Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hölderlin: Hälfte des Lebens

Another Hölderlin version  . . .There are many versions of this poem in English, but my favourite translation is Kathleen Jamie's Scots version.

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.


Yellow with pears
Heavy with wild roses
The land hangs in the lake
Magnificent swans
Drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
In the holy sober water

Where will I find
Flowers this winter
And where will I find
The sunshine and shade
of the earth? Speechless and cold
The walls stand, and the weathercocks
Rattle in the wind

Friday, March 22, 2013

In lovely blue

'In lieblicher Bläue…’

(After Hölderlin)

In lovely blue
the steeple flowers
the swallows cry around it
and pouring
                heartstopping blue

The metal roof
glints in the sun
and the weathercock
struts and crows in his
high silence

As in a still life
everything holds its shape
every edge
sharpens in the light

A man comes down the steps
under the clock
wearing the hour
like a sculpted coat
and the windows of the bell tower
are like gates on miracles
so close still
to the forest, and pure

The mind swings on difference
and is made serious
so simple all of this, so sacred
we would have to be saints
to describe it
or know such kindliness
to draw near

Is God unknown
or clear as the sky?
He must be clear
and this our measure
to live with our clutter
still lightly, like poets
on the earth
           doch dichterisch
           wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde

The dark night
templed with stars
after all
           if I can say it like this the
no purer than man
made in His image

Is there a measure on earth?
There’s none.
               For never the creator restrains
The genius of the maker
can’t prevent the thunder
Flowers astonish
in the sun
but the eye lights
on other creatures
more astonishing, more beautiful

Does it please God
if our hearts and bodies bleed
does it please Him
if we disappear?
This much I know
the soul must stay pure
or the eagle will perch on the Almighty
mouthing songs of praise
and the voices
of every bird in creation

            Du schönes Bächlein
                     du rollest so klar   
                           wie das Auge der Gottheit
                           durch die Milchstraße

The little stream
pours clearly
clear as the eye of a god
piercing the Milky Way

These tears yet
I see joy flower
in every shape created
and with good reason
I see it now in the solitariness
of two doves in the churchyard
But the laugher of men saddens me
I should like to be a comet
quick as a bird, all fiery flowers
and pure in heart, pure as a child
Who could look for more?

A serious spirit
drifts in the garden
this joyous virtue deserves her praise
There, by the columns
A beautiful girl should cover
her head in myrtle  
to show her nature
and her love

If someone looks in the mirror
           and sees his image there
Look in the mirror
the painted man
who stares back is you
A man’s image has eyes
but the moon has light
              and Oedipus has an eye too many
The sufferings of man
are beyond description
so much in this world
is unspeakable
And what do I feel now
when I think of you?

Like a continent washed away, like Asia
like Oedipus, like Hercules
To be alive under the sun is to suffer,
the sun that takes men by the hand and tempts them
          Sohn Laios, armer Fremdling in Griechenland!
          Leben ist Tod, und Tod ist auch ein Leben
Son of Laios, poor stranger in Greece
Life is death, and death too is a kind of life. . .

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