Poetry and Life: “Stufen”

I’ve recently been looking for new bands which catch my ear and speak to my heart. I love post-rock, and it’s a genre that’s difficult to wade through, in the sense that there are a lot of bands that sound similar within separate subsets of the genre, and if you like one style, you may only have a few other bands that really speak to you, but finding them may take listening through a lot of other stuff. What can I say? I’m a bit picky.

In any case, I found a German band, Frames, yesterday, and was impressed with their album, “In Via”. The second song blew me away with a sampling of a poem by Hermann Hesse, in which he’s reading his “Stufen”, which I had not run across previously. Furthermore, this poem is amazingly apropos for me, as it speaks of how every stage of life is transitory and how we must go through them with an open heart of joy. Even in death, there are further possibilities for ourselves and for the rest of the world.

Here is a link to a site with both the poem and the full recording of Hesse’s reading. I’m providing the poem here with my own attempt at an English translation, which I love to do but have not had the chance to in some time. If you’re interested in just the English, scroll down to it.


Original German:

Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend
Dem Alter weicht, blüht jede Lebensstufe,
Blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend
Zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern.
Es muß das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe
Bereit zum Abschied sein und Neubeginne,
Um sich in Tapferkeit und ohne Trauern
In andre, neue Bindungen zu geben.
Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.

Wir sollen heiter Raum um Raum durchschreiten,
An keinem wie an einer Heimat hängen,
Der Weltgeist will nicht fesseln uns und engen,
Er will uns Stuf´ um Stufe heben, weiten.
Kaum sind wir heimisch einem Lebenskreise
Und traulich eingewohnt, so droht Erschlaffen;
Nur wer bereit zu Aufbruch ist und Reise,
Mag lähmender Gewöhnung sich entraffen.

Es wird vielleicht auch noch die Todesstunde
Uns neuen Räumen jung entgegen senden,
Des Lebens Ruf an uns wird niemals enden,
Wohlan denn Herz, nimm Abschied und gesunde!


My attempt at an English translation:

As every blossom withers and every youth
Subsides with age, blossoms every lifestage,
Blossoms every wisdom and also every virtue
In its time and cannot last forever.
The heart, with life’s every call,
Must be ready for the farewell and a fresh start,
In order to give itself to other, new connections
With mettle and without mourning.
And magic resides within every outset,
Which protects us and helps us live.

We should buoyantly stride through one space to another,
Hanging onto none as a homeland,
The World-Spirit* does not want to shackle and narrow us,
It wants to lift us from stage to stage, to broaden us.
Barely have we gotten accustomed in a circle of life,
And cozily settled, before enervation threatens;
Only those ready for departure and journey,
May escape paralyzing habituation.

Even the final hour will perhaps
Send us freshly towards new spaces,
Life’s call to us will never end,
Now then, Heart, take leave with health!

SONY DSC

Note: “Stufen” is more literally translated as “Steps”. In the poem, it makes more sense as “stages”.

* – Note: The “World-Spirit” is a concept from Hegel’s philosophy about the development of the universe’s consciousness (to put it as simply, and perhaps, overly ham-handedly as possible).


May this poem inspire others in making sense of the changes in life.

Gassho!

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 5amt3n
    May 09, 2018 @ 14:10:30

    What an incredible poem on impermanence! I’m so glad that you took the time to translate and share it with us. It never ceases to amaze me when the “World Spirit”, through some medium, in this case you with your wonderful translation effort of Hesse’s poem, brings into my awareness a reminder just as I need it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • zeuslyone
      May 09, 2018 @ 16:14:18

      You’re most welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed this poem as much as I did. It struck me and left me shaken with its timeliness — just when I needed it, like you. Translating German is a joy that I don’t get to indulge in often enough. I’m glad you shared in that joy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. 5amt3n
    May 10, 2018 @ 18:06:54

    Me too. I loved the poem so much that I have just placed a hold at my local library for: “The Seasons of the Soul: the poetic guidance and spiritual wisdom of Hermann Hesse/translation and commentaries by Ludwig Max Fischer. I so appreciate you with your wonderful introduction to Hesse’s poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. 5amt3n
    Jul 31, 2018 @ 18:51:34

    “The Seasons of the Soul: the poetic guidance and spiritual wisdom of Hermann Hesse/translation and commentaries by Ludwig Max Fischer” was amazing, so much so, that I am going to buy it. I am so grateful to you for introducing me to his poetry. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • zeuslyone
      Jul 31, 2018 @ 19:12:51

      You’re more than welcome! Did you ever read his “Siddhartha”? Probably have — a popular work. I think of it only because I was amazed at how beautiful the words are in German, and the fact that he made it so poetic astounded me the first time I picked it up in his native tongue. He truly was an extraoridnary German author and poet.

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. 5amt3n
    Jul 31, 2018 @ 19:27:12

    No, I have not read “Siddhartha”. Okay, you’ve hooked me with your words. I must say, I am curious to see whether that poetic feel carries through in the English translation(s?). I’ll have to get it out of the library. How wonderful for you that you can read it in the language it was written.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • zeuslyone
      Jul 31, 2018 @ 19:39:27

      Maybe do some research online to see if there are preferences for different translations. No matter what, it’s a great of world literature, even if the translation the library has doesn’t capture all of the poetic tone.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  5. 5amt3n
    Jul 31, 2018 @ 19:56:36

    Good suggestion. I’ll give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. 5amt3n
    Jul 31, 2018 @ 20:05:21

    I came across this on Good Reads: “I’ve read the book 20 plus times, various translations, I’ve taught this book and had students compare different translations. In my opinion, Bernofsky’s 2007 version is by far the best. She captures the poetry of the text in a way that very few translations are able to.” Reading this actually makes me want to just buy it if it’s available.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • zeuslyone
      Jul 31, 2018 @ 20:28:40

      Indeed. That’s shining praise! It’s really interesting to weigh translations and hear others’ input on such things. Translation is much more of an art than many people may realize.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  7. 5amt3n
    Aug 01, 2018 @ 19:40:51

    I agree. Like you, I am so very aware of just how important a role the translator plays. In “Seasons of the Soul” I was very impressed with the translator, not only in terms of his qualifications, but with his way of seeing the world, both in a general sense, and within the context of Hesse’s world. I just purchased the aforementioned “Seasons of the Soul” and “Siddhartha” through Amazon. I can’t wait to get them both.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. 5amt3n
    Aug 10, 2018 @ 23:23:21

    They just arrived a few days ago. I have a couple of books out of the library that I want to finish reading first. I’m hoping to begin reading “Siddhartha” next week. I will definitely keep you posted on how that goes. Thanks for asking. Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

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