7 Cyprus Drive Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Dear Dr. Neihardt,

I thought you might be interested in this little stunt indicated on the back of this sheet. I have a course in German lyric poetry, a most fascinating course for me and the students, in which I try to educate them to an understanding of poetry, with great success. In this sheet, which I handed out, are a poem by Holderlin and a second version which I concocted. The students were to write an essay explaining why each and every one of my changes is an abomination to the muses. I haven't read all the essays yet, but the ones I have are excellent.

Do you know Hölderin? He is not so well known as Goethe and so on but he should be. He was always unstable emotionally and had periodic lapses into insanity from 1802 on, finally going irrevocably mad in 1806 and vegetabling in hopeless schizophrenia for 37 years until his death in 1843. Gifted with an incredibly delicate sense of poetic values, he wrote symbolist poems long before such a thing had ever been invented.

In this particular poem, written during the period when he was desperately fighting to keep his sanity, he expresses his dread in a most poignant way. Stanza One, as you will see, is a love song to life in all its lush fulness; Stanza two foresees his bleak future. Every word, every positioning of every word, is exquisitely right. The students were to discover that for themselves.

For me it was difficult to shake off the effect of all those years when I was for the most part a language-searching hack. I was scared. I didn't know whether I still could. For a while I couldn't. Then I snapped out of it and experienced a wonderful release.

Phyllis is still awfully unhappy in what for her is a bleak exile. Children gone, job gone, and native country gone. That of course affects me deeply to and added a millstone to the lead weights already around my neck. She clearly can't stand it forever and neither can I. So I went to the Modern Language Association convention in December, spreading the word of my availability, and wrote letters to several universities. So far nothing doing. If I can't get a good position I may just have to settle for a poor one in order to get Phyllis back in the states. After all, I'll be 53 in May and that is a bit old. I may have to say, as Hölderin has it in another form to the effect that he won't mind dying if he can for once achieve a perfect poem: Einmal lebt 'ich wie Götter, und mehr [bedorf's?] nicht (For once I lived like the gods, and more I do not need.)

I hope you're keeping well. Too bad you had to postpone your trip to India - too bad for the Indians, that is.


John Winkelman
Dr. John G. Neihardt Sky-rim Farm R.R.7 Columbia, Missouri USA
"Halfte des Lebens"
wie es Holderlin
geschrieben hat.
Mit gelben Birnen hanget
und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwane,
Und trunken von Kussen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt Ins heilignuchterne Wasser.
Weh mir, no nehm ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.
"Halfte des Lebens"
wie es Holderlin nicht
geschrieben hat.
Mit roten Aepfeln
Und bedeckt mit wilden Rosen
Spiegelt sich das Dand in dem See, Ihr sussen Schwane,
Und betaubt von Kussen
Taucht ihr den Kopf
Ins silberklare Wasser.
Ach, wo find ich noch Blumen
Wenn der Winter kommt, und wo
Den Sonneschein
Und Schatten der Erde?
Sprachlos und kalt
Stehen die Mauern, die Fahnen
Klirren im Winde.

Stellen sie Schritt fur Schritt den urspunglichen Wortlaut wieder her, indem Sie ausfuhrlich erklaren, warum Holderlin es so und nicht anders gewollt hat.

Literally: One Half of Life
With yellow pears hangs
And full with wild roses
The land into the lake,
Ye sublime swans,
And drunk with kisses
Ye submerge your heads
Into the holy-sober water.
Woe to me, whence shall I take, when
It is winter, the flowers, and whence
The sunshine
And shadow of earth?
The walls stand
Speechless and cold, in the wind
The weathercocks clatter.
(the same, as murdered)
With red apples
And covered with wild roses
The land is reflected in the lake,
Ye sweet swans,
and benumbed with kisses
Ye submerge your heads
Into the silver-clear water.
Alas, where shall I still find flowers
When winter comes, and where
The sunshine
And shadow of earth?
Speechless and cold
Stand the walls, the weathercocks
Clatter in the wind.