History of Literature

Friedrich Hölderlin



Friedrich Hölderlin



Friedrich Hölderlin

German poet
in full Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin

born March 20, 1770, Lauffen am Neckar, Württemberg [Germany]
died June 7, 1843, Tübingen

German lyric poet who succeeded in naturalizing the forms of classical Greek verse in German and in melding Christian and classical themes.

Hölderlin was born in a little Swabian town on the River Neckar. His father died in 1772, and two years afterward his mother married the burgomaster of the town of Nürtingen, where Friedrich attended school. But his mother was again widowed, in 1779, and left alone to bring up her family—which included Friedrich, his sister Heinrike, and his half-brother Karl. His mother, a parson’s daughter and a woman of simple and rather narrow piety, wanted Friedrich to enter the service of the church. Candidates for the ministry received free education, and accordingly he was sent first to the “monastery schools” (so called since pre-Reformation times) at Denkendorf and Maulbronn and subsequently (1788–93) to the theological seminary in the University of Tübingen, where he obtained his master’s degree and qualified for ordination.

Hölderlin could not, however, bring himself to enter the ministry. Contemporary Protestant theology, an uneasy compromise between faith and reason, offered him no safe spiritual anchorage, while acceptance of Christian dogma was not wholly compatible with his devotion to Greek mythology, which made him see the gods of Greece as real living forces whose presence manifests itself to humans in sun and earth, sea and sky. The strain of divided allegiance remained a permanent condition of his existence. Although he did not feel called to be a Lutheran pastor, Hölderlin did have a strong sense of religious vocation; for him, being a poet meant exercising the priestly function of mediator between gods and humans.

In 1793, through Friedrich Schiller’s recommendation, Hölderlin obtained the first of several posts as a tutor (in most of which he failed to give satisfaction). Schiller befriended the younger man in other ways too; in his periodical Neue Thalia, he published some of the poetry that Hölderlin had written, as well as a fragment of his novel Hyperion. This elegiac story of a disillusioned fighter for the liberation of Greece remained unfinished. Hölderlin held Schiller in great reverence; he saw him again when in 1794 he left his tutor’s post in order to move to Jena. His early poems clearly reveal Schiller’s influence, and several of them acclaim the new world the French Revolution had seemed to promise in its early stages: they include hymns to freedom, to humanity, to harmony, to friendship, and to nature.

In December 1795 Hölderlin accepted a post as tutor in the house of J.F. Gontard, a wealthy Frankfurt banker. Before long, Hölderlin fell deeply in love with his employer’s wife, Susette, a woman of great beauty and sensibility, and his affection was returned. In a letter to his friend C.L. Neuffer (February 1797), he described their relationship as “an everlasting happy sacred friendship with a being who has really strayed into this miserable century.” Susette appears in his poems and in his novel Hyperion, the second volume of which appeared in 1799, under the Greek name of “Diotima”—a reincarnation of the spirit of ancient Greece. Their happiness was short-lived; after a painful scene with Susette’s husband, Hölderlin had to leave Frankfurt (September 1798).

Though physically and mentally shaken, Hölderlin finished the second volume of Hyperion and began a tragedy, Der Tod des Empedokles (The Death of Empedocles), the first version of which he nearly completed; fragments of a second and a third version have also survived. Symptoms of great nervous irritability alarmed his family and friends. Nevertheless, the years 1798–1801 were a period of intense creativity; in addition to a number of noble odes, they produced the great elegies “Menons Klagen um Diotima” (“Menon’s Lament for Diotima”) and “Brod und Wein” (“Bread and Wine”). In January 1801 he went to Switzerland as tutor to a family in Hauptwyl, but in April of the same year Hölderlin returned to Nürtingen.

Late in 1801 he once more accepted a post as tutor, this time at Bordeaux, France. But in May 1802, after only a few months in this position, Hölderlin suddenly left Bordeaux and traveled homeward on foot through France. On his way to Nürtingen he received news that Susette had died in June; when he arrived he was completely destitute and suffering from an advanced stage of schizophrenia. He seemed to recover somewhat as a result of the kind and gentle treatment he received at home. The poems of the period 1802–06, including “Friedensfeier” (“Celebration of Peace”), “Der Einzige” (“The Only One”), and “Patmos,” products of a mind on the verge of madness, are apocalyptic visions of unique grandeur. He also completed verse translations of Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus, published in 1804. In this year a devoted friend, Isaak von Sinclair, obtained for him the sinecure post of librarian to the landgrave Frederick V of Hesse-Homburg. Sinclair himself provided a modest salary, and Hölderlin improved noticeably under his care and companionship. In 1805 Sinclair (who refused to believe that Hölderlin was insane) was falsely accused of subversive activities and held in custody for five months. By the time he was released, Hölderlin had succumbed irretrievably and, after a spell in a clinic in Tübingen, was moved to a carpenter’s house, where he lived for the next 36 years.

Hölderlin gained little recognition during his lifetime and was almost totally forgotten for nearly 100 years. It was not until the early years of the 20th century that he was rediscovered in Germany and that his reputation as one of the outstanding lyric poets in the German language was established in Europe. Today he is ranked among the greatest of German poets, especially admired for his uniquely expressive style: like no one before or since, he succeeded in naturalizing the forms of classical Greek verse in the German language. With passionate intensity he strove to reconcile the Christian faith with the religious spirit and beliefs of ancient Greece; he was a prophet of spiritual renewal, of “the return of the gods”—utterly dedicated to his art, hypersensitive, and therefore exceptionally vulnerable. In the end his mind gave way under the strains and frustrations of his existence.

William Witte



Friedrich Holderlin

Friedrich Holderlin's novel—a kind of autobiography written in letters from Hyperion mostly to his friend Bellarmin, but with some to Diotima—appeared in two volumes between 1797 and 1799.The text is set in ancient Greece,yet some two hundred years after it was written, the words that describe invisible forces, conflicts, beauty and hope are still relevant.
There are explicable and inexplicable reasons for the text's ability to produce nearness out of distance, and vice versa.The explicable reasons have to do with the novel as a philosophical reflection on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. On the philosophical level, it is an investigation into the separation between subject and object, between individual and individual, man and nature, as a condition of their unity. On the political level it expresses the ambivalence toward reason and revolutionary force as possible instruments of social and historical progress—elements which still exist in various twentieth-century forms.
Holderlin's critical description of the German society of his day still pretty much fits bourgeois Western European existence in the third millennium. And those who have never felt Hyperion's Utopian longing for harmony with nature and God, free of all alienation, should ask the divine cashier for their money back. The inexplicable reasons have to do with love, language, and Diotima. But for this one has to delve into the experience of reading the novel oneself.





Translations by James Mitchell




to my Kinsfolk


It is still bright night in the Alps, and a cloud,
Authoring joyfulness, covers the yawning valley.
Playful mountain breezes rush and toss about, and a ray
Of light shines abruptly through the firs and disappears.
Chaos, quivering with joy, hurries slowly to do battle.
Young in form, yet strong, it celebrates a loving quarrel
Among the cliffs. It ferments and shakes within its eternal
Limits, for the morning accelerates in ecstatic dance.
The year advances more rapidly out there, and the holy hours,
The days, are more boldly ordered and mixed.
A storm bird marks the time, and stays high in the air
Between the mountains, announcing the day.
Now the little village awakens down below. Fearless,
Familiar with the heights, it peers up beyond the treetops.
It senses the growth, for the ancient streams fall like lightning,
And the ground yields fine mists under the crashing waters.
Echo resounds, and the vast workplace flexes its arm,
Sending forth its gifts, by day and by night.


Peaks of silver shine silently above,
And the sparkling snow is full of roses.
Still higher above the light lives the god, pure
And holy, pleased with the divine play of light beams.
He lives there quietly and alone: his face is bright.
At home in the ether he seems ready to grant life
And create joy for us. Gradually and sparingly,
Remembering the necessity for moderation and the needs
Of the living, he sends true happiness to the cities
And houses, and mild rains to open the countryside,
And soft breezes and gentle seasons of spring.
With a gentle hand he cheers the saddened,
Renews the seasons, the creative one, refreshes
And touches the quiet hearts of the elderly.
Down into the deep his influence extends: it
Reveals and illumines, just as he pleases.
And now life begins again. Gracefulness
Flourishes as it did before, and the Spirit
Is present and approaches, and a joyful
Disposition fills its wings.


I had much to say to him, for whatever poets think
Or sing about is addressed mainly to him and his angels.
I asked him for much, out of love to the Fatherland,
So the Spirit wouldn't suddenly fall upon us unbidden.
I prayed much for you too, my landspeople, who have cares
Inside the Fatherland: to whom holy gratitude, smiling, brings
Back the exiles. At the same time the lake rocked my boat,
And the steersman sat quietly and approved our journey.
Far on the lake's surface joyous waves surged under the sails,
And now the city rises brightly in the early morning,
And our boat came well guided from the shaded Alps
To rest in the harbor. Here the shore is warm
And the open valleys are friendly, brightened by
Beautiful pathways, flourishing and shining toward me.
Gardens lie round about, bright buds open, the song of birds
Welcomes the wanderer. Everything seems familiar;
Even people passing by greet each other as if they were
Friends, and every face appears like kin.


But of course, this is the land of your birth, the soil
Of your own country: what you seek is close by and
Rises to meet you. The traveller stands before you,
O happy Lindau, surrounded by waves, like a son
At your door affectionately singing your praises.
This is a welcoming gate to the nation, inviting you
To travel forth into the distance, a place of promises
And miracles, where the Rhine, like a mythological
Animal, breaks its way downwards into the plains,
And the jubilant valley leads through the bright
Mountains toward Como, or off toward the open sea
In the direction of the sun. But the sacred
Gateway prompts me to go on home instead,
Where the busy highways are familiar to me,
To visit the countryside and beautiful valleys
Of the Neckar, and the forests, where godlike green
Oak and beech trees and silent birches gather, and
A friendly spot in the mountains still holds me captive.


Dear friends are there to welcome me.
O voice of the city, voice of my mother!
You touch and awaken what I learned long ago.
But it's really them: sun and joy shine for you,
My dear ones, almost brighter than ever in your eyes.
Yes, it's still the same. It thrives and ripens,
For nothing that lives and loves relinquishes loyalty.
Best of all, this treasure, which rests under the arch
Of holy peace, is reserved for young and old alike.
I speak foolishly. It's pure joy. But tomorrow
And after, when we go out and view the living fields,
When the trees are blossoming on Spring holidays,
I'll speak and share my hopes with you, dear friends.
I've heard much about our great Father, but I've said
Nothing. He renews passing time above in the heights,
And he reigns over mountains. He'll soon bestow heavenly
Gifts and call for brighter song and send many good spirits.
Come, you preservers! Angels of the year! And you,


Angels of the house, come! May the power of Heaven spread
Through all the veins of life, ennobling and invigorating
And dispensing joy! So that joyful angels attend upon
Human goodness every hour of the day, and that
Such joy as I experience now, when loved ones
Are properly reunited, be suitably sanctified.
When we bless the meal, upon whom shall I call,
And when we rest after the day's activity, tell me,
How will I offer thanks? Should I call the Highest by name?
A god doesn't like what is inappropriate. Maybe our joy
Isn't big enough to grasp him. We must often remain silent,
A sacred language is missing — hearts are beating and yet
Speech can't emerge? But the sound of string music
Resonates hour by hour, and perhaps that pleases
The approaching gods. Begin the music, and the worries
Almost vanish which would have affected our joy.
Willingly or not, poets must often concern themselves
With such things, but not with others.








The northeast blows,
my favorite among winds,
since it promises fiery spirit
and a good voyage to mariners.
But go now, and greet
the lovely Garonne,
and the gardens of Bordeaux,
where the path runs
beside the steep bank,
and the brook runs into the deep stream,
and a noble pair of oak and silver
poplars look down from above.

I remember well
how the crowns of the elm trees
lean over the mill,
and a fig tree grows in the courtyard.
On holidays dark-skinned women
walk upon the soft earth,
and in March,
when night and day are equal:
cradling breezes waft
across the gentle pathways,
heavy with golden dreams.

But someone hand me
the fragrant cup,
full of dark light,
that I may rest.
It would be sweet
to sleep among the shadows.
It isn't good
to stay mindless
with human thoughts.
On the other hand, conversation
is also good: to speak
the thoughts of the heart,
and to hear much of days of love,
and of deeds that occur.

But where are our friends —
Bellarmin and his companion?
Many are afraid to go to the source,
since treasure is first found in the sea.
Like painters, they gather up earth's beauty,
and they don't scorn winged war,
or to live alone for years
beneath the bare mast —
where the city's festivities
don't flash through the night, or
the sound of strings and native dancing.

But now the men
have left for India...
from the windy peaks
and vine-covered hills
where the Dardogne
comes down with the great
Garonne; wide as an ocean
the river flows outward.
But the sea takes
and gives memory,
and love fixes the eye diligently,
and poets establish
that which endures.







Celebration of Peace

Please read these pages only if you're feeling kind. Then they won't seem unintelligible, and will certainly prove less offensive. But to those who find my language too unconventional, I confess I can't help it. On a beautiful day almost any kind of song can be listened to, and Nature, where it comes from, will receive it back. The author intends to lay before the public a whole collection of similar pieces, and this is just a sample.

The holy, familiar hall, built long ago,
Is aired, and filled with heavenly,
Softly echoing, quietly modulating music.
A cloud of joy sends fragrance
Over the green carpets. Shining in the
Distance, a splendid row of gold-wreathed
Cups stands, well-ordered, full of ripe fruits.
Tables stand at the sides, rising above
The leveled ground. For now in the evening
Loving guests have gathered, coming from far.

And with half-shut eye I think I can see
The prince of the festival himself,
Smiling from the day's earnest work.
Though you like to deny your foreign origin,
And even when you lower your eye, tired
From the long crusade — forgotten, lightly shadowed —
And you assume the appearance of an acquaintance,
Still you're recognized by everyone; your superiority
Alone almost forces one to his knees.
Being nothing in your presence, I know
You are not mortal. A wise person can
Explain a lot, but where a god appears,
There is different clarity.

He isn't of the present, yet doesn't come unannounced;
And one who feared neither flood nor flame
Doesn't surprise us without a reason, now that all is quiet,
And dominion is invisible among spirits and humans.
That is, just now the work become audible,
Long in preparation, from morning to evening.
For the thunderer's echo, the thousand-year storm,
Roars immeasurably down towards rest, resounding
In the depths, while peaceful sounds rise above it.
But you, days of innocence, become dear to us:
Today you bring the festival, beloved ones!
And the spirit flourishes in the evening stillness,
And I must counsel you, friends, to prepare the wreaths
And the food, since now we're like eternal youths,
Even if our hair were silver grey.

There are many I should like to invite, but you,
Who were devoted to mankind in a friendly, yet
Earnest way, and who liked to stay at the well
Under Syrian palms, near the city... the fields
Of grain rustled in the wind, the coolness drifted
Down from the shaded holy mountain,
And the loyal clouds, your friends,
Cast their shadows around you,
So that your holy, daring radiance shone gently
Through the wilderness upon men, o Youth!
But then a deadly fate enshadowed you
More darkly, terribly and definitively
In the middle of your words. Thus everything
From heaven passes quickly, but not in vain.

For a god, knowing always the proper measure,
Touches sparingly and just for a moment the homes
Of men — unexpectedly, and no one knows when.
But then something boisterous may appear,
And wildness may come to the holy place from afar.
Grasping about roughly, it touches upon madness,
And fills some intention thereby.
Gratitude doesn't follow the gift
From the gods immediately:
It has to be deeply studied first.
For if the giver hadn't been cautious,
From the blessing of the hearth both
Floor and ceiling would have gone up in flames.

We've received much from the gods.
Fire was handed to us, and the ocean's
Flood and shore. Much more,
For alien powers have become familiar
To us in a human way. The stars
Over your head can teach you things,
Although you can't equal them.
Yet of the all-living ones — from whom
Issue much pleasure and song —
One is a calmly powerful son.
Knowing his father, we recognize him,
Now that the high Spirit of the World
Has descended to mankind
To keep the holidays.

He had long become too great to be
The Lord of Time, and his territory
Extended far... when would it
Have exhausted him? But a god
May once choose mundane life also,
Like mortals, and share their fate.
One law of fate requires that people
Should know each other, so that when
Silence returns, there will also be a language.
Where the spirit is at work, we are present too,
And talk about what is best. To me, the best
Is when the picture is done, and the artist
Finishes and steps transfigured from his workplace,
The quiet God of Time, and only the reconciling
Law of love extends from here to heaven.

Man has learned much since morning,
For we are a conversation, and we can listen
To one another. Soon we'll be song.
And the picture of time, which the great spirit unfolds,
Lies as a sign before us, indicating that a covenant
Between himself and others, himself and other powers exists.
Not he alone, but also the unconceived and eternal ones
Are recognizable in the picture,
Just as our mother, the earth, recognizes herself,
And light and air, through the plant kingdom.
But the all-gathering day of the festival
Is the ultimate sign of love, the witness
Of your existence, o holy powers.

The gods aren't revealed in miracles now,
Nor do they remain unseen as during a storm;
Now they are met together as guests,
A holy number, holy in every way,
And present in choruses of song.
And the person they love most,
Their favorite, is here.
Thus I've summoned you to the banquet
Now prepared, you, the unforgettable one,
To the evening of time, o Youth,
To be the Prince of the Festival.
And our race will not sleep
Until all the promised, immortal gods
Are here in our halls
To speak of their heaven.

Lightly breathing winds
Proclaim your arrival;
Valley mists announce you all,
And the earth, still sounding from the storm.
Hope colors the cheeks;
Mother and child
Sit before the house door,
Looking upon the peace.
Few seem to die:
A premonition, sent from the golden light,
Holds the soul back;
A promise retains the eldest.

Now all labors,
The seasoning of life,
Are prepared and completed above.
Everything pleases,
Simple things the most.
The long-awaited
Golden fruit
Has fallen from the ancient tree
After terrible storms,
But then is guarded, like a treasured possession,
By holy Fate with gentle weapons:
This has the shape of the gods.

Like a lioness, Mother,
Nature, you lament,
Since you lost your children.
Your enemy, all-loving one,
Has stolen them from you,
Since you adopted him almost
To be your own son, placing
Gods in the company of satyrs.
Thus you've created much
And buried much,
Because that which you brought
To light too soon, all-powerful one,
Now hates you.
But this too you recognize and accept,
For whatever arouses fear prefers
To rest insensate below
Until its time has come.







Out for a walk

The margins of the forest are beautiful,
as if painted onto the green slopes.
I walk around, and sweet peace
rewards me for the thorns
in my heart, when the mind has grown
dark, for right from the start
art and thinking have cost it pain.
There are lovely pictures in the valley,
for example the gardens and trees,
and the narrow footbridge, and the brook,
hardly visible. How beautifully
the landscape shines, cheerfully distant,
like a splendid picture, where I come
to visit when the weather is mild.
A kindly divinity leads us on at first
with blue, then prepares clouds,
shaped like gray domes, with
searing lightning and rolling thunder,
then comes the loveliness of the fields,
and beauty wells forth from
the source of the primal image.








Third version

The fruits are ripe, dipped in fire,
Cooked and sampled on earth. And there's a law,
That things crawl off in the manner of snakes,
Prophetically, dreaming on the hills of heaven.
And there is much that needs to be retained,
Like a load of wood on the shoulders.
But the pathways are dangerous.
The captured elements and ancient laws of earth
Run astray like horses. There is a constant yearning
For all that is unconfined. But much needs
To be retained. And loyalty is required.
Yet we mustn't look forwards or backwards.
We should let ourselves be cradled
As if on a boat rocking on a lake.

But what about things that we love?
We see sun shining on the ground, and the dry dust,
And at home the forests deep with shadows,
And smoke flowering from the rooftops,
Peacefully, near the ancient crowning towers.
These signs of daily life are good,
Even when by contrast something divine
Has injured the soul.
For snow sparkles on an alpine meadow,
Half-covered with green, signifying generosity
Of spirit in all situations, like flowers in May —
A wanderer walks up above on a high trail
And speaks irritably to a friend about a cross
He sees in the distance, set for someone
Who died on the path... what does it mean?

My Achilles
Died near a fig tree,
And Ajax lies in the caves of the sea
Near the streams of Skamandros —
Great Ajax died abroad
Following Salamis' inflexible customs,
A rushing sound at his temples —
But Patroclus died in the King's armor.
Many others died as well.
But Eleutherai, the city
Of Mnemosyne, once stood upon
Mount Kithaeron. Evening
Loosened her hair, after the god
Had removed his coat.
For the gods are displeased
If a person doesn't compose
And spare himself.
But one has to do it,
And grief is soon gone.










Once gods walked…

Once gods walked among humans,
The splendid Muses and youthful Apollo
Inspired and healed us, just like you.
And you are to me as if one of the Holy Ones
Had sent me forth into life, and the image
Of my beloved goes with me,
And wherever I stay and whatever I learn,
I learned and gained it from her,
With a love that lasts until death.

Then let us live, you with whom I suffer
And inwardly strive towards better times
In faith and loyalty. For we are the ones.
And if people should remember us both
In years to come, when Spirit again prevails,
They'd say that these lonely ones lovingly
Created a secret world, known to the gods alone.
The earth will take back those concerned
With impermanent things: others climb higher
To ethereal Light who've been faithful
To the love inside themselves, and to the spirit
Of the gods. Thus they master Fate
In patience, hope and quietness.







When I was a boy...

When I was a boy
a god would often rescue me
from the shouting and violence of humans.
Then, safe and well, I would play
with the meadow flowers,
and heaven's breezes
would play with me.

And as you delight the heart
of plants, stretching their tender
arms toward you,
Father Helios,
so you delighted my heart,
and I was your beloved,
holy Luna, just like Endymion!

All you faithful
friendly gods!
I wish you knew
how my soul loved you!

Naturally I couldn't call you
by name then, nor did you use
mine, as humans do, as if
they really knew each other.

But I was better acquainted with you
than I ever was with humans.
I knew the stillness of the Aether:
I never understood the words of men.

The euphony of the rustling
meadow was my education;
among flowers I learned to love.

I grew up
in the arms of the gods.







To the Fates

Grant me just one summer, powerful ones,
And just one autumn for ripe songs,
That my heart, filled with that sweet
Music, may more willingly die within me.

The soul, denied its divine heritage in life,
Won't find rest down in Hades either.
But if what is holy to me, the poem
That rests in my heart, succeeds —

Then welcome, silent world of shadows!
I'll be content, even though it's not my own lyre
That leads me downwards. Once I'll have
Lived like the gods, and more isn't necessary.








for the Earl of Homburg


The god
Is near, and hard to grasp.
But where there is danger,
A rescuing element grows as well.
Eagles live in the darkness,
And the sons of the Alps
Cross over the abyss without fear
On lightly-built bridges.
Therefore, since the summits
Of Time are heaped about,
And dear friends live near,
Growing weak on the separate mountains —
Then give us calm waters;
Give us wings, and loyal minds
To cross over and return.

Thus I spoke, when faster
Than I could imagine a spirit
Led me forth from my own home
To a place I thought I'd never go.
The shaded forests and yearning
Brooks of my native country
Were glowing in the twilight.
I couldn't recognize the lands
I passed through, but then suddenly
In fresh splendor, mysterious
In the golden haze, quickly emerging
In the steps of the sun,
Fragrant with a thousand peaks,
Asia rose before me.

Dazzled I searched for something
Familiar, since the broad streets
Were unknown to me: where the gold-bejeweled
Patoklos comes rushing down from Tmolus,
Where Taurus and Messogis stand,
And the gardens are full of flowers,
Like a quiet fire. Up above
In the light the silver snow
Thrives, and ivy grows from ancient
Times on the inaccessible walls,
Like a witness to immortal life,
While the solemn god-built palaces
Are borne by living columns
Of cypress and laurel.

But around Asia's gates
Unshaded sea-paths rush
About the unpredictable sea,
Though sailors know where
The islands are. When I heard
that one of these close by
Was Patmos, I wanted very much
To put in there, to enter
The dark sea-cave. For unlike
Cyprus, rich with springs,
Or any of the others, Patmos
Isn't splendidly situated,

But it's nevertheless hospitable
In a more modest home. And if
A stranger should come to her,
Shipwrecked or homesick
Or grieving for a departed friend,
She'll gladly listen, and her
Offspring as well, the voices
In the hot grove, so that where sands blow
and heat cracks the tops of the fields,
They hear him, these voices,
And echo the man's grief.
Thus she once looked after
The prophet that was loved by God,
Who in his holy youth

Had walked together inseparably
With the Son of the Highest,
Because the Storm-Bearer loved
The simplicity of his disciple.
Thus that attentive man observed
The countenance of the god directly,
There at the mystery of the wine,
Where they sat together at the hour
Of the banquet, when the Lord with
His great spirit quietly foresaw his
Own death, and forespoke it and also
His final act of love, for he always
Had words of kindness to speak,
Even then in his prescience,
To soften the raging of the world.
For all is good. Then he died. Much
Could be said about it. At the end
His friends recognized how joyous
He appeared, and how victorious.

And yet the men grieved, now that evening
Had come, and were taken by surprise,
Since they were full of great intentions,
And loved living in the light,
And didn't want to leave the countenance
Of the Lord, which had become their home.
It penetrated them like fire into hot iron,
And the one they love walked beside them
Like a shadow. Therefore he sent
The Spirit upon them, and the house
Shook and God's thunder rolled
Over their expectant heads, while
They were gathered with heavy hearts,
Like heroes under sentence of death,

When he again appeared to them
At his departure. For now
The majestic day of the sun
Was extinguished, as he cast
The shining scepter from himself,
Suffering like a god, but knowing
He would come again at the right time.
It would have been wrong
To cut off disloyally his work
With humans, since now it pleased
Him to live on in loving night,
And keep his innocent eyes
Fixed upon depths of wisdom.
Living images flourish deep
In the mountains as well,

Yet it is fearful how God randomly
Scatters the living, and how very far.
And how fearsome it was to leave
The sight of dear friends and walk off
Alone far over the mountains, where
The divine spirit was twice
Recognized, in unity.
It hadn't been prophesied to them:
In fact it seized them right by the hair
Just at the moment when the fugitive
God looked back, and they called out to him
To stop, and they reached their hands to
One another as if bound by a golden rope,
And called it bad —

But when he dies —he whom beauty
Loved most of all, so that a miracle
Surrounded him, and he became
Chosen by the gods —
And when those who lived together
Thereafter in his memory, became
Perplexed and no longer understood
One another; and when floods carry off
The sand and willows and temples,
And when the fame of the demi-god
And his disciples is blown away
And even the Highest turns aside his
Countenance, so that nothing
Immortal can be seen either
In heaven or upon the green earth —
What does all this mean?

It is the action of the winnower,
When he shovels the wheat
And casts it up into the clear air
And swings it across the threshing floor.
The chaff falls to his feet, but
The grain emerges finally.
It's not bad if some of it gets lost,
Or if the sounds of his living speech
Fade away. For the work
Of the gods resembles our own:
The Highest doesn't want it
Accomplished all at once.
As mineshafts yield iron,
And Etna its glowing resins,
Then I'd have sufficient resources
To shape a picture of him and see
What the Christ was like.

But if somebody spurred himself on
Along the road and, speaking sadly,
Fell upon me and surprised me, so that
Like a servant I'd make an image of the god —
Once I saw the lords
Of heaven visibly angered, not
That I wanted to become something different,
But that I wanted to learn something more.
The lords are kind, but while they reign
They hate falsehood most, when humans become
Inhuman. For not they, but undying Fate
It is that rules, and their activity
Spins itself out and quickly reaches an end.
When the heavenly procession proceeds higher
Then the joyful Son of the Highest
Is called like the sun by the strong,

As a watchword, like a staff of song
That points downwards,
For nothing is ordinary. It awakens
The dead, who aren't yet corrupted.
And many are waiting whose eyes are
Still too shy to see the light directly.
They wouldn't do well in the sharp
Radiance: a golden bridle
Holds back their courage.
But when quiet radiance falls
From the holy scripture, with
The world forgotten and their eyes
Wide open, then they may enjoy that grace,
And study the light in stillness.

And if the gods love me,
As I now believe,
Then how much more
Do they love yourself.
For I know that the will
Of the eternal Father
Concerns you greatly.
Under a thundering sky
His sign is silent.
And there is one who stands
Beneath it all his life.
For Christ still lives.
But the heroes, all his sons
Have come, and the holy scriptures
Concerning him,
While earth's deeds clarify
The lightning, like a footrace
That can't be stopped.
And he is there too,
Aware of his own works
From the very beginning.

For far too long
The honor of the gods
Has been invisible.
They practically have to
Guide our fingers as we write,
And with embarrassment the energy
Is torn from our hearts.
For every heavenly being
Expects a sacrifice,
And when this is neglected,
Nothing good can come of it.
Without awareness we've worshipped
Our Mother the Earth, and the Light
Of the Sun as well, but what our Father
Who reigns over everything wants most
Is that the established word be
Carefully attended, and that
Which endures be interpreted well.
German song must accord with this.







Hyperion's Song of Destiny

Holy spirits, you walk up there
in the light, on soft earth.
Shining god-like breezes
touch upon you gently,
as a woman's fingers
play music on holy strings.

Like sleeping infants the gods
breathe without any plan;
the spirit flourishes continually
in them, chastely kept,
as in a small bud,
and their holy eyes
look out in still
eternal clearness.

A place to rest
isn't given to us.
Suffering humans
decline and blindly fall
from one hour to the next,
like water thrown
from cliff to cliff,
year after year,
down into the Unknown.







The Course of Life

You too wanted better things, but love
forces all of us down. Sorrow bends us more
forcefully, but the arc doesn't return to its
point of origin without a reason.

Upwards or downwards! In holy Night,
where mute Nature plans the coming days,
doesn't there reign in the most twisted Orcus
something straight and direct?

This I have learned. Never to my knowledge
did you, all-preserving gods, like mortal
masters, lead me providentially
along a straight path.

The gods say that man should test
everything, and that strongly nourished
he be thankful for everything, and understand
the freedom to set forth wherever he will.







As on a Holiday

As on a holiday, when a farmer
Goes out to look at his fields, in the morning,
After cool lightning has fallen through the hot night,
And thunder still echoes in the distance,
And the stream returns to its banks,
And the earth becomes green and fresh,
And drops of joyful rain from heaven rest
Upon the vines, and the trees in the grove
Stand shining in the quiet sun —

Thus poets stand in favorable weather:
Those whom no master, but rather Nature,
Mighty and beautiful in its divinity, wonderfully
And universally present, educates with gentle embrace.
And when Nature appears to sleep at some seasons,
Either in the sky or among plants or nations,
So the aspect of poets is also mournful.
They seem to be alone, but their foreknowledge continues.
For Nature itself is prescient, as it rests.

Now it is day! I waited to see it come,
And what I saw — my words bespeak holiness!
For Nature, who is older than time,
Standing above the gods of the Occident and Orient,
Has awakened to the sounds of arms.
All-creating Nature feels the enthusiasm anew,
From Aether down to the abyss,
As when she was born of holy Chaos,
According to the established law.

And as fire shines in a man's eye
When he plans something great,
So a fire is kindled again in the minds
Of poets, by the signs and deeds of the world.
What happened before, scarcely sensed,
Becomes apparent now for the first time.
And those who plowed our fields
In the form of smiling laborers
Are now recognized as the all-living
Forces of the gods.

Would you question them? Their spirit moves in song,
Grown from the sun of day and the warm earth,
And from storms, those of the air, and others
Originating farther within the depths of time,
More perceptible and meaningful to us,
Drifting between heaven and earth, and among nations.
They are thoughts of the common spirit,
Quietly ending in the mind of the poet,

Which, long familiar with the infinite,
Is struck quickly, and shakes with the memory.
Set on fire by the holy radiance,
It creates a song — the fruit born of love,
The work of gods and man,
Bearing witness to both.
Thus lightning fell on Semele's house,
As poets relate, since she wanted to see
A god in person. Struck by the god,
She gave birth to holy Bacchus,
The fruit of the storm.

Thus the sons of earth now drink in
The fire of heaven without danger.
And it is our duty, poets, to stand
Bare-headed under the storms of God,
Grasping with our own hand
The Father's beam itself,
And to offer the gift of heaven,
Wrapped in song, to the people.
If our hearts are pure, like children,
And our hands are guiltless,

The Father's pure radiance won't sear;
And the deeply shaken heart, sharing
The suffering of the stronger god,
Will endure the raging storms when he approaches.

But alas, if from ...................



And if I now say ..................

I had come to see the gods,
They themselves cast me down to the living,
Me, the false priest, down to darkness,
That I sing a song of warning to those able to learn.
There ................................







Bread and Wine

to Heinze


Round about the city rests. The illuminated streets grow
Quiet, and coaches rush along, adorned with torches.
Men go home to rest, filled with the day's pleasures;
Busy minds weigh up profit and loss contentedly
At home. The busy marketplace comes to rest,
Vacant now of flowers and grapes and crafts.
But the music of strings sounds in distant gardens:
Perhaps lovers play there, or a lonely man thinks
About distant friends, and about his own youth.
Rushing fountains flow by fragrant flower beds,
Bells ring softly in the twilight air, and a watchman
Calls out the hour, mindful of the time.
Now a breeze rises and touches the crest of the grove —
Look how the moon, like the shadow of our earth,
Also rises stealthily! Phantastical night comes,
Full of stars, unconcerned probably about us —
Astonishing night shines, a stranger among humans,
Sadly over the mountain tops, in splendor.


The kindness of exalted Night is wonderful, and no one
Knows where she comes from, or what will emerge from her.
Thus she moves the world, and the hopeful minds of humans:
Not even a sage knows what she's up to.
The highest god, who loves you very much, wants it so;
Therefore you prefer reasonable day to the night.
But occasionally a clear eye loves the shadows as well,
And tries to sleep just for pleasure, before it's necessary,
Or a brave person likes to gaze directly into the Night:
Surely it's right to dedicate wreaths and songs to her,
Since she is holy to those who are lost or dead, although
She herself exists totally free in spirit, forever.
But she must grant us oblivion and holy drunkenness,
That in the hesitating interval, in the darkness,
There'll be something for us to hold on to.
She must grant us flowing words, sleepless
As lovers are, and a fuller cup, and bolder life, and
Holy remembrance as well, to stay wakeful at night.


We, masters and apprentices both, hide our hearts
In vain, and repress our enthusiasm for no reason.
For who could stop it, or forbid us our pleasure?
The fire of the gods drives us to set forth by day
And by night. So come, let us look at what is apparent,
And seek what is ours, as distant as it may be!
One thing is certain: a standard always exists, at noon
Or at midnight, common to all of us. But also
To each of us something personal is granted;
Everyone goes and comes where he can.
Thus playful madness may mock mockery itself,
Seizing singers suddenly in the holy night.
Then let's be off to the Isthmus! There, where
The open sea roars at Parnassus, and the snow
Shines around the Delphian cliffs,
There in the land of Olympus, on Cithaeron's peak,
Under the pines, amid vineyards, from which
Thebes and Ismenos roar in the land of Cadmus.
The approaching god comes from there, and points back.


Holy Greece! Home of all the gods — so it's true,
What once we heard when we were young?
A festival hall, whose floor is the ocean, whose tables
Are the mountains — anciently built for a single purpose.
But where are the thrones? Where the temples, the songs,
The vases full of nectar for the pleasure of the gods?
Where are the oracles that shine for miles and miles?
Delphi sleeps, and where does great Fate resound?
Where does Fate suddenly break forth, full of omnipresent
Joy, thundering out of clear air over our eyes?
Father Aether! It called and flew from tongue to tongue
A thousand times, and nobody had to endure life alone.
Shared, such fortune is a joy; exchanged with strangers,
It becomes jubilant. Sleeping, the power of the word grows:
Father! Joyful! The ancient sign resounds, as far it reaches,
Inherited from the elders, striking, creating.
Thus the gods enter; thus the season of the gods falls
From the shadows down to men, shaking the depths.


At first the gods come unperceived. Children try to get
Near them. But their glory dazzles and blinds and
Awakens fear. A demi-god scarcely knows the people
By name, who now approach him with gifts. But their
Courage is great. Their joy fills his heart, and he hardly
Knows what to do with the offerings. He busies himself
And becomes wasteful, and unholy things almost become holy,
Which he touches with a blessing hand, foolishly and kindly.
The gods tolerate it as long as they can, and then in truth
They appear themselves. And people become accustomed
To this fortune, to the daytime, and to the sight of the manifest
Ones, the faces of those formerly called the "One and All,"
Deeply making every silent breast content, and first and alone
Filling every desire. It's the way people are. When something
Good appears, and even when it's a god that provides them
With gifts, they don't see or recognize it. First they have
To get used to it; then they call it their closest possession.
And only then will words of praise arise, like flowers.


And now they prepare in earnest to honor the holy gods.
Everything must really and truly proclaim their praise.
Nothing displeasing to the high ones may come to light.
Idle endeavors aren't proper for the Aether.
Therefore, to stand worthily in the presence of the gods,
Nations rise in splendid order and beautiful
Temples and cities are built, strong and noble, which rise
Above the banks of the waters —but where are they?
Where are the famous, flourishing cities, crowning the festival?
Thebes and Athens are fading. Don't the weapons clash
At Olympus, or golden chariots at the games? Are there
No longer wreaths to decorate the ships of Corinth?
Why are the ancient holy theaters silent?
What happened to the joyful ceremonial dancing?
Why doesn't a god place his sign on a human forehead,
Leaving his mark on the person he has struck?
Or, as gods used to, come comfortingly, and assume human
Shape, then complete and close the festival of the gods?


But friend, we come too late. It's true that the gods live,
But up over our heads, up in a different world.
They function endlessly up there, and seem to care little
If we live or die, so much do they avoid us.
A weak vessel cannot hold them forever; humans can
Endure the fullness of the gods only at times. Therefore
Life itself becomes a dream about them. But perplexity
And sleep assist us: distress and night-time strengthen,
Until enough heroes have grown in the bronze cradle,
With hearts as strong as the gods', as it used to be.
Thundering they arise. Meanwhile I often think it is
Better to stay asleep, than to exist without companions,
Just waiting it out, not knowing what to do or say
In the meantime. What use are poets in times of need?
But you'll say they're like holy priests of the wine god,
Moving from land to land in the holy night.


Some time ago — to us it seems like a long time —
All those who made our lives happy climbed upwards.
The Father turned his face away from people,
And sorrow came rightly upon the earth.
Finally a quiet genius appeared, comforting in a god-like
Way, who announced the end of the day, and disappeared.
The choir of gods left some gifts behind, as a sign
Of their presence and eventual return, which we
May appreciate in our human fashion, as we used to.
That which is superior had grown too great for pleasure
With spirit among men. And to this day no one's strong enough
For the highest joys, although some gratitude survives quietly.
Bread is the fruit of the earth, yet it's blessed also by light.
The pleasure of wine comes from the thundering god.
We remember the gods thereby, those who were once
With us, and who'll return when the time is right.
Thus poets sing of the wine god in earnest, and their
Ringing praises of the old one aren't devised in vain.


Yes, they say rightly that he reconciles day with night,
And leads the stars of heaven up and down forever —
Joyful always, like the boughs of evergreen pine
That he loves, and the wreath he chose of ivy,
Since it endures, and brings a trace of the fugitive gods
Down to the darkness of those who must live in their absence.
What the sons of the ancients foretold of God's children:
Look, it's us, the fruit of Hesperia!
Through humans it is wonderfully and exactly fulfilled;
Let those believe who've examined the matter. But so much
Goes on, yet nothing succeeds: we are like heartless shadows
Until our Father Aether recognizes us and belongs to us all.
Meanwhile the Son, the Syrian, comes down among
The shadows, as torchbearer of the Highest.
Holy sages observe it; a smile shines out from
The imprisoned soul; their eyes thaw in the light.
Titans dream more softly, asleep in the arms of the earth—
Even jealous Cerberus drinks and falls asleep.




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