Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin


The Rhine - 2

What arises unconditionally is a riddle.
Poetic songs can barely reveal it.
You’ll stay the same as you started,
Whatever the effects of training
And contingency.  And discipline too,
But being born is the key factor,
And the ray of light that meets
The new-born infant.
But where is there anyone
Like the Rhine, remaining free
All his life to fulfill his heart’s
Desire, born from auspicious heights,
Born in fortune from a holy womb?

His word is therefore jubilant.
He doesn’t want to cry like other children,
Wrapped in swaddling clothes.
When the crooked riverbanks
First creep to his side and thirstily
Wind around him, wanting
To draw him along and protect him,
The reckless one, with their teeth,
He rips them apart like snakes
And tumbles off with the spoils.
Unless in the rush someone greater than he
Restrains him or lets him grow,
Then he’ll have to split open the earth
Like lightning, and the forests will run
After him under his spell, and
The mountains will sink around him.

A god wants to spare his sons
Rushing through life: he smiles when
Rivers like this one, unstoppable
Though obstructed by the holy Alps,
Grow angry with him in its depths.
In such a smithy all that is pure
Is forged, and it is beautiful
After leaving the mountains
How he should travel quietly
And contentedly through German lands,
Easing desire with goodly enterprise,
Father Rhine building the land,
Nourishing dear children
In the cities he has founded.

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