While Visions of Sugar Plums Danced. . .

While Visions of Sugar Plums Danced. . .

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bread and Wine (a poem)

"Bread and Wine" by Friedrich Holderlin (part 7)

"I don't believe you have any notion of the pleasure that the arrival of the fourth volume of Höölderlin's collected works provided me. I had been waiting for it so long and so eagerly (you see, I had ordered the collected works in August(!) at a bookstore). Because of my excitement, I was almost incapable of doing anything else the entire day. I am now eagerly awaiting the sixth volume. After reading the Reich fragments, I must presume the sixth volume is also inordinately valuable. Another factor is that, at the moment, I need the broadest base imaginable for coming to terms with Höölderlin."

---Walter Benjamin, Letter to Gershom Scholem, December 23, 1917.

See Scott Thompson's chronology of Holderlin's life. 

Here is part 7 of Holderlin's major poem "Bread and Wine":

But my friend, we have come too late. True, the gods are still alive
But somewhere high above us, in another world.
There they repeat themselves eternally, and don’t give a damn
If we live or die, so little do they care about us.
For a weak vessel cannot contain them. Only from time to time
Can humans bear the fullness of the gods. And therefore,
The life we know is a dream about them. But confusion
And sleep assist us, sorrow and night make us strong,
And soon heroes enough will emerge from the warlord’s cradle,
With hearts rivaling a god’s in courage.
In the meantime, I believe it is better to sleep than to live 
Without friends, waiting without hope, not knowing the right
Thing to say or do -- and what, after all, is the use
And purpose of poets in an age of darkness?
Yet you say they are like the priests of the wine god,
Moving from place to place in the sacred night.

–- translated by David Lehman

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