More than a year ago, I wrote a post about Holderlin’s “Hyperion”. Today I revisit the great German poet, and present his poem “In lovely blue”. I have added some pictures to the words. In addition, there are explicary notes to the poem and the pictures. All of them are at the end of the post.
In Lovely Blue
by Friedrich Hölderlin
(Translated by Glenn Wallis)
In lovely blue blooms the steeple with its metal
roof. Around the roof swirls the swallows’ cry,
surrounded by most touching blue. The sun rises high
above and tints the roof tin. But in the wind beyond, silently,
a weathercock crows. When someone comes forth from
the stairs of the belfry, it is a still life. And though the form
is so utterly strange, it becomes the figure of a
human being. The windows out of which the bells resound are as
gates to beauty. Because gates still take after nature
they resemble forest trees. Purity, too, is beauty. From within, out
of diverse things, a grave spirit emerges. So simple,
these images, so holy, that one often fears
to describe them. But the heavenly ones, always
good, possess, even more than the wealthy, virtue and
joy. Humans may follow suit. Might a person, when
life is full of trouble, look up and say: I, too,
want to be like this? Yes. As long as friendliness and purity
dwell in our hearts, we may measure ourselves not unfavorably
with the divine. Is God unknown? Is he manifest
as the sky?(a) This I tend to believe. It is the measure
of the human. Deserving, yet poetically, we dwell
on this earth (b). The shadow of night with its stars,
if I may say so, is no purer than we
who exist in the image of the divine (c).
Is there measure on earth? There is none. (d) For
the creator’s worlds can never contain the clap of thunder.
Because it blooms under the sun, a flower, too, is beautiful.
In life, the eye often finds creatures to call more beautiful
still than flowers. Oh! I know this well!
For to bleed in body and heart and cease to be whole—
does this please God? The soul, I believe, must remain
pure, or else the eagle will wing its way to the almighty
with songs of praise and the voice of so many
birds. It is substance and it is form. Beautiful little
brook, so touching you seem as you roll so clear,
like the eye of God, through the Milky Way. I know
you well. But tears stream from my eyes. A clear
life I see in the forms of creation that blooms around me
because I do not compare them unreasonably with the lonely pigeons
in the churchyard. People’s laughter seems
to grieve me—after all, I have a heart. Would I
like to be a comet? I believe so. For they have the quickness
of birds, they blossom in fire, and in their purity is as children’s.
To wish for more is beyond the measure of human nature.
The clarity of virtue also deserves praise from the grave
spirit that blows between the garden’s three pillars. A beautiful virgin must
garland her head with myrtle, for to do so is simply
her nature and her sensibility. But myrtle trees are found in Greece.
When a person looks into a mirror and sees
his image, as if painted, that is like the Manes.
The human form has eyes, but the moon has light.
Perhaps King Oedipus (e) had an eye too many. This
man’s suffering seems indescribable, unspeakable,
inexpressible. When the drama presents it so, so it is. But how is it with me?
Am I thinking now of your suffering? Like brooks, the end of
Something as vast as Asia is carrying me toward it. Oedipus, of course, suffered like this, too;
and certainly for the same reason. Did Hercules suffer as well? Of course.
Did not the Dioscuri, too, in their friendship bear pain?
As Hercules fought with God—that is
suffering. And immortality in envy of this life—
to divide these two—that, too, is suffering. But it is also
suffering when a person is covered with freckles—
to be completely covered with freckles! The beautiful
sun does that, for it draws out everything. The path
seduces the young with the charm of its rays, like roses.
Oedipus’s suffering is like a poor man
wailing that he is deprived. Son Laios, poor
stranger in Greece. Life is death, and
death is also a life.
Notes to the poem
(a) Note that in German, Sky is Himmel, which also stands for Heaven.
(b) This is the phrase that Heidegger used in his essay “…poetically man dwells…”.
(c) Book of Genesis, Chapter 1 verse 26: ‘And God said: Let us make man in our image’.
(d) Holderlin seems to imply that only in the heavenly skies one can find measure, therefore introducing a metaphysical element in the poem. Werner Marx, who was the professor who took Heidegger’s teaching post at the University of Freiburg, wrote a book with the same question in its title, and “Foundations for a nonmetaphysical ethics” as its subtitle.
(e) Holderlin translated Sophocles’ tragedies Oedipus and Antigone. These translations are significant interprpetations of the works.
Notes accompanying the pictures
(1) Note to Yves Klein’s painting: Monochrome abstraction—the use of one color over an entire canvas—has been a strategy adopted by many painters wishing to challenge expectations of what an image can and should represent. Klein likened monochrome painting to an “open window to freedom.” He worked with a chemist to develop his own particular brand of blue. Made from pure color pigment and a binding medium, it is called International Klein Blue. Klein adopted this hue as a means of evoking the immateriality and boundlessness of his own particular utopian vision of the world.(Source: MOMA)
(2) Question: On the other hand, perhaps it is Friedrich Holderlin who has organized you? Why is Friedrich Holderlin ‘Kommando’, rather than, e.g., ‘Muse’?