Friday Australian poem – #NS3 — “After Hölderlin” by John Tranter


Moon over West Wollongong last night

So here is a poet the same age as I am whose work I have to admit I was slow to enter into. But this poem – and not only this one – I have really come to like. I cannot reprint the poem but you may read it here. A review of its first publication says:

Studio Moon includes poems written after Holderlin, Schiller, Rilke, Laforgue and Baudelaire, loose versions that set their beautiful reveries in a world like a Jeffrey Smart painting: hard-edged, slightly sinister and gleaming.

The collection opens with John Tranter’s After Holderlin, inspired by Holderlin’s poem, When I Was a Boy.

But where Holderlin’s poem praises the gods of meadow flowers and heaven’s breezes, Tranter’s version praises the consolations and illusions of the modern city: alcohol, old literature and films.

With this elegant and quizzical poem, he sets the tone for the whole collection, which maintains with fine poise its precarious balance of elegy and celebration…

On his amazing website John Tranter does offer:

Friedrich Hölderlin: Da ich ein Knabe war…

‘When I was a boy’

Da ich ein Knabe war,
Rettet’ ein Gott mich oft
Vom Geschrei und der Ruthe der Menschen,
Da spielt’ ich sicher und gut
Mit den Blumen des Hains,
Und die Lüftchen des Himmels
Spielten mit mir.

When I was a boy, one of the gods would often rescue me from the shouts and from the rods of men, and, safe in their kindness, I played among trees and flowers, and the breezes of heaven played with me.

Und wie du das Herz
Der Pflanzen erfreust,
Wenn sie entgegen dir
Die zarten Arme streken,

And as you make glad the hearts of plants when they stretch out to you with their delicate arms,

So hast du mein Herz erfreut
Vater Helios! und, wie Endymion,
War ich dein Liebling,
Heilige Luna!

So you made my heart glad, Father Helios, and like Endymion I was your favourite, Holy Moon.

Oh all ihr treuen
Freundlichen Götter!
Daß ihr wüßtet,
Wie euch meine Seele geliebt!

O all you kind and loyal gods! I wish you could know how my soul loved you then.

Zwar damals rieff ich noch nicht
Euch mit Nahmen, auch ihr
Nanntet mich nie, wie die Menschen sich nennen
Als kennten sie sich.

Even though when I evoked you then it was not yet with your names, and you never named me, as men use names as though they knew one another.

Doch kannt’ ich euch besser,
Als ich je die Menschen gekannt,
Ich verstand die Stille des Aethers
Der Menschen Worte verstand ich nie.

I knew you better than I have ever known men. I understood the silence of high heaven, but never the words of men.

Mich erzog der Wohllaut
Des säuselnden Hains
Und lieben lernt’ ich
Unter den Blumen.

The breezes singing in the trees were my teachers, and I learned to love among the flowers.

Im Arme der Götter wuchs ich groß.

I grew up in the arms of the gods.

Do go and read Tranter’s version to see in the arms of what gods the persona in his poem grew up. I love it!

1956, advert, Eldorado, ice cream, food, sepia photo, cinema