Volume 39 of The German Library is an anthology of poetry from 1750 to 1900 and the table of contents promises translations of poetry from Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Brentano, Heine, and Nietzsche, just to name a few. Michael Hamburger, in his Foreword to this edition, writes about the impossibility of stylistically categorizing such a vast scope of literature that encompasses “the most various and contradictory developments.” Looking through the contents of such a book is intimidating and overwhelming, especially for someone like myself who is in no way an expert on German literature and poetry. I decided to just dive into the poems to see which ones might capture my fancy without too much analysis and I was not disappointed with the selections.
I had originally bought the volume to get a taste of the writings of Clemens Brentano who had a close relationship with Karoline von Günderrode. Although I enjoyed Brentano’s poetry, it was actually that of Hölderlin that I found the most pleasing. I wouldn’t dare try to analyze this author’s poetry, even the few selections in this volume, but I will share one poem that especially resonated with me:
Before his shaded threshold the plowman sits,
Contented; smoke ascends from the warming hearth.
A welcome rings to wanderers from
Evening bells in the peaceful village
The sailors must be coming to port now, too,
In distant cities; gaily the market’s noise
Recedes, is still; in quiet arbors
Friends take their meals in convivial splendor.
And where am I to go? Other mortals live
From pay and labor, alternate work and rest,
And all is joyful; why does only
My heart not rest, with its constant stinging?
A spring-like garden blooms in the evening sky,
The countless roses bloom, and peaceful seems
The golden world; O take me with you,
Lavender clouds, and up there then may in
The light and air my bliss and my grief dissolve!—
But as if frightened off by my foolish plea,
The spell is gone; it’s dark and lonely
Under the heavens I stand, as always.
So come to me, soft slumber; my heart has wished
Too much; but someday, youth, you will lose your glow,
You restless youth, forever dreaming.
Peaceful and cheerful are the aged.
(trans. Kenneth Negus)