Wednesday 17 July 2019

Hölderlin: 'Hälfte des Lebens' (New Translation 2019)

For a decade or more, I have been wrestling with a translation of Hölderlin's 'Hälfte des Lebens'. If you go to this entry, you can see the workshop describing the process. One of the thorny issues is the German construction hängen + in + accusative, which implies both statis (the intransitive use of the verb) and movement (the use of the accusative). This has been analysed in various ways: Das Land hängt in den See (hinein)//Das Land hängt nur teilweise im See, etc.

I have tried 'Poised land becomes lake'. But cannot face looking at it. It feels wrong. Often the most obvious is right under one's nose. So I have taken that instead. What can never be captured is to let the word for 'hänget' hang at the end of the first line. That is sheer brilliance.


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.


With yellow pears full-laden
And covered with wild roses
Land hangs into lake,
You swans alluring,
And drunken with kisses
Dipping your heads
In sacredly sober water.

Ah me, where will I, when
The winter’s come, find flowers, and where
The sunshine and
The shadows of the earth?
The walls all stand
Speechless and cold, the wind-caught
Weather-vanes clatter.

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