The six poems selected here cover almost all of Hölderlin’s creative activity, from the first epigrammatic odes (The Good Belief) to the unfinished elegies and the final poems of madness (The Lines of Life).
The extreme melodies illustrate the hope – of love or eternal peace: they make hear a consonant harmony, essentially based on major thirds. The central melodies, mixing fullness and anguish, life and death, hope and tension, are more complex, more contrasted and more unstable. The title, Lebenslauf (the title of both the fifth melody and the entire cycle), sums up the general idea that links these melodies together: the course of life, from the simplicity of childhood to that of madness. “The only mystery in which we live and which we can imbue with thought,” wrote Hölderlin, “is the very march of things, spring and winter, youth and old age, life and death, happiness and pain, the time that passes and the idea that remains.”
Lebenslauf was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture. The work was written in 1992, for the Ensemble Alternance, to whom it is dedicated.
I. The right belief
O beautiful life, you lie, sick; to weep,
My heart is exhausted, fear in me spreads its twilight. Yet, yet I cannot believe
That you may die, as long as you love.
II. Ages of life
You, cities of the Euphrates!
And you, streets of Palmyra!
Forests of columns in the immensity of the desert,
What have you become?
Because you have transgressed
The limits of the breathing beings,
The clouds and the lightning of the Immortals
Have taken away your crowns.
But here I am, sitting under the clouds
(each of which enjoys its own rest),
Among the oaks in beautiful order,
On the heath of the roe,
And they are strangers to me and dead,
The blessed spirits.
III. Middle of life
Loaded with golden pears
And all in bloom with wild roses,
The landscape overlooks the lake;
0 you, swans full of grace,
Intoxicated with kisses,
You plunge your head
In the sober and sacred water.
But alas! where will I find
Flowers, when winter comes, and the dazzling sun
And the shadows of the earth?
The walls rise up,
Mute and frozen, and in the wind
The weathervanes creak.
…Thus do the starlings cry out for joy
When in the land of the olive trees, in the sweet foreign land,
In the valley where the sun burns, where the heart of the earth cracks,
They recognize their homeland…
But when the air seems to tear before them
And the north-east wind, with its bitter breath
Clears their eyes,
They fly away.
V. The course of life
My mind was running, but love bent it
And the pain, more powerfully bends it.
I travel thus all the orb of the life
And I return from where I came.
VI. The lines of life
The lines of the life are diverse
Like the paths and contours of the mountains. What we are here, a God there can complete
In peace, harmony and eternal Grace.