Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin


Once gods walked

Once gods walked among humans,
The splendid Muses and youthful Apollo
Inspired and cared for us, just like you do.
You’re like them to me: it’s as if one of the Holy Ones
Had sent me forth into life, and the image
Of my heroic beloved would go with me,
And wherever I stayed and whatever I learned,
I would learn and gain it from her,
With a love that lasts until death.

Then let us live, you with whom I suffer
And inwardly strive towards better times
In faith and loyalty. For we are the ones!
And if people should remember us both
In years to come, when Spirit again prevails,
They’d say that these lonely ones lovingly
Created a secret world, known to the gods alone.

The earth will take back those concerned
With impermanent things: others will climb higher
To ethereal Light who’ve been faithful
To the love inside themselves, and to the spirit
Of the gods. Thus they master Fate
In patience, hope and quietness.


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This fragment from an unfinished elegy combines two themes characteristic of Hölderlin: the spiritualized Utopia he associates with the Greek gods, and his projection of exceptional spiritual competence onto a female acquaintance, real or imagined. In other writings she is named Diotima, derived apparently from Socrates’ speech in Plato’s Symposion. In this poem the real-life inspiratrix is Susette Gontard.


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