Singing from the Alpheus to the Danube

“Not without wings may one/Reach out for that which is nearest/Directly/And get to the other side” (“The Ister”). Pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” and I are spending a sunny, balmy day on the banks of Hölderlin’s river.


“Yet almost this river seems/To travel backwards” as we look at the beautiful couples lying on the grass in each other’s arms, whispering, laughing, and kissing. Pantelis is talking about the young German blond woman he met who was traveling across Central Europe with Rilke in her backpack. She was called Elizabeth, like the great love of another musician, Tannhäuser. They met just twice, and then she vanished. “The river is simultaneously vanishing and full of intimation in a double sense. What is proper to the river is thus the essential fullness of a journey. We name the consummate essence of the journey [Wanderung] a journeying [Wanderschaft], corresponding to the placing [Ortschaft] of the place [Ort]. The river is the journeying” (Heidegger: Hölderlin’s Hymn The Ister [1942 lecture course], p. 30). I’m thinking that all the women Pantelis meets are ethereally beautiful. His life is illuminated by epiphanies of female radiance. His piano, like Tannhäuser’s harp, sings their praise.

A sudden downpour breaks out, sending everybody for shelter, and before long it is gone. As we begin to walk back toward the train station, I’m wondering why Heidegger can never think love, why he is never spoken by it and thrown in it. He is always searching in vain for what the poet, working on his hymn in 1803-5, called schikliche/fitting.

December 10, 2014

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