Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin


 

The Journey

Fortunate Swabia, my mother,
With a hundred streams flowing through,
Just like your sister Lombardy over there
Which sparkles even more!
And so many trees, white-flowering and reddish,
Full of wild and darker deep green leaves,
Overshadowed by the neighboring Swiss Alps—
For you live near the hearth of the home,
And you hear how the spring rushes from
Sacrificial silver bowls, poured forth
From unsoiled hands, when crystal ice

Is touched by warm beams,
And the snowy peak floods the earth
With purest water when beaten
With quickening light. In this way
Loyalty is born within you.
Whatever lives close to the source
Finds it hard to leave.
And your children, the cities—
On the lake dawning in the distance,
On the Neckar’s meadows, on the Rhine—
They all believe there’s no better place
To live.

But it's the Caucasus I long for!
Just today I heard the breezes say:
Poets must be free, like the swallows.
In younger days one thing was confided to me,
That in ancient times our forebears,
A bold race, were quietly led on
By the waves of the Danube.
In wonderment, on a very hard day,
Together with the children of the sun
Who were looking for shade, they came
To the Black Sea, known with good reason
To welcome strangers.

For when they first looked at each other,
It was the others who approached first.
Then our people sat down
Under the olive tree, filled with curiosity.
But when their clothes touched,
And they couldn’t understand each other’s
Speech, then conflict might have arisen
If cool breezes hadn’t descended from
The branches and drawn smiles over
The faces of the contenders, as often happens.
So they looked up for a while, and then
Lovingly extended hands. And soon

They swapped weapons and all
Their favorite household possessions;
Then vows were exchanged,
And friendly fathers had nothing
Left to wish for at the wedding
Celebrations of their children.
For out of these holy nuptials
Arose a race of humans more beautiful
Than anything seen before or since.
But where are you now, my dear kinfolk,
That we may enter again into this covenant
To honor our cherished ancestors?

You were there too, beautiful ones, there
On the shores and under the trees of Ionia,
On the plains of Kaustros, where cranes
Cheered by the Aether are encircled
By distant mountains in the twilight.
Or you farmed the islands garlanded with wine,
Resounding with song. Others lived on the Tayget,
On the much-praised Hymettos, and succeeded
Well in the end. And an eternal song echoed
From the spring on Parnassus to the golden
Shining streams of Tmolos. The holy forests
And all the music of strings whispered then
Together, touched by heavenly gentleness.

O land of Homer!
Ionia, I remember you
Near the purple cherry tree,
Or when you send me young peaches
That grow in the vineyard, and when
Swallows arrive from afar
Having much to say, and build
In May their nests on my walls,
Both in daytime and under the stars.
Yet humankind prefers what is actually at hand.
Therefore I’ve come to see you, islands,
And you, deltas of rivers, you halls of Thetis,
You forests, and you clouds over Ida!

But I don’t intend to stay.
The secretive mother I fled from
Is inflexible and ungovernable.
One of her sons, the Rhine,
Wanted to take her heart by storm:
Rejected, he vanished into
The distance, nobody knows where.
But that’s not how I would want
To leave her, and I’ve come only to welcome you,
The Graces of Greece, Heaven’s daughters,
So that if the journey is not too far,
You’ll come to us, you fair ones!

When zephyrs breathe more gently
And morning sends its loving arrows
To us who have been most patient,
When soft clouds bloom
Over our shy eyes, then we'll say,
Why do you, the Charites,
Come to savages?
The serving maids of heaven
Are marvelous, like all
That is born of the gods.
If a god creeps up and punishes
Someone with force who wants
To set himself equal to him,
It often seems like a dream
And takes by surprise anyone
Who's hardly thought about it.

 

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Notes

 

The Journey celebrates an imaginary union of Germany and Ancient Greece, symbolically conjoined by the Danube River, which flows from the poet’s homeland of Swabia to the Black Sea. In this respect it is thematically similar to The Ister, included in this collection.

The poem appeared in 1802 after Holderlin had begun translating Pindar, and it appropriates his triadic sequence of nine strophes and similar stylistic elements, such as an introductory priamel, encomastic tropes leading to and from the central mythic narrative, gnomic statements, and a concluding invitation to the Graces.

The river Kaustros (Cayster) is in Lydia, a Greek province of Ionia. Tayget is a mountain in Sparta, Hymettos is a mountain range near Athens.

Thetis is a Nereid: a sea-nymph or minor goddess. Mount Ida is a legendary mountain of Ionia. The Graces or Charites are three goddesses who bring us charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, and fertility. They famously appear in Botticelli's Primavera.

 

 

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