Seeking Gifts and Graces in translation


It began with Carl Jung. I was searching for a citation for another project and came across these two lines instead:

Where danger is,

Arises salvation also.

Jung is quoting the troubled German philosopher/poet, Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843). Jung uses the couplet in the concluding paragraph of his essay, “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man.” The lines are taken from Hölderlin’s long poem, “Patmos”, written in 1803, shortly before the great Romantic poet’s mental health began its long collapse.

A WIKI Visual 1792 portrait of Holderlin – (Public domain.

Exactly one week after the impact of the six tornadoes that visited eastern Ontario and western Quebec, those two lines from a poet I confess whose work I hardly know, crept into my head like a musical “ear-worm” – a tune that refuses to go away.

As you might expect with a translation ‒ and there are many Hölderlin translations ‒ there are more than a few shifts in nuance. I found a second version:

Where there is danger,
The rescue grows as well.

This certainly captures the experience of a community that immediately rolled up its sleeves, brought in heavy equipment, and is already well on the way to removing the wreckage of houses that can’t be salvaged, all in readiness for complete reconstruction.

A week later, there is a strong focus on rebuilding and rehabilitation, and a promising future. This is as much to do with body and soul as it is with bricks and mortar.

At the same time, there is also a recognition that many people have generously dropped all the other pressing things in their lives and are enthusiastically “pitching in” – with food, tools, skills, simple kindness, and money.

Ottawa’a Food Bank Volunteers. Source: Ottawa Food Bank.

This next version reminds me that for those who have lost everything, the promise of growth may turn out to be an element that might be much slower than they will be able to accept.

But where there is danger,
A rescuing element grows as well.

It’s the fourth translation that brings me full circle back to St. Ignatius with the challenge of being confronted by something whose force is beyond measurement, logic, or expectation.

But where danger is,
Deliverance also beckons.

This version certainly transposes Hölderlin’s lines into an invitation to combine discernment with deliverance. In the account of his life, Reminiscences, St. Ignatius is at sea in a terrifying storm. The ship’s rudder has broken, and everyone is convinced that only a miracle can save them. “On thoroughly examining himself at this time, and preparing himself to die, he couldn’t be afraid of his sins, nor of being damned, but he felt great confusion and sadness from judging that he had not used well the gifts and graces which God Our Lord had imparted to him.” *

Perhaps, it is by combining these translations of the opening lines of “Patmos” that gives the poem a strikingly Ignatian note:

God is near
Yet hard to seize.


Near is God

And hard to apprehend.

 Do we grab with our hands or perceive with the intellect? Why get trapped by either/or when we can reach for both!?


(* Reminiscences, Paragraph 33, Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings, Penguin 2004)


 Kevin Burns is an Ottawa-based writer who, at a safe distance from the storm damage, spent three days “in the dark” following the tornadoes that touched down on Friday, September 21, 2008. 



Kevin Burns


Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 15:15h, 03 October Reply

    Thank you Kevin!

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