Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin


Out for a Walk

The margins of the forest are beautiful,
As if painted onto the green slopes.
I walk around, and sweet peace
Rewards me for every thorn
In my heart, when my mood has grown
Dark, for right from the very beginning
Art and thinking have cost me pain.
There are lovely pictures in the valley,
For example the gardens and trees,
And the narrow footbridge, and the brook,
Barely visible. How beautifully
The landscape shines, cheerfully distant,
Like a splendid picture, where I come
To visit when the weather is mild.
A kindly divinity leads us on at first
With blue, then it prepares clouds
Shaped like gray domes, with
Searing lightning and rolling thunder,
Then comes the loveliness of the fields,
And beauty wells forth from
The source of the primal image.


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During the long years of his insanity, Hölderlin was occasionally able to focus his mind long enough to write presentable poetry, some of which resulted from supervised walks he was taken on through the countryside around Tübingen. I've translated the poem's German title, which is simply "The Walk," to reflect this. In several of these late poems, Nature reveals itself in the form of pictures. As the poet walks outdoors, what he sees is not Nature itself, but rather images or reflections of Nature, a kind of virtual reality.

If you visit the “Hölderlin Tower” on the bank of the Neckar River in Tübingen today, you can stand in the small apartment where he was looked after for over 35 years, and where it is not hard to imagine how looking through the windows toward the surrounding countryside might have eventually seemed like looking at pictures hanging on the wall.


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