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08 February 2021


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David Habakkuk

Steven Willett,

I am sorry to hear that this is the last poem you intend to post here.

Having been very much taken up with trying to make sense of the way that events are now ‘escalating’, it seems to me with catastrophic possibilities which very many involved seem incapable of even beginning to attempt to comprehend, I have been unable to take time to ‘digest’ your translations of Hölderlin.

I do not think – correct me if I am wrong – you have posted a translation of ‘Der Rhein’.

It includes lines of which I have read various translations, and which seem to me of very great interest, not simply in their anticipations of catastrophes that did occur, but also of ones whose recurrence people seem to assume, for reasons that escape me, they have found ‘reliable’ means to prevent:

‘... jedoch ihr Gericht/ Ist, daß sein eigenes Haus / Zerbreche der und das Liebste/ Wie den Feind schelt und sich Vater und Kind/ Begrabe unter den Trümmern,/ Wenn einer, wie sie, sein will und nicht / Ungleiches dulden, der Schwärmer.’

These need to be read in the context of the full poem. For the German text. and a readily available attempt at ‘rendering’ it into English, see


This translation is clearly a lot less than perfect, but then it is in the nature of this poem that it is even more difficult than it usually is with poetry to give a sense of the ‘music’ in a language different from the one in which it was written.

I have been struck by parallels between this ‘vision of apocalypse’ and others: including the dream Raskolnikov dreams in the ‘penal colony’, in Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, and the speech of Ulysses on ‘degree’ in Shakespeare’s ‘Troilus and Cressida.’

Of these, the most unambiguously secular is the last, which clearly reflects its author’s bitterness, and disgust – including self–disgust – following the ‘shipwreck’ of the hopes he. and so many others, had put in the ‘republican’ project of his patron, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

How far these arguments can, and should, be ‘translated’ into purely secular terms is I think an interesting question.


pity I enjoyed this last one.inspires to try something in the same vein.

I will give it a send off with this one.

Journey's end

Fair sailing my friend the wind at your back
The southern stars to guide as you tack
May your journey take you far and wide
Think of me by your side

The time has come to go our separate ways
A new path lies ahead for us this day
Fond memories of laughter and wonder
Of roaring rivers and rolling thunder

For friendships born on the road
Those that lighten a heavy load
Are precious strands in the tapestry of life
That cannot be cut by the sharpest knife.

English Outsider

I hope "until we meet again" means just that. I liked the posts so much.


I am also sorry to see the end of the poetry. Every one of these selections took us to other times and worlds. Mr. Willett spent many hours learning multiple languages and about translation and poetry to bring these poems to us. When I think of the talent required to produce them -- from both the original authors and Mr. Willett -- I feel overwhelmed with admiration. I just wish I knew more about history and poetry myself, so I would have been better able to truly appreciate them. Thank you.

Ishmael Zechariah

I am also sorry to hear that you are leaving. Your posts were nice reminders of the beauty and relevance of classics.
Ishmael Zechariah


Thank you for posting. Always good to read interesting , thought provoking work like this.

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