Hölderlin Interpretations

Last night and this evening I’ve been writing interpretations of sections from Hölderlin, especially from Brod und Wein. I admire Hölderlin enormously.

These are interpretations rather than translations as I do not speak German; I depend on dictionaries and translators. As such, the following interpretations are unpublishable – but I thought you might like to see them.

I consulted this page of Susan Ranson translations for all 3 rewrites, and Robert Bly’s translation for piece 7. Bly is a real thorn in my side; the liberties he takes in translation seem inexcusable to me – and yet he’s the source through which so much nonEnglish poetry comes into English! “Archetypal world”, what trash. Return to your own stuff, son, if you want so badly to extend your dumb Campbellian pop psych to the people.

Anyhow, my rewrites are below the cut!


Blessed Greece! You house of all Heavenly,
Is it true, then, what we heard as boys?
Festival hall! Sea for a floor! Mountain for board!
Built for other days.
But where are the thrones? The temples, the rhytons,
and gods’-joy, nectar-filled – the song?
Where, where glow they, the farsighted?
Delphi sleeps. Where does grave Fate lean and peal?
Where is the Quick? Where does it, universally lucky, break thundering on our eyes out of clear and mild air?
Father Aether!” wings one thousand times from tongue
to tongue! None can heft life alone;
This good, these goods are sweet split and exchanged amongst strangers.
EnJoy! The Word’s might waxes in sleep.
Father! Clear and mild! and, echoing, the earliest Sign, our inheritance, precise and creative.
Thus the Heavenly sweep in, finally,
and thus from the shadows into Men
descends their Day, crashing fathomless.


But friend! we’re late. The gods persist,
but stuck, up there, above our heads.
They turn endlessly, and seem not to mind us. Godly mercy –
weak pots can’t take water.
Most days, humans can’t take the fullness of gods.

Now we live dreaming of them. Going off helps, and sleep.
We grow strong with need. We grow strong at night.
Presently there will be heroes
In bronze cradles. There will be heroes with godly hearts.
Distant thunder. Meanwhile, lonely for our friends, sleep – don’t idle, waiting. What’s to be done? – and what are poets in these times,
except, as you remarked, the winegod’s man, crossing the field at night, crossing the field.


Yes! They told the truth – he harmonizes
Day and dark!
Steering the stars up, down, forever,
Happy forever, like evergreen pines!
He loves the needle, and his long-lifed ivy crown.
Here, now, the sick earth lies
Held by the slow-thunder god. The god draws joy up into the shade.
What the Old Songs prophesied
About the children of God – look!
We are the gardeners’ golden apples!
Wonderfully, precisely in men fulfilled – test and see! And yet amidst this working, nothing works;
We are without hearts. Shadows,
Until Father Aether knows us
And hears us.
Swinging a light the tall son comes
Down with the rest of the heavenly air –
the Syrian, descending the hill’s dark side.
The wise glance up, sense bliss; the captive smiles reciprocally; their eyes thaw in the sun.
Asleep and dreaming in Earth’s arms, Titans;
Jealous Cerberus drinks, and sleeps.

I admit to some unfair creativity – “lean and peal”, “the tall son” – but I hope that doesn’t stand in the way of your enjoyment. I really love doing interpretations and wish I could justify publishing these – or, conversely, that I liked French poetry as much as I like German. I speak French and could translate amiably, but the only Francophone poet who really fires me is Philippe Jaccottet, and Derek Mahon’s translations need no improvement.



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