetry:  A Norton Anthology (1994).  Their Selected Poems of Friedrich Holderlin will be published by Omnidawn in the fall of 2008.