Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin


Bread and Wine


At first the gods come unperceived. Children try to get
   Near them. But their glory dazzles and blinds and
Arouses 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 dearest possession.
   And only then will words of praise arise, like flowers.


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”One and All” (Ἓν καὶ Πᾶν, hen kai pan) was a popular pantheistic concept in philosophy positing the inherent identity of all phenomena. Although enrolled as a student of theology, Hölderlin had been what we today might call a Classics major and in later years published translations of Greek works. He was also from early on a talented philosopher, as one might expect from someone who had roomed with Georg W. F. Hegel in college. Hölderlin wrote on the problem nowadays commonly called ”The One and the Many,” and his contributions to German Idealism are still taken seriously, as for example by Slavoj Žižek in Absolute Recoil.




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