Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin


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.


Next Poem     German text     Home      All poems            



The fact that human progress is erratic is a natural consequence of human freedom. The poem’s imagery is taken from Heraclitus, and this is amongst the most popular of Hölderlin's poems. Orcus refers to Hades, the Underworld.


Website and Translations Copyright © 2022 by James Mitchell