— For the Earl of Homburg
Is near, and hard to grasp.
But where there is danger,
A rescuing agency grows as well.
Eagles live in the darkness,
And the sons of the Alps
Cross over the abyss without fear
On lightly-built bridges.
Therefore, since the summits
Of Time are heaped about,
And dear friends live near,
Growing weak on the farthest mountains—
Then give us clear waters;
Give us wings, and loyal minds
To cross over and return.
Thus I spoke, when faster
Than I could imagine a spirit
Led me forth from my own home
To a place I thought I’d never go.
The shaded forests and plaintive
Brooks of my native country
Were glowing in the twilight
As I walked. I didn't recognize
The terrain, but then suddenly
In fresh splendor, mysterious
In the golden haze, quickly arisen
In the steps of the sun,
Fragrant with a thousand peaks,
Asia flowered before me.
Patmos is the Aegean island where it was thought that St. John wrote the Book of the Apocalypse. The poem was published in February 1803 and belongs to the Late Hymns. The first and last lines of the poem are among the most quoted lines written by Hölderlin. It is dedicated to the Landgraf von Homburg, the ruler of a small state near Frankfurt who was known as a Bible scholar and also for his advocacy of Pietism, an austere form of German Protestantism prominent in Baden-Württemberg. He is addressed personally in the second-last strophe from the end.
The poem views the Hellenic religious tradition with Christian eyes and imagines a correspondence between them. The “mystery of the wine” links the Last Supper with Dionysos, and the written Gospels are taken as a human response to the impossibility of being a god oneself. The Evangelists act like classical poets: they are the intermediaries and seers left to recount godlike deeds in texts that endure. History itself becomes in its most essential aspect a continuous process of supernatural revelation actualized by poets.
In the second strophe above, Asia means Asia Minor, which for Hölderlin is Ionian Greece and the Biblical lands.