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Princeton University Press
The Whole Difference: Selected Writings of Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The Whole Difference: Selected Writings of Hugo von Hofmannsthal

by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, J. D. McClatchyHugo von Hofmannsthal


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Hugo von Hofmannsthal is one of the modern era's most important writers, but his fame as Richard Strauss's pioneering collaborator on such operas as Der Rosenkavalier and Die Frau ohne Schatten has obscured his other remarkable writings: his precocious lyric poetry, inventive short fiction, keen essays, and visionary plays. The Whole Difference, which includes new translations as well as classic ones long out of print, is a fresh introduction to the enormous range of this extraordinary artist, and the most comprehensive collection of Hofmannsthal's writings in English.

Selected and edited by the poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy, this collection includes early lyric poems; short prose works, including "The Tale of Night Six Hundred and Seventy-Two," "A Tale of the Cavalry," and the famous "Letter of Lord Chandos"; two full-length plays, The Difficult Man and The Tower; as well as the first act of The Cavalier of the Rose. From the glittering salons of imperial Vienna to the bloodied ruins of Europe after the Great War, the landscape of Hofmannsthal's world stretches across the extremes of experience. This collection reflects those extremes, including both the sparkling social comedy of "the difficult man" Hans Karl, so sensitive that he cannot choose between the two women he loves, and the haunting fictional letter to Francis Bacon in which Lord Chandos explains why he can no longer write. Complete with an introduction by McClatchy, this collection reveals an artist whose unusual subtlety and depth will enthrall readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691129099
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 10/26/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 520
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

J. D. McClatchy is a poet, critic, and librettist. His most recent collection of poems, Hazmat (Knopf), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches English at Yale University, where he also edits The Yale Review.

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Copyright © 2008 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12909-9

Chapter One

GHAZAL In the cheapest mean violin the concord of the All is obscured. In ecstasy's deepest groans, the sweet rejoicing they enthrall is obscured. In the pathway's stone there lies the spark that would ignite the world; The awful thunderbolt whose impact would appall is obscured. In the dog-eared text there lies what all our research would discover: One truth as luminous and clear as in a crystal ball is obscured. Tease out the notes, transfix the truth, hurl the stone like Heracles! Our vision of a ripe perfection ever since the Fall is obscured.

AN EXPERIENCE At dusk a silvery fragrance filled the valley, As when the moon is viewed through a veil of cloud. But it was not yet night. In the darkening valley That fragrance drifted through my shadowy thoughts And silently I sank into the wavering, Diaphanous sea, and left my life behind. What wondrous flowers had bloomed there, Cups of colors darkly glowing! And a thicket Amidst which a flame like topaz rushed, Now surging, now gleaming in its molten course. All of it seemed filled with the deep swell Of a mournful music. This much I knew, Though I cannot understand it-I knew That this was Death, transmuted into music, Violently yearning, sweet, dark, burning, Akin to deepest sadness. Yet how strange! A nameless longing after life now wept Inside my soul without a sound, wept As one might weep who on a galleon With giant gilded sails of an evening slides Over the indigo waters past a town, His native town. And there he spies again The streets, hears the fountains plash, breathes In the scent of lilacs, and sees himself again, A child standing on the shore, wide-eyed, Anxious and close to tears, and looks then through An open window to see a light on in his room- But the huge ship is bearing out to sea Without a sound over the indigo waters With its giant gilded unearthly sails.

STANZAS IN TERZA RIMA I On Mutability On my cheek I still can feel their breath: How can it be these days that seem so near Are gone, forever gone, and lost to death? This is a thought no mind can truly grasp, A thing too terrifying for mere tears: That all we want and are eludes our clasp. And that, unchecked, even my own self has come Across the years from a little child I find As remote as the family dog and as dumb. That I existed centuries ago, somewhere, And ancestors, long to their graves confined, Are yet as close to me as my own hair, As much a part of me as my own hair. II These hours! Hours spent staring at the sea, As if in its blue clarities we could somehow learn About death, its simple rules and solemnity. As little girls, whose great eyes seem to yearn, When first they feel the evening chill their skin, For what they do not know, still do not turn Away, sensing how from each languorous limb Into leaf and blade life rushes like a flood While they feebly smile at the might have been, Like martyrs shedding their otherworldly blood. III We are such stuff as dreams are made on: these, These dreams that suddenly each night open our eyes Like those of a child under the blossoming trees Above whose crests the moon mounts the skies On her pale gold course through the gathered night- The way our own dreams loom so real and rise Like a brightly laughing child, and to the sight Appear as immense and still and far away As the moon when the treetops edge her light. Our inmost selves are subject to their sway, Like strings held by ghostly hands that seem To animate our lives, come what may. And three are one: the man, the thing, the dream.

THE BOTH OF THEM In her hand she carried the cup to him- Her chin and mouth were like its rim. Her coming was so light, so still, That not a single drop was spilled. So light, so firm as well his hand. His prancing stallion fresh from pasture At one indifferent, easy gesture Stood tensely where he made it stand. But when he bent to take from her hand The cup she held up as his own, For both of them it seemed too much And both so trembled at the touch Their fingers failed, and onto the sand The glimmering wine splattered down. BALLAD OF THE OUTER LIFE And children with their deep-fixed gaze, Who know nothing yet, grow up and die, And all men go their separate ways. And bitter fruit will ripen by and by And at night dead birds fall to the ground And for a few days rot where they lie. And the wind blows, and we hear the sound Of words and over and over repeat their sense And feel a joy both weary and profound. And roads run through the grass, a residence Here or there with torches, ponds, trees, And some are withered, or threaten violence. Why are these built, each one ill at ease With the rest, yet in the end all the same? Why will neither tears nor laughter please? What good is all of this to us, this game? However great we grow, we are lonely still And wander the world without an aim. To learn merely this, we leave our homes? And he says everything who just says "evening," A word from which the richest sadness spills Like heavy honey from the hollow combs. WE WENT ALONG A WAY ... We went along a way with many bridges, And three went on ahead, humming to themselves. I mention this now to recall that moment. You said then-pointing to the mountain Crisscrossed with cloud-shadows and shadows From the steep crags with their precarious trails- You said: "If only we two were there alone!" And the sound of your words seemed as foreign As the scent of sandalwood or of myrrh. -Even your face seemed strange as well. It was as if a sudden drunken rapture Took hold of me, as when the earth trembles And precious ornaments are upended And roll about and water gushes up And one's view of everything is doubled: For I was here and at the same time there, You in my arms and all the rapture of it Somehow mingled with all the rapture This massive mountain with its gorges Would offer one who like an eagle hovered Over its heights, wings at their full span. With you in my arms I was on that peak, I knew all there was of its sublimity, Its solitude, its never-trodden paths, You in my arms and all the rapture of it ... And as today I woke in a summer-house I saw on the cool wall a picture of the gods Assembled in all their wondrous joy: How light of foot, how nearly weightless From the slatted roof of a vine-covered arbor Through the blue sky they glided upwards, Ethereal as flames, and with the sound Of song and the echo of the bright lyre They ascended. It struck me then That I could touch the garment of one Still close to earth, as might a friend, A guest of theirs, of equal rank and fate: I had our adventure still in mind. THREE EPIGRAMS The Art of Poetry Art is frightening! From my own body I spin a web, The very web that lets me make my way through air. Mirror of the World "Once before I inched this way," in the mouth of a sleeping king Spoke the spotted worm.-"When?"-"In the poet's brain." Knowledge If I knew how this leaf had sprung from its sprig, I would keep silent: there is knowledge enough.

IN MEMORY OF THE ACTOR MITTERWURZER He went out as suddenly as a candle. We wore a pallor on our faces Like the reflection of a lightning bolt. He fell: and with him all the puppets fell Into whose veins he had poured the blood Of his being. Silently they died, And where he lay, a heap of corpses lay Haphazardly: the drunkard's knee Up against the king's eye, Don Philippe With Caliban the nightmare around his neck, And all of them dead. At last we knew whom death had taken from us: The sorcerer, the high and mighty illusionist! And we left our homes and gathered To talk about what exactly he was. But then, who was he, and who was he not? From one mask he crept into another, Sprang from the father's body to the son's, Changed shapes as if they were merely clothes. With swords, which he could brandish so quickly That no one saw the glitter of their blades, He cut himself into pieces: one was perhaps Iago, while the other half of him Might be a dreamer or some sweet fool. For his whole body was a magic veil Within whose folds all things seemed to dwell: He could summon animals from himself, The sheep, the lion, the devil of stupidity Or the one of horror, this man and that And you and me. Some sort of inward fate Set his whole body shining, shimmering Like coals aglow, and he lived in their midst And looked out at us, who dwelt in houses, With the eerie impenetrable stare Of a salamander, the creature that lives in fire. He was a savage king. Around his loins He wore like strings of colored shells The truths and lies we all of us live by. Our own dreams flew past us in his eyes, As flocks of wild birds are mirrored in a lake. Here he could come, on this very spot Where I now stand, and as in Triton's horn The uproar of the ocean is contained, So were in him the voices of life itself: He became vast. He was the whole forest, He was the countryside through which roads ran. With eyes like children's we would sit And gaze in wonder up at him, as from the slopes Of a gigantic mountain: in his mouth Was a bay, into which the sea surged. There was in him something that could open Many doors and fly through many rooms. The force of Life itself was in him. And over him now the power of Death! It blew out his eyes whose inmost core Was covered with some inscrutable code, It strangled the throat with a thousand voices, And killed the body whose every limb Was laden with lives as yet unborn. Here he stood. When will there be another like him?- A spirit who peoples the maze of the human breast With forms it comprehends, and unlocks Anew for us such fearsome joys? Those which he gave us we can no longer keep. We hear his name and stare blankly Down the abyss that swallowed them from sight.



A merchant's son, a young man and very handsome who had neither father nor mother, grew weary of society and social intercourse soon after his twenty-fifth year. He closed off most of the rooms in his house and let all his servants go, male and female alike, excepting four, whose devotion and entire being were pleasing to him. As he set no great store by his friends, nor had he been captivated by the beauty of any woman such that he should think it desirable or merely tolerable to have her with him always, he lived an ever more solitary existence, which appeared best suited to his disposition. Yet he was by no means a recluse; on the contrary, he enjoyed strolling through the streets or public gardens and observing people's faces. Nor did he neglect the care of his body and fine hands or the decor of his residence; indeed, the beauty of the carpets and fabrics and silks, the carved and paneled walls, the metal sconces and basins, the glass and earthenware vessels had acquired a never imagined significance. He gradually came to see how all the shapes and colors in the world lived in his artifacts. In the intricacies of the ornaments he discerned an enchanted image of the intricate wonders of the world. He noted the shapes of animals and the shapes of flowers and the transition of flowers into animals: dolphins, lions, and tulips, pearls and the acanthus; he noted the conflict between the burden borne by columns and the resistance offered by solid ground and the striving of all waters to go upstream and then down; he noted the bliss of motion and the sublimity of calm, dancing and death; he noted the colors of flowers and trees, the colors of the hides of animals and the faces of people, the color of precious stones, the color of the stormy sea and of the sea calm and luminous; and, yes, he noted the moon and the stars, the mystic globe, the mystic rings, and the wings of the seraphim sprouting from them. He was long intoxicated by this great, profound beauty, all his, and his every day became fairer and less empty among these artifacts, which had ceased to be dead and lowly and were now a great legacy, the divine work of all nations.

Yet he likewise felt the vanity of all these things as much as their beauty, nor did the thought of death leave him for long: it would visit him amidst laughing, boisterous crowds, often in the night, often at table.

But as he suffered no malady, the thought was not baleful; it rather had something ceremonious and scintillating to it and was at its most powerful when he was intoxicated from thinking fine thoughts or from the beauty of his youth and solitude. For the merchant's son often derived great pride from the mirror, from the lines of the poets, from his wealth and intelligence, and grim proverbs did not press upon his soul. "Your feet will take you to where you are to die," he would say, and saw him- self, elegant, like a king lost on a hunt in an unfamiliar wood under exotic trees, meet a strange and wondrous fate. "Death will come when the house is done," he would say, and saw Death plod across a bridge resting on the backs of wingéd lions and leading to a palace, a house newly finished and filled with life's spoils.

He believed he lived in perfect solitude, but his four servants surrounded him like dogs, and though he spoke but little to them he somehow felt they were constantly thinking of how best to serve him. He also began to think about them occasionally.

The housekeeper was an old woman; her daughter, now dead, had nursed the merchant's son; all the rest of her children had died as well. She was very quiet, and her white face and white hands exuded the coolness of old age. But he liked her because she never left the house and because the memory of his own mother's voice and of his childhood, which he loved with great longing, accompanied her everywhere.

With his permission she had brought a distant relative into the house, a girl barely fifteen and very withdrawn. She was hard on herself and hard to understand. Once, in a sudden dark impulse of her raging soul, she had thrown herself out of a window into the courtyard, but her childlike body landed on a pile of garden soil accidentally deposited there and she merely broke a collarbone on a stone sticking out of the earth. When she had been taken to her bed, the merchant's son sent his doctor to see her, but that evening he went himself to see how she was faring. She kept her eyes shut, and for the first time he gave her a long, calm look and was amazed at the strange and precocious grace of her features except for the lips, which were very thin and had something unattractive and eerie about them. Suddenly she opened her eyes, gave him a cold and angry look, and, overcoming her pain, biting her lips in anger, turned to the wall, so that she lay on the side of her wound. At that moment her deadly pale face turned a greenish white and she lost consciousness, falling back into her previous position as if dead.


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1


GHAZAL (1891) 23

translated by Stephen Yenser


translated by J. D. McClatchy


translated by J. D. McClatchy

THE BOTH OF THEM (1896) 28

translated by J. D. McClatchy


translated by J. D. McClatchy

WE WENT ALONG A WAY . . . (1897) 30

translated by J. D. McClatchy


translated by J. D. McClatchy


translated by J. D. McClatchy



translated by Michael Henry Heim


translated by Mary Hottinger



translated by Tania and James Stern

MOMENTS IN GREECE (1908-1914) 80

translated by Tania and James Stern


translated by Tania and James Stern


translated by Tania and James Stern

BALZAC (1908) 128

translated by Tania and James Stern


translated by Tania and James Stern


translated by Tania and James Stern



translated by Christopher Holme



translated by Willa Muir


translated by Alfred Schwarz

Notes 493

For Further Reading 501

What People are Saying About This

T.S. Eliot

One of the great European men of letters.

From the Publisher

"One of the great European men of letters."—T. S. Eliot on Hugo von Hofmannsthal

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