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.