Skip Rhudy

aviation, travel, books

Recently browsing the New Direction’s author list, I saw a title by Nathanial Tarn, The Hölderliniae. This attracted me immediately, since my early encounter with Friedrich Hölderlin when I was still in the earlier stages of learning German had been quite challenging. There is a special density to his poetry, his unregulated meter, and no particular dedication to rhyme; his syntactic playfulness upsets expectation when reading: You have to go back and read that line above again to understand its relation to the next line. Sometimes that causes you to reset your idea of what the line meant in the first place. I quote Tarn:

It took a hundred years for Hölderlin to be recognized not only as a great, perhaps the greatest German poet but as the First Modern Poet to many cultures in the twentieth century and beyond.
— The Hölderliniae, Introduction p. 11

Mid-1980s translations by Sieburth and mid-1990s by Constantine are getting some attention. Back when I was spending more time translating in the late 1980s and early 1990s I began trying to represent his poetry in English. A former professor of mine, Christopher Middleton, put his considerable poetic talents to the task. Tarn notes that his own translations in his book are insignificant to those of Michael Hamburger, Christopher Middleton, Richard Sieburth, and David Constantine. I have yet to review Hamburger, Sieburth, or Constantine’s efforts; but have got Selected Poems and Letters by Middleton in hand. I studied under Christopher Middleton at UT, when I was translating Wolfgang Hilbig’s Die Weiber as part of my Masters thesis 1989 to 1991. Looking at Middleton’s version of Hyperions Schiksaalslied prompted me to attempt a different version. I provide a side-by-side. The greatest challenge is phrasing and accuracy of meaning combined with mimicking the very clear elegance of the original German. An exercise offered up in honor of a professor now departed, hopefully not angering his spirit: