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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hölderlin’s "Hyperion"‎

Hyperion alongside a Yet Another Testament
Hyperion, my first encounter with Hölderlin, was astonishing and rewarding. Picked up this used 1959 translation from Powell's for $3.
The Child (p. 41)

To be happy means to be sleepy, in the language of slaves. (p. 42)

We speak of our hearts, of our plans, as if they were ours; yet there is a power outside of us that tosses us hither and thither as it pleases until it lays us in the grave, and of which we know not whence it comes nor whither it is bound. (p. 51)

I grudged no one his opinions or his improprieties. I was converted, I no longer wished to convert others; it only saddened me when I saw that people believed I did not interfere with thier clownish behavior because I esteemed it as highly as they did. I was not willing actually to subject myself to their nonsense, but I tried to let it pass wherever I could. “It is all the pleasure they have,” I thought, “it is their life!”

Often I was even pleased to join in with them; yet, however apathetically and unspontaneously I made the effort, not one of them ever noticed, not one of them was aware of any lack in me, and had I asked them to excuse me, they would have stood there wondering and asked: “But what have you done to us?” What forbearance they showed! (p. 53)

There is a forgetting of all existence, a hush of our being, in which we feel as if we had found all.

There is a hush, a forgetting of all existence, in which we feel as if we had lost all, a night of our soul, in which no glimmer of any star nor even the fox fire from a rotting log gives us light.

I had become quiet. No longer did anything drive me from bed at midnight. No longer did I singe myself in my own flame.

Now I looked straight before me, alone and impassive, nor did my eyes roam over the past and the future. No longer now did far and near jostle together in my mind. Unless men forced me to see them, I saw them not.

Once this century lay before my mind’s eye like the eternally empty cask of the Danaïdes, and my soul poured itself out with prodigal love, to fill the void; now I saw no more void, now the ennui of life no longer oppressed me.

Never now did I say to the flower, “Thou art my sister,” and to the springs, “We are of one race.” Now, like an echo, I faithfully gave each thing its name.

Like a river past arid banks, where no willow leaf mirrors itself in the water, the world flowed past me untouched by beauty. (p. 54, 55)

What is all that men have done and thought over thousands of years, compared with one moment of love? But in all Nature, too, it is what is nearest to perfection, what is most divinely beautiful! Thither all stairs lead from the threshold of life. Thence we come, thither we go. (p. 68)

Her heart was at home among flowers (p. 69)

She was my Lethe, her soul my sacred Lethe, from which I drank forgetfulness of existence, so that I stood before her like an immortal and joyously rebuked myself and, as if after oppressive dreams, could not but smile at all the chains that had hung heavy on me.

Oh, I could have become a happy man, an admirable man with her!

With her! But that went wrong; and now I wander about in what is before me and in me, and on beyond, and know not what to make of myself and other things.

My soul is like a fish cast up out of its element on the sand of the beach, and it writhes and flings itself about until it dries up in the heat of the day.

Ah! were there but something left in the world for me to do! were there work for me, a war for me--that would refresh me!

Boys torn from their mother’s breasts and cast out into the wilderness were once, so they say, suckled by a she-wolf.

My heart is not so fortunate.

[new letter]

I can speak of her only fragmentarily--a word here, a word there. I have to forget what she is in her completeness if I am to speak of her at all. I have to trick myself into believing that she lived long, long ago, that I know only a little about her from hearsay, if her living image is not so to overwhelm me that I perish in rapture and woe, if I am not to die of delight in her and die of grief for her. (p. 72)

Oh, it is a strange mixture of bliss and melancholy when it becomes apparent to us that we are forever outside of ordinary existence. (p. 82)

Yes, man is a sun, all-seeing and all-illuminating, when he loves; loving not, he is a dark house in which a smoking lamp burns. (p. 87)

“what has the cold sublimity of philosophical knowledge, to do with poetry?” (p. 92,93)

“I have said it to you before: I need gods and men no longer. I know that Heaven is desolate, depopulated, and that Earth, which once overflowed with beautiful human life, is become almost like an anthill. But there is still a place where the old Heaven and the old Earth smile for me. For the gods of Heaven and the godlike men of the Earth--I forget them all in you.” (p. 99)

[S]peech is a great superfluity. The best is ever for itself, and rests in its own depth[.] (p. 130)

“But every human act finds its punishment at last; only gods and children are not smitten by Nemesis.” (p. 150)

“I shall be; I ask not what I shall be. To be, to live-- that is enough, that is the honor of the gods; and therefore all things that but have life are equal in the divine world, and in it there are no masters and servants. Natures live together, like lovers; they hold all in common, spirit, joy, and eternal youth.” (p. 159)

"To chase away flies is our work in the future; and to gnaw on the things of the world as children gnaw on the hard iris-root--that, in the end, is our pleasure. To grow old among young peoples seems to me a delight, but to grow old where all is old seems to me worse than anything." (p. 160)

“But it is not to the world as it was that I return. I am a stranger, like the unburied when they come up from Acheron, and if I were on my native island, in the gardens of my youth, which my father bars to me, ah! even then, even then I should be a stranger on earth, and no god would join me to the past again.”
“God! that I myself am nothing, and that the meanest workman can say he has done more than I! that they are free to solace themselves, the shallow of mind, and smile and mockingly call me dreamer, because my deeds did not ripen for me, because my arms are not free, be cause the time in which I live is like the raging Procrustes who, capturing me, put them in a child’s cradle and, to make them fit into that little bed, hacked off their limbs!” (p. 161)

[A]s I am now I have no names for things and all before me is uncertainty. (p. 162)
It is a hard saying, and yet I speak it because it is the truth: I can think of no people more at odds with themselves than the Germans. You see artisans, but no men, thinkers, but no men, priests but no men, masters ans servants, but no men, minors and adults, but no men--is this not like a battlefield on which hacked-off hands and arms and every other member lie pell-mell, while the life-blood flows from them to vanish in the sand?

Everyone follows his own trade, you will tell me, and I must say the same. Only, he must follow it with his whole soul, must not stifle every power in him that does not precisely accord with his official designation, must not, with this niggardly anxiety, literally and hypocritically be only what he is called; let him be what he is, earnestly, lovingly, then a spirit lives in all that he does; and if he is forced into an occupation in which the spirit may not live, let him cast it off with scorn and learn to plow! But your Germans choose not to go beyond the barest necessities, which is the reason why there is so much botched work among them and so little that is free, that gives any genuine pleasure. Yet that could be overlooked, were not such men of necessity insensitive to all comely living, did not the curse of godforsaken unnature everywhere line upon such a people.

“The virtues of the Ancients were but glittering vices,” was once said by some malicious tongue (I forget whose); and yet their vices themselves are virtues, for a childlike, beautiful spirit still lived in them, and of all that they did nothing was done without soul. But the virtues of the Germans are glittering vices and nothing more; for they are but forced labor, wrung from the sterile heart in craven fear, with the toil of slaves, and they impart no comfort to any pure soul that fain would draw its sustenance from Beauty, that, ah! made fastidious by the sacred harmony in noble natures, cannot bear the discord that cries out in all the dead order of these men.” (p. 164)

“Everything on earth is imperfect,” is the Germans’ old refrain. If only someone would once tell these people whom God has forsaken that everything is so imperfect among them only because they leave nothing pure uncorrupted, nothing sacred untouched, nothing sacred untouched by their course hands, that nothing thrives among them because they do not respect the root of all thriving, divine Nature, that life with them is stale and burdened with cares and too-too full of cold, silent discord, because they scorn the Genius, which brings power and nobility into human endeavor, and serenity into suffering, and love and brotherhood to towns and houses.

And that too is why they are so afraid of death and, for the sake of their molluscan existence, bear every indignity, for they know nothing higher than the bungling job that they have made of things.

O Bellarmin, where a people loves Beauty, where it honors the Genius in its own artists, there a common spirit is astir like the breath of life, there the shy mind opens, self-conceit melts away, and all hearts are reverent and great and enthusiasm brings forth heros. The home of all men is with such a people and gladly can the stranger linger there. But where divine Nature and her artists so insulted, ah! there life’s greatest joy is gone, and any other star is better than earth. There men grow ever more sterile, ever more empty, who yet were all born beautiful; servility increases and with its insolence, intoxication grows with troubles and, with luxury, hunger and dread of starvation; the blessing of each year becomes a curse, and all gods flee.

And alas for the stranger who journeys in love and comes to such a people, and alas and alas and alas again for him who comes to such a people as I cam, driven by great grief, a beggar as I was a beggar!-- (p. 166, 167)

what has the cold sublimity of philosophical knowledge, to do with poetry?

“Well and good!” someone interrupted me; “I understand this, but I do not see how this poetic and religious people also comes to be a philosophical people.”

“The fact is,” I answered, “that without poetry they would never have been a philosophical people!”

“What has philosophy,” he answered, “what has the cold sublimity of philosophical knowledge, to do with poetry?”

“Poetry,” I answered, confident of my argument, “is the beginning and the end of philosophical knowledge. Like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, philosophy springs from the poetry of an eternal, divine state of being. And so in philosophy too, the irreconcilable finally converges again in the mysterious spring of poetry.”

“What a man of paradoxes!” cried Diotima; “yet I divine him. But you two digress. We are talking of Athens.”

“The man,” I resumed, “who has not at least once in his life felt full, pure beauty in himself, when the powers of his being merged like the colors in the rainbow, who has never felt the profound harmony that arises among all things only in hours of exaltation--that man will not even be a philosophical skeptic, his mind is not even capable of tearing down, let alone building up. For, believe me, the sceptic finds contradiction and imperfection in all that is thought, because he knows the harmony of perfect beauty, which is never thought. The dry bread that human reason well-meaningly offers him, he disdains only because he is secretly feasting at the table of the gods.”

“I am close upon them,” I said, “The great saying, the [greek phrase] (the one differentiated in itself) of Heraclitus, could be found only by a Greek, for it is the very being of Beauty, and before that was found there was no philosophy.

“Now classification became possible, for the whole was there. The flower had ripened; now it could be dissected.

“The moment of beauty was now well known to men, it was there in life and thought, the infinitely one existed.

“It could be analyzed, taken apart in men’s minds, it could be reconstituted from its components, and so the being of the highest and the best could be increasingly known, and the knowledge of it be set up as the law in all the multifarious realms of the spirit."

from Hölderlin's Hyperion (p. 92,93)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

her heart was at home among flowers

Her heart was at home among flowers, as if itself were a flower.

She named them all by their names, or out of her love for them gave them new and more beautiful ones, she knew exactly which was the happiest season for each of them.

Like a sister when a dear brother or sister comes running to her from every corner, and each would be greeted first, so was her quiet being busy with hand and eye, blissfully distracted, when we walked to the meadows or the woods.

And all this was so utterly unaffected and uncalculated in her, it was so much a part of her own growth.

It is eternally true, it is visible everywhere: the more innocent, the more beautiful a soul is, the more familiarly will it live with those other happy beings to which men deny souls.

from Hyperion by Hölderlin
Perfect for my wife, a horticulturist.