Tuesday, July 7, 2009

on Hölderlin's trail...

I have this book:

Hymns and Fragments by Friedrich Hölderlin (Translated and Introduced by Richard Sieburth)

Occasionally over the years, I'll get it out and read some poems. Although I love to read well-written, informative introductions, I never got around to this one. It is quite long, and I suppose I just wanted to let the poems impact me in the raw, so to speak.

Well, last night I read the introduction, and it is fascinating. Now, I can “see” the poet behind the verse. Sieburth's exposition of Hölderlin's thematic conceptions and philosophical manias shined much-needed light for me.

I'm very slowly creeping up on Hölderlin and how his themes are couched in old and new myths. But what really stood out for me in that introduction is Hölderlin's creation of a new poetic language, a mixture of German and the ancient Greek. Some German words were modified, injected with subtle harmonics in order to capture the tensions and silences of old Greek saying.

He also consciously imported aspects of Pindar's line stresses and syntax. Hölderlin's stanzas teem with something very old, and because of that, something very new was brought to the West. Hölderlin was the first modern poet, anticipating our stark, imagistic free verse of the early 20th century. And some of his translations of Greek poetry are so precise in spirit, that something alien strikes the reader. Or if not alien, it at least startles us with the sense that we are somehow reading a Cubist painting. His excavation of parataxis (leaving out semantic connective tissue, so that nouns or phrases jamb up against one another) allows his translations – and I'm assuming his original works – to pulse and crescendo, echoing the ancient forms of verbal trance.

So...I found all of the above quite interesting. Now, I need to sink down into Hölderlin's poems themselves...to see if I can “get” him like I want to. And maybe even to catch a stray god out of the corner of my eye.

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