Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Novalis First Hymn to the Night

Friedrich von Hardenberg, who adopted the name Novalis, was one of the chief figures of German Romanticism. When he was twenty-two, he fell in love with the twelve-year-old Sophie von Kühn. After she died at the age of fifteen, he made his passion the basis of a love religion in which the beloved, like Jesus, mediates between the worshipper and the divine. His Hymns to the Night were composed, partly in prose, partly in a rhapsodic sort of free verse, shortly thereafter and published in the Schlegel brothers’ journal Athenaeum. His incomplete novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen uses the image of the “blue flower,” a symbol that became an emblem for von Chamisso and von Eichendorf among others. By the spring of 1968, what had been radical to the Romantics had become academic in the eyes of young leftists who used the slogan “Schlagt die Germanistik tot, färbt die blaue Blume rot!” (“Kill German studies, color the blue flower red!”). Novalis died, like his dear Sophie, of tuberculosis, at the age of twenty-eight shortly after publishing the Hymns to the Night. Typically, he uses the image of descent and praises the dark while chasing after the sublime. As Wagner had it in Tristan und Isolde: “to drown,/ to founder -/ unconscious -/ utmost joy!” [“ertrinken,/ versinken, -/ unbewusst, -/ höchste Lust!”] Liebestod/ yang and yin inseparable.

What living thing, gifted with senses,
does not love more than all
the manifested marvels
of the world spread before him,
the all-joyful light,
with its beams and waves,
its colors,
its mild ubiquity
in daytime?
As the most secret
soul of life
it is inhaled by the great world
of restless constellations
that swim in their blue sea,
by the glittering stone,
the peaceful plant,
and by the evermoving
polymorphous multiform energy
of animals.
It is breathed too by varicolored
clouds and winds
and most of all
by the splendid alien
with thoughtful eyes,
a swinging gait,
and speaking mouth.
Like a king
of earthly nature
it calls all energy
to countless eternal metamorphosis,
and its presence alone
opens the wondrous miracle
of this earthly realm.
Downwards I make my way
to the holy ineffable
night full of secrets --
the world is far away
as though sunk in a deep grave --
a barren and a lonely place!
Deep depression plucks my heartstrings,
distant memory traces arise,
desires of youth,
dreams of childhood –
brief joys
and vain hopes
from an entire long life
approach in grey gowns
like evening fog
after the sun
goes down.
The world is then far off
with its bright delights.
In other realms
the light still pitches
its breezy camp.
And – if it never returned
to its loving children,
its gardens,
its marvelous house?
Yet what gushes,
so cool and refreshing,
liquid vengeance
to our hearts
and swallows
the soft air of sadness?
Have you, too,
a human heart,
dark night?
What do you hold
under your coat,
unseen but strong,
that touches my soul?
Your seem to be afraid –
priceless balm
trickles from your hand,
from a bouquet of poppies.
In sweet intoxication
you unfold the mind’s heavy wings
and give us joy,
dark and inexpressible,
joy as secret as you yourself,
a presentiment
of heaven.
How poor and childish
seems light then to me
with its colorful things.
How delightful and blessed
the departure of day.
It must only be because
night comes between
you and your minions
that you sow
the vastness of space
with shining spheres
to broadcast your omnipotence
and promise your return
even in the time of your absence.
More celestial than those twinkling stars
in the vastness are the eyes of eternity
opened in us only by the night.
They see farther
than the palest
of that countless host.
Needing no light
they see through the depths
of a loving heart
that fills a space more sublime
with unspeakable ecstasy.
All praise to the world’s queen,
the high herald
of the divine world,
the one who tends
to blessed love –
you’re coming, my lover –
the night is here,
my soul is rapt,
the earthly way is done
and you are mine again.
I look into your deep dark eyes,
see only love and blessedness –
we sink on night’s altar,
on a soft bed –
the veil falls,
and, kindled by your warm embrace,
there gleams
the pure glow
of sweetest sacrifice.

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