Friday, December 19, 2008

two halves of life...

holderlin's halfte des lebensholderlin's the half of life

the original german and english translation of friedrich holderlin's poem - halfte des lebens / the half of life, from "some poems by friedrich holderlin, published by new directions in 1943, and translation by frederic prokosch. this copy belonged to a poet who underlined and re-translated or corrected several of the poems, such as this one.

in the german original he circled the word "wo", which i'm guessing from the translation means "where". the strange thing is that the word "und" which means "and" is actually missing from the english, but that word is not circled.

as the english poem begins with the word laden, the english version of this particular poem is also laden, but with corrections rather than pears. in the third line the word "lies" is crossed out, and indeed it seems it does not exist in the german original, but was added by the translator.

in the fourth line the word "beautiful" is crossed out, but in german it says "ihr holden schwane", which google translate tells me means:"sweet her swans". next he moves the word "you" down from line five to six, and the words "in the" down from line six to line seven. in line seven, he also crosses out the words "saintly sobering", and ignores the german "ins heilignuchterne" completely.(which google translates as "into heilignuchterne").

in the bottom half he also makes a number of changes, most interesting is the repairing of the line "the light of the sun" back to the original form in german of "sonnenschein" which i assume means sunlight or sunshine; and lastly the deletion of the word "banners" and replacing it with the words "weather vanes" - which clatter more than banners anyways.

in all of this it's quite wonderful to see the original german, and to be able to compare it to the final printed translation, and then to see the poet reading and thinking and shifting things one more level to bring them closer to the german orginal's intentions - as if things had gotten lost in the first translation and found in the second...

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Blogger ArtSparker said...

heilig = holy, but can't say about nuchterne. Saw a film bio of Holderlin made in East Germany with the actor who was the Stasi spy if the Lives of Others ( a film I had some reservations about).

9:52 PM  
Blogger Bent said...

Nüchtern (don't forget the Umlaut) means sober. Hölderlin's neologism 'holy-sober' is well covered by 'saintly sobering' which is a little free, but within bounds. In all, the second poet's amendments are not improvements but a return to literalism. My only beef with the translator's original is that 'laden' is too pompous, and that 'dip' for 'tunkt' is a bit weak.

Hung with golden pears
and full of wild roses
is the land in the sea.
Your stately swans,
drunk with kisses,
dunk their heads
in the holy, sobering water.

Alas, where shall I take, when
winter comes, flowers,
and shades of the Earth?
The walls stand,
speechless and cold, in the wind
the banners rattle.

6:44 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

thanks bent for your thoughts. (and yes, i have no idea how to get an umlaut so they are never here unless i cut and paste text from somewhere else...). i think what's interesting is the dance between the two translations. i like how much of each approach you can feel in just one small poem - even myself who speaks almost no german. you can kind of feel their thinking and responses. i have always been interested in the subjective aspect of translation and that strange space between absolute respect and inserting oneself. i also think i like your own version better than either of the others. thanks.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Bent said...

I like your image there: the dance between the translations. I have experienced the same thing with a Rilke poem, which I thought all English versions failed to catch, but each one still contributed something to.

I'm glad you liked my translation, though! See my little blog for more on this and other poetry matters: Lumpy Pudding...

11:39 AM  
Blogger erik heywood said...

Just bought this translation of some of Holderlin's poems from the San Francisco Public Library booksale section. I think the translations are wonderful, but I must admit, I think I like Brent's better as well. Thanks to both of you!

4:36 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

heilignuchterne whne put straight into google comes up alot - especially as two words. And as Bent said, is a neologism. Here is one interesting quote
"... Hölderlin's concept of the unity of antagonistic dispositions, for example the paradoxical constellation of the sacred/sobriety (das `heilig nüchterne')."
Why the retranslator avoided it is an interesting question.

6:54 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

it's nice to see how much discussion can surround such things. appreciate all your thoughts. bent, i'll link your blog to mine, it's chock full of goodness.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Bent said...

Thanks to those who liked the transl., and to our host for promising a blog link to Lumpy Pud! In case anyone wants to see my more visually oriented work, just follow the link to Ordinary Finds...

2:51 AM  

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