Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Nook at Hardt

‘The Nook at Hardt’ is Michael Hamburger’s translation of ‘Der Winkel von Hahrdt’, Friedrich Hölderlin’s short poem of 1803:
Der Winkel von Hahrdt
Hinunter sinket der Wald,
Und Knospen ähnlich, hängen
Einwärts die Blätter, denen
Blüht unten auf ein Grund,
Nicht gar unmündig.
Da nämlich ist Ulrich
Gegangen; oft sinnt, über den Fußtritt,
Ein groß Schicksal
Bereit, an übrigem Orte.
The poem describes a ‘nook’ or ‘shelter’ of trees. The ground is covered with flowers and is “able to speak for itself” - here ‘Ulrich’ once walked, giving the site a sense of destiny. The Ulrich referred to is Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, who hid in the forest in 1519.  He had finally been driven from Württemberg four years after killing a knight whose wife he had fallen in love with (an act illustrated in the contemporary woodcut below).

According to Theodor Adorno in Aesthetic Theory, the forest in this poem is only beautiful because it bears the mark of a past event. Otherwise it would just be some trees. Adorno felt that it is only possible to distinguish beauty in nature to the extent that a landscape is eloquent and conveys more than is literally there. This poem depicts an eloquent place that is, in effect, a spectacle. For Adorno, "natural beauty is suspended history" and therefore "artworks that resonate with this moment of suspension are those that are justly said to have a feeling for nature.” (p71, translation by Robert Hullor-Kentor).

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