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Manche freilich müssen drunten sterben
wo die schweren Ruder der Schiffe streifen,
andere wohnen bei dem Steuer droben,
kennen Vogelflug und die Länder der Sterne.
Manche liegen mit immer schweren Gliedern
bei den Wurzeln des verworrenen Lebens,
anderen sind die Stühle gerichtet
bei den Sibyllen, den Königinnen,
und da sitzen sie wie zu Hause,
leichten Hauptes und leichter Hände.
Doch ein Schatten fällt von jenen Leben
in die anderen Leben hinüber,
und die leichten sind an die schweren
wie an Luft und Erde gebunden.
Ganz vergessener Völker Müdigkeiten
kann ich nicht abtun von meinen Lidern,
noch weghalten von der erschrockenen Seele
stummes Niederfallen ferner Sterne.
Viele Geschicke weben neben dem meinen,
durcheinander spielt sie all das Dasein,
und mein Teil ist mehr als dieses Lebens
schlanke Flamme oder schmale Leier.
Many will of course have to die down there
Where the heavy oars of the ships sweep
Others reside above near the helm
Aware of the migration of the birds and the lands of the stars.
Many lie always with heavy limbs
At the roots of a life intertwined,
Others have seats prepared for them
With the sibyls, the queens,
And sit there as if at home,
With a giddy head and light hands.
But a shadow falls from those lives
Across and into the others’ lives,
And the light are bound to the heavy
As the air is bound to the earth.
The weariness of peoples quite forgotten
I cannot banish from my eyelids,
Neither can I keep away from my terrified soul
The silent descent of distant stars.
Many fates weave alongside my own,
All are interconnected by a common existence
And my part is more than simply this life’s
Slender flame or narrow lyre.
–Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Manche freilich. . . (1895-96) in: Ausgewählte Werke in zwei Bänden, vol. 1, p. 22 (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“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.”