Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ballad of the Outer Life

I know, I know…I still need to finish Trollope, Thucydides awaits in the wings, but for some reason Vienna keeps calling me. I ran across a used copy of Fin-de-Siécle Vienna: Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske and after browsing a few pages on Hugo von Hofmannsthal I had to buy it. Now if I can only keep it aside for a few months until I finish the other books. Before then, though, I wanted to share the hauntingly beautiful poem of his I found:

Ballad of the Outer Life

And children grow with deeply wondering eyes
That know of nothing, grow a while and die,
And every one of us goes his own way.

And bitter fruit will sweeten by and by
And like dead birds come hurtling down at night
And for a few days fester where they lie.

And always the wind blows, and we recite
And hear again the phrases thin with wear
And in our limbs feel languour or delight.

And roads run through the grass, and here and there
Are places full of lights and pools and trees,
And some are threatening, some are cold and bare ...

To what end were they built? With differences
No less innumerable than their names?
Why laughter now, now weeping or disease?

What does it profit us, and all these games,
Who, great and lonely ever shall be so
And though we always wander seek no aims?

To see such things do travelers leave their homes?
Yet he says much who utters "evening,"
A word from which grave thought and sadness flow

Like rich dark honey from the hollow combs.

(translation by Michael Hamburger)


Gardenbug said...

My father's last communication with me was a translation he made of this poem. It is a hard poem to be left with...

Dwight said...

I can only's haunting enough as it is.