Hölderlin poems

“All around, the town is quiet, the street is lit up,
And decked out with torches, the wagons dash away.”

Evening, it’s getting late and I’m so tired.

Sometimes, when I lift my eyes, when I walk lonely through the alleys and see the grey figures with their tired faces, I want to sleep.

To rest alone and forget.

Because I see human sacrifices without number, who rush home in the evening, into their empty dens, to end their joyless days hungry and alone.


Has it always been like this?

I think not.

“Sick of the joys of the day, men go home to rest,
And gain and loss weighs a sensible head…”


Wasn’t it just yesterday that we danced together?

That our hearts sang together and we all stood firm on our earth?

“…you found, as a young man.
In the days of hope,
When you sang, the end never was?”

Has it been that long?


We all just looked away for a moment, just got distracted. And suddenly everything disappeared.

How can that be?

How did it happen so quickly?


I’m scared.

Afraid of what could die.

Afraid of what’s already lost.

And I want to sleep and forget.

I want to put it all behind me.


Because worse than our end are all the little deaths we die every day. The loss of beauty, the loss of hope and the pain in our soul.


“The walls stand
Speechless and cold, in the wind
Jingle the flags.”


The flags that were once so important to me, flags that I once carried before me full of pride and courage, now clink in the wind alone.



Speechless and cold.


And not just me.

At some point in recent years, we have all lost track. Gave up, lost our beauty, lost our way.


On my flags were the music, the names of poets, all the things we built up over the centuries and which have always shown me the way.

But today they are no longer waving.

And I don’t think they’ll be blowing for anyone anytime soon.


Do you notice it too?

The walls stand speechless and cold.

The old temples and tombs, the castles, fortresses, churches and museums.

The stones that spoke to us and showed us who we are.


But what will we do when winter comes?

Behind which walls shall we flee?

And by which images shall we warm ourselves?


“Woe is me, where shall I take
It is winter, the flowers, and where
The sunshine
And shadow of the earth?”


The world is getting colder and poorer. And together with it, so do we.

Look into the eyes of the people, see the desperation, their hopelessness and fear.

Do you feel it too?


Maybe what the poets say is true. Maybe we really are a dying sex, a culture in the pale sunset of being.

“…in the sunset…
Happy bathing? Away with you, and the earth is cold,
And the bird of the night swishes
Uncomfortable in front of your eyes.”


Maybe that’s why today is so much sadness? So much suffering, despair, fatigue and pain?

Who can take a happy bath in the sunset?

The earth is getting cold.

And the walls that were meant to protect us burst in the cold.


Sometimes, when I try to dream, listen to my beloved Schubert, search for my youth in the books of Balzac, Hesse, Maupassant or Rilke, I can only cry and wish to perish.

I no longer like this world in which everything beautiful flees and the world sinks into darkness.


“I have enjoyed the pleasures of this world,
The hours of youth are, how long! how long! have passed,
April and May and Junius are far away,
I’m nothing anymore, I don’t like living!”


Some days I think I should exhort myself.

Doesn’t a poet speak of man’s courage in the face of his end? Their despair and the strength that comes from it?


Maybe I shouldn’t end my life like this. Maybe I should create something, something beautiful, before I go. To give something back to art, some of the gift that it gave me.


I wish I could find the strength just once more to give our culture back at least a speck of dust from what it was to me.

So that the walls would hold for a while longer.

Then I could leave in peace.


All quotes from: Friedrich Hölderlin, “Sämtliche Gedichte”, DKV Taschenbuch, Herausgeber Jochen Schmidt, transalted by the Author (Thomas Stiegler)

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