No Comment — September 5, 2007, 12:02 am

Hofmannsthal’s ‘On the Transitory: I-IV’

Poems in Terza Rima

I
On the Transitory

I still feel her breath upon my cheeks
How can it be, that these close days
Are gone, gone for ever, completely passed?

This is a matter that no one fully comprehends,
And it’s far too grim for any complaint:
That everything slips and passes away.

And that my own Ego, limited by nothing,
Slips away from a small child
To me unearthly silent and alien like a dog.

Then: I existed a hundred years ago
And my ancestors, those in the shroud,
Are as related with me as my own hair.

Are as one with me as my own hair.

II
The hours! In which we stared into
The pale blue of the sea and understood death,
So simply and festively and without dread,

Like small girls, who appear very pale,
With big eyes, and who are always chilly
Silently gazing out into the evening

And know that life is silently flowing out
From their limps drunk with sleep
Into trees and grass garnished with faint smiles

Like a saint who pours out her blood.

III
We are made of the stuff of dreams,
And thus dreams open their eyes
Like small children under the cherry trees,

From whose crown the pale golden course
Of the full moon lifts up through the great night.
…Not otherwise appear our dreams,

They are there and live as a child, that laughs,
No less large in floating up and down
Than the full moon is, awakened by the crown of trees.

The innermost is open to her weavings;
Like the hands of ghosts in a locked room
They are within us and always have life.

And the three are One: a human, a thing and a dream.

IV
On occasion never-loved women appear
Before us in a dream as small girls
And are unspeakably touching to behold.

As if they had accompanied us on a distant path
Once on an evening
While the tree-tops moved, breathing

And scent descended, and night, and fear
And along the path, our path, the dark one,
By the evening’s light the silent ponds are resplendent

And, mirror of our desire, in dreamlike flashes,
And all softly-spoken words, all breezes
Of the evening air and the first starlight

The souls quake deeply and sisterly
And are sad and filled with the jostle of triumph
In the face of deep apprehension, which the great life

Comprehends, with its magnificence and strength.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Terzinen I-IV: Über Vergänglichkeit (1894) (S.H. transl.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
“Here, a long finger of snow replaced by gray patches of dirt and rock; there, a grayish blob of ice the texture of corduroy, where once a vibrant white patch of snow lay.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans

Number of British women killed last fall by lightning conducted through their underwire bras:

2

British women wear heels for fifty-one years on average, from the ages of twelve to sixty-three.

Thousands of employees of McDonald’s protested outside the company’s headquarters near Chicago, demanding their wages be increased to $15 per hour. “I can’t afford any shoes,” said one employee in attendance, “and I want Versace heels.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today