Monday, May 20, 2013

To the Fates

To the Fates

 by Friedrich Holderlin 

Give me just one summer, stark sisters,

     One more autumn to ripen my song.

          Then I’ll gladly die, my heart filled

   With that sweet music.

The soul, which never had its godly rights

     In life, won’t find peace either.

          When just once the sacred lies down

  In my heart, the poem will find perfection.

Then I will welcome the world

     Of silence and shadows and happily leave

          My song behind—once you’ve lived

  Like the gods, what else is there?

Even though his poetry was not widely celebrated in his lifetime, and he suffered from mental illness for half of his life, Friedrich Holderlin has come to be considered one of the great poets of European and world literature. Because of his complex syntax and themes and his influence on many subsequent great poets like Rilke, Paul Celan and philosophers like Benjamin, Derrida, Adorno and Heidegger. His  fame now outstrips Goethe and Schiller as the valued poet of the Period. Considered one of the founders of European romanticism, Hölderlin had a mere 10 years to develop his distinctive style before falling prey to a debilitating mental illness, whose resultant works are the heartrendingly sweet and melancholy "The last poems". The below one comes from that phase.

I love this poem as I have always thought one must experience  the taste of divinity, something that sanctifies our existence,  in this world and not in the one above. This poem fervently echoes my belief.

A basic attitude of faith is the prerequisite for poetry, in the sense that the poet must acknowledge the existence of something higher than man. "To the Fates" is a wonderful poem that suggests the necessity of faith, for the poet is addressing the Fates (Stark sisters) as deities who are capable of governing . In three strophes of four lines each Holderlin compressed a great deal of his own struggle to deserve the role of the poet. He begins by pleading with the Fates for one more summer and one more autumn in which to perfect his poetry, that he may die fulfilled. The urgency of his plea is underscored in the second strophe , where the poet explains that a soul must receive its divine justice in life, for the afterlife will offer no second chance.

The conclusion expresses Holderlin's deepest conviction concerning the poet's calling that once he succeeds in bringing forth his sublime song, nothing else is needed as he will have lived like Gods then. The linkage that cannot be overlooked here is between the divine nature of poetry and the divine nature of the poet's life if only the Fates permit to ripen to perfection.

From: Selected Poems of Friedrich Holderlin 
Maxine Chernoff (Translator), Paul Hoover (Translator)