Monday, June 3, 2019

What Are Poets For?

wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?

                               But meanwhile too often I think it's
    Better to sleep than to be friendless as we are, alone,
Always waiting, and what to do or say in the meantime
    I don't know, and who wants poets at all in lean years?

-- “Bread and Wine,” Friedrich Hölderlin (trans. Michael Hamburger)

 Albert Hofstadter, in his marvelous translation of Martin Heidegger's 1946 essay “What Are Poets For?” renders Hölderlin's phrase “wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?” as “what are poets for in a destitute time?” and I think that is better than Hamburger's “lean years." For sure, it is closer to Heidegger's reading of the poem, which is what Hofstadter is after.

Halfway through the essay, Heidegger veers close to an answer. Anyone might have written what he writes here, but he has just spent twenty-five pages in meticulous argumentation to build the terms of what he will say (and this is followed by twenty-five more pages of equally careful work in explanation). That is, Heidegger earns it. 

From Hofstadter's translation in Poetry Language Thought: 

This day is the world's night, rearranged into merely technological day. This day is the shortest day. It threatens a single endless winter. Not only does protection now withhold itself from man, but the integralness of of the whole of what is remains now in darkness. The wholesome and sound withdraws. The world becomes without healing, unholy. Not only does the holy, as the track to the godhead, thereby remain concealed; even the track to the holy, the hale and whole, seems to be effaced. That is, unless there are still some mortals capable of seeing the threat of the unhealable, the unholy, as such. They would have to discern the danger that is assailing man. The danger consists in the threat that assaults man's nature in his relation to Being itself, and not in accidental perils. This danger is the danger. It conceals itself in the abyss that underlies all things. To see this danger and point it out, there must be mortals who reach sooner into the abyss. 

 But where there is danger, there grows also what saves.
 – Friedrich Hölderlin

1 comment:

  1. Holderlin sicuramente uno dei più grandi della letteratura, ho letto con molto piacere le tue poesie, un saluto.