Hälfte des Lebens

[This page by Susan Ranson]

Hälfte des Lebens; Life at Mid-Point

A celebrated poem, on account of its tangible, plastic images of youth and joy, desolation and despair, which take the role of emotion-laden symbols, in classical form, decades before the advent of Symbolism. The word order is partly artificial, yet the fragmented effect is one not of stiltedness but of extreme and musical lassitude. This is achieved without assonance, which Hölderlin does not much use. Again he looks with a shiver into the future, urgently aware that his mental equilibrium, intellect and artistic powers are waning like the year: the poem is one of his late works, written after 1802.

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget

Und voll mit wilden Rosen

Das Land in den See,

Ihr holden Schwäne,

Und trunken von Küssen

Tunkt ihr das Haupt

Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo 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.

Life at Mid-Point

With yellow pears hangs –

And full of wild roses –

Land hangs into the lake,

O lovely swans,

And drunk with kisses

You dip your heads

Into the sacred-sober water.

Alas, where shall I find,

When winter comes, flowers, and where

The sunlight,

And the shadows of Earth?

The walls stand

Speechless and cold; in the wind

Weathervanes clatter.


Further Reading

Charlie Louth, ‘Reflections: Goethe’s “Auf dem See” and Hölderlin’s “Hälfte des Lebens”’, Oxford German Studies 33 (2004), 167-75

Web Link


An alternative translation of this poem, by Daniel Bosch