Saturday, November 1, 2008

Magic of Contraries

Today I would like to present my preferred German poem: Hölderlin's "Middle of Life".
I rank Hölderlin - together with Heine - among the greatest poets in the language.

Although the spirit of this poem could be considered Romantic (or pre-Romantic) it bears a classical perfection. In few lines, through a consummate craft juxtaposing contraries, the poet creates a poignant awareness of suspension between two worlds: the present and the impending future: the winter and - by association - old age, decay and death.
Albeit it might seem simple and clear, actually, it is a quite dense and rich poem which lends itself to infinite interpretations and analysis (e.g. cfr. Freiburger Anthologie).

Hälfte des Lebens reminds me particularly of ancient Chinese poetry: a suite of few simple images and suddenly the poetical voice utters its anguish ("Weh mir ...").

I add a merely verbatim translation without any literary pretension.

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.


Middle of Life

With yellow pears droops
And full of wild roses
The earth over the lake,
And ye charming swans,
Drunk with kisses,
You deep the head
Into the holily sober water.

Alas, where shall I take, when
Winter comes, the flowers, and where
The sunshine,
And the shadows of the earth?
The walls stand
Speechless and cold, in the wind
Klank the vanes.

Listen to Hälfte des Lebens

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