“Christopher Middleton is an extraordinary translator, bringing his fine poet’s ear and inventiveness to the task. In addition to the brilliant versions, this volume offers Middleton’s essays on the poet and a selection from Hölderlin’s letters – a great gift to us all.”
“This is an extraordinarily rich and powerful selected assemblage of Hölderlin’s writings – poems and also letters – bilingual and translated with intense inwardness, situated by accompanying commentary and discussion in both the historical contingency of the poet’s Lebenswelt and at the same time in his passional spirit-thinking as it evolves and informs his poetical experiments. There have been many previous versions into English of the most celebrated of these poems, but these here come unmistakably from the imaginative intelligence of another strenuously original poet, at exceedingly close connection with Hölderlin’s wrestle with language, its upward reach into the fleeting semi-permanence of the divine presences and its probing downwards into the Germanistic roots of a language-culture at this time in historical and political turbulence. Middleton’s full and thoroughgoing Introduction pre-empts earlier (and later) translation dalliance with spirit-fancy by his rigorous and persistent precision.
As example, the development of ‘Andenken’ (Remembrance) (approx. 1803) is deeply investigated. The notorious final line is ‘Was bleibet aber, stiften die Dichter,’ given here as ‘What abides, even then, the poets ordain it.’ In his 1972 version ‘aber’ was given as ‘But [poets] alone…’; Hamburger in 1943 (1943!) had written ‘But that which endures the poets give,’ then in 1966 ‘But what is lasting the poets provide’ – each honourably careful and slightly clumsy; not to mention Leishman in 1944: ‘What the poets bestow remains.’ Middleton’s radical and even drastic ‘even then,’ held in suspensive parentheses, is part of his project to ‘track the syntactical design of “Andenken”’ (p. 198); after brilliant exegesis he will not merely write but, recognising that ‘aber voices resistance’ (p. 222) and concluding with a further appositional pronoun-object, ‘it’; poet’s workmanship!”
—J. H. Prynne (Cambridge, September 28, 2018)