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Translator's Note: In Lovely Blue


My translation is based on the opening verses of a longer poem whose authenticity has been disputed, though Heidegger lists the poem as a central work in Hölderlin's oeuvre. A prose version of the text was first published by a university student, Wilhelm Waiblinger, who made regular visits to the poet over a four year period (1822-26) and claims to have transcribed it from Hölderlin's scattered writings. Waiblinger believed that "In Lovely Blue" was a stark reflection of the poet's insanity, and he included the prose text in his novel, Phaeton (1823). Alhough Waiblinger asserted that the original form of the work was modeled on Pindar's odes, he did not provide any lines in versified form.

Hence what we know of "In Lovely Blue" may be only a shadow of the poem that Hölderlin composed; yet the poet's unique voice, his linguistic DNA, seems irreducibly present in Waiblinger's beautiful prose transcription (or paraphrase). The words and phrases themselves, and especially the nouns in their simple, lucid, numinous rightness, seem vestiges of those vanished original verses. And if the tone of voice in which the poem was meant to be heard can still be heard through the scrim of prose, the provisional text may suggest the buried rhythms of lines alive with the secret of their lost felicities.

Because of the considerable textual uncertainty surrounding Waiblinger's version, I felt it presented an opportunity to translate more freely—but only insofar as to reinforce, in verse, what I felt were its prose strengths. Rather than attempt to replicate the rhythmical intricacies and rhetorical sonorities of the Pindaric ode form that Hölderlin favored, I chose to set my version in tetrameter tercets because I felt I could hear the poem, as a poem in English, better in this construction. The stanza-frame allowed me to isolate and focus the stream of Hölderlin's densely lucid perceptions, but also served to enact the nervous energies of a mind whose profound expansiveness surges against containment. I tried to keep the iambic tetrameter as close as I could to the cadences of spoken speech, but taut enough to sustain those sudden dilations of visionary power and childlike wonder I often encountered while reading "In Lovely Blue."—GK


This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2009

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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