Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin

 

In English translation by David Constantine

 

A sampling from the book
Friedrich Hölderlin
Selected Poems
translated by
David Constantine
Second, expanded edition 1996
Published by Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle upon Tyne

 

 

Ages of Life

Euphrates' cities and
Palmyra's streets and you
Forests of columns in the level desert
What are you now?
Your crowns, because
You crossed the boundary
Of breath,
Were taken off
In Heaven's smoke and flame;
But I sit under clouds (each one
Of which has peace) among
The ordered oaks, upon
The deer's heath, and strange
And dead the ghosts of the blessed ones
Appear to me.

 

'Another day'

Another day. I follow another path,
Enter the leafing woodland, visit the spring
Or the rocks where the roses bloom
Or search from a look-out, but nowhere

Love are you to be seen in the light of day
And down the wind go the words of our once so
Beneficent conversation...

Your beloved face has gone beyond my sight,
The music of your life is dying away
Beyond my hearing and all the songs
That worked a miracle of peace once on

My heart, where are they now? It was long ago,
So long and the youth I was has aged nor is
Even the earth that smiled at me then
The same. Farewell. Live with that word always.

For the soul goes from me to return to you
Day after day and my eyes shed tears that they
Cannot look over to where you are
And see you clearly ever again.

 

'Once there were gods'

Once there were gods, on earth, with people, the heavenly muses
And Apollo, the youth, healing, inspiring, like you.
And you are like them to me, as though one of the blessed
Sent me out into life where I go my comrade's
Image goes with me wherever I suffer and build, with love
Unto death; for I learned this and have this from her.

Let us live, oh you who are with me in sorrow, with me in faith
And heart and loyalty struggling for better times!
For such we are! And if ever in the coming years they knew
Of us two when the spirit matters again
They would say: lovers in those days, alone, they created
Their secret world that only the gods knew. For who
Cares only for things that will die the earth will have them, but
Nearer the light, into the clarities come
Those keeping faith with the heart's love and holy spirit who were
Hopeful, patient, still, and got the better of fate.

 

The Journey

Suevia, my mother, happy land!
You also are like your more shining sister
Lombardy over there
Flowed through by a hundred streams
And trees in plenty, white with blossom or reddish
And the darker, deep, full green, the wild trees
And the Alps of Switzerland overshadow you too,
Neighbourly; for near the hearth of the house
Is where you live and you can hear
Inside from silvery vessels
The spring rushing that issues
From pure hands when touched

By warm rays
Crystal ice and tipped over
By the lightly quickening light
The snowy summit drenches the earth
With purest water. For that reason
You are born loyal. Hard
Living near the source to quit the place.
And your children, the towns
On the long lake in the haze
On the willowy Neckar and on the Rhine
All think
Nowhere would be better to live.

 

'When I was a boy'

When I was a boy
A god often rescued me
From the shouts and the rods of men
And I played among trees and flowers
Secure in their kindness
And the breezes of heaven
Were playing there too.

And as you delight
The hearts of plants
When they stretch towards you
With little strength

So you delighted the heart in me
Father Helios, and like Endymion
I was your favourite,
Moon. 0 all

You friendly
And faithful gods
I wish you could know
How my soul has loved you.

Even though when I called to you then
It was not yet with names, and you
Never named me as people do
As though they knew one another

I knew you better
Than I have ever known them.
I understood the stillness above the sky
But never the words of men.

Trees were my teachers
Melodious trees
And I learned to love
Among flowers.

I grew up in the arms of the gods.


Titles of the original poems: Lebensalter, Wohl geh ich täglich..., Götter wandelten einst..., Die Wanderung, Da ich ein Knabe war...


From the back cover of Friedrich Hölderlin Selected Poems:

FRIEDRICH HÖLDERLIN (1770-1843) was one of Europe's greatest poets. The strange and beautiful language of his late poems is recreated by David Constantine in these remarkable verse translations. This is a new edition of Constantine's widely-praised HÖLDERLIN Selected Poems, containing several new translations, including one of the great elegy Bread and Wine. The odes and hymns are more fully represented and there are further extracts, in an equivalent English, from Hölderlin's extraordinary German versions of Sophocles. Notes on the poems have also been expanded. This new volume is a stimulating introduction to the work of a poet who, writing around 1800, addresses us ever more urgently as the millenium ends.

'Hölderlin is a poet we can read with our own atrocious times in mind. He is a deeply religious poet whose fundamental tenet is absence and the threat of meaninglessness. He confronted hopelessness as few writers have, he was what Rilke called "exposed"; but there is no poetry like his for the constant engendering of hope, for the expression, in the body and breath of poems, of the best and most passionate aspirations' - David Constantine

'Constantine goes for an "equivalence of spirit" in a more familiar idiom. This is at once a bold and humble undertaking, and has produced poetry of a remarkable luminosity and intensity, written in rhythms and cadences which recreate, both in their extremities of grief and their urgent hope, the immediacy of the original' - Karen Leeder, Oxford Poetry


David Constantine has published five books of poems, three translations and a novel with Bloodaxe. His latest poetry books are Selected Poems (1991), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and Caspar Hauser (1994), a poem in nine cantos. His co-translations include editions of Henri Michaux and Philippe Jaccottet in the Bloodaxe Contemporary French Poets series. His critical introduction to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin was published in 1988, and his translation of Goethe's novel Elective Affinities in 1994, both from OUP. He is Fellow in German at the Queen's College, Oxford.


Copyright © by David Constantine and Bloodaxe Books. Published here by permission of David Constantine.

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