— For 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.
Hölderlin's great masterwork was written in 1800-1801 and describes the situation of mankind after the departure of the gods. This series of nine poems introduces the collection because the poems identify and unite three main motives of Hölderlin's visionary inspiration: the disappearance of the gods worshipped in Antiquity, the role of Germany as a successor and inheritor of the cultural traditions of ancient Greece, and the mission of the poet in modern times now that the gods have left.
The first poem begins in the present at close of business on a weekday evening. The splendid figure of Night appears, as personified in so many poems of the Romantic period, and draws our attention skywards.