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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 2 Number 2, 1974.

A Sober Passion: Death In Venice, The Opera And The Novelle Joyce Crick
Death in Venice: the libretto of the opera in the light of
Thomas Mann's Novelle and its cultural perspective


THERE IS a fragment of Hölderlin's - I hesitate to describe it right away as a love poem, for it avoids the lyric cry and instead presents the reader with situation, question and answer:

'Holy Socrates, why always with deference
Do you treat this young man? Don't you know greater things?
Why so lovingly, raptly,
As on gods, do you gaze on him?'

Who the deepest has thought loves what is most alive,
Wide experience may turn to what's best in youth,
And the wise in the end will
Often bow to the beautiful.


But it is a love poem, all the same. Simply to write about the all-pervading Platonic Eros, who holds the world together, is to conjure him up. This is what gives the gravity of this poem its peculiar intensity. Plato the poet knew what he was doing when he had Socrates talk about the nature of hove in the dialogue with Phaedrus. Socrates' middle-aged disquisition to the young man in the wood near Athens modulates into flirtation with him, and even this Phaedrus, who seems a solemn enough fellow otherwise, is sufficiently captivated to respond. Eros, variously sublimated, has his place in the pedagogic situation too.

The Socrates of most of the other dialogues was very much more ...


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