Friedrich Hoelderlin, Two Poems

Breughel, detail

[My translations of two poems by German poet Friedrich Hoelderlin. The lines of the first poem are successively indented in the original, giving a cascading effect. Unfortunately WordPress will not let me do it that way. In the second, late, poem I have closely followed the punctuation and syntax of the original.]

Friedrich Hölderlin

(1770-1843; as a student a close friend of Hegel and Schelling at the university of Tübingen and a protégé of Schiller; went insane from about 1803 onwards; not classifiable as ‘classical’ or ‘ romantic’, only really appreciated after the first world war; now of pan-European significance probably eclipsing Goethe’s, with a German influence extending through Rilke, Trakl and Celan.)

Hyperion’s Song of Fate

Ye wander above in the light
On soft ground, blessed spirits!
Divine gleaming airs
Touch you lightly,
Like the lady harpist’s fingers
Holy strings.

Fateless, like the sleeping
Infant, breathe the heavenly ones;
Chastely kept
In modest bud,
Their spirit
Blooms eternally,
And their blessed eyes
Look out in still
Eternal clarity.

Yet to us is given
To rest nowhere,
Suffering humanity
Shrinks and blindly falls from
One hour to the next,
Like water from cliff
To cliff thrown,
For years down into the unknown.


With yellow pears hangs
And full of wild roses
The land in the lake,
Ye sweet swans,
And drunk with kisses
Ye dip your heads
Into the clear and holy water.

Woe is me, whence shall I take
In winter the flowers, and whence
The sunshine,
And earth’s shadows?
The walls stand
wordless and cold, in the wind
the clatter of flags.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on June 26, 2011.

7 Responses to “Friedrich Hoelderlin, Two Poems”

  1. Thank you for translating the Hölderlin poems. Although there are many translations it is always wonderful to both find another and also find another vehicle to welcome new readers of this great poet.
    I hope you will be encouraged to translate a few of the early poems [before 1797] that have never been translated.

    Best wishes from a Canadian reader.

    • Thank you for your comments and subscription, Jim, much obliged. Good to see there’s fan of little known poets (for English speakers) like Hoelderlin and Stadler out there. I had translated quite a few other Hoelderlin poets last year but lost them in a lightning strike on my computer… Peter

      • May I suggest that you translate the following early Hölderlin poetry as at present there are no English translations available anywhere either in print or online:

        Lied der Freundschaft
        Lied der Liebe
        An die Stille

        Thank you.

        Jim Devin
        Toronto Canada

      • Thanks for the suggestion, Jim, I’ll check out the poems and see what I can do (time permitting). Peter

  2. I came across Hoderlinn via Heidegger. Any more you feel up to trying to unpack and render into English would be interesting. Thanks. Bigger than Goethe- an enviable position to be in

    • Thanks, Nick. Have done a few more Hoelderlin translations. Lot lost in translation, as usual. Not much interest in them nowadays, I think, but I’ll see what I can do.

    You walk above in the light
    On gentle grounds, O souls of the blessedl
    Heavenly brilliant breezes
    Move you with ease,
    As the touch of the artist on
    Strings that are sacred.

    Fatelessly, like the slumbering
    Infant, breathe the divine;
    Chastely sealed,
    In humility budding,
    Blooms their spirit
    Ever alive,
    And the eyes of the blessed
    Gaze with serene and
    Infinite clearness.

    To us, though, is given
    No rest wherever we go:
    The suffering mortals
    Are vanishing, falling
    Blindly from hour to
    Hour, like the water
    From precipice hurtled
    To precipice, down through
    Long-drawn-out years
    to uncertain ends.


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