No Comment, Quotation — May 17, 2008, 5:58 pm

Hölderlin’s Course of Life

feuerbach-medea-ii

Größers wolltest auch du, aber die Liebe zwingt
All uns nieder, das Leid beuget gewaltiger,
Doch es kehret umsonst nicht
Unser Bogen, woher er kommt.

Aufwärts oder hinab! herrschet in heil’ger Nacht,
Wo die stumme Natur werdende Tage sinnt,
Herrscht im schiefesten Orkus
Nicht ein Grades, ein Recht noch auch?

Dies erfuhr ich. Denn nie, sterblichen Meistern gleich,
Habt ihr Himmlischen, ihr Alleserhaltenden,
Daß ich wüßte, mit Vorsicht
Mich des ebenen Pfads geführt.

Alles prüfe der Mensch, sagen die Himmlischen,
Daß er, kräftig genährt, danken für Alles lern’,
Und verstehe die Freiheit,
Aufzubrechen, wohin er will.


You wanted greater still, but love forces
All of us to the ground; suffering bends powerfully,
Still our arc does not for nothing
Bring us back to the starting point.

Whether up or downwards, does not prevail in the Holy Night
Where quietly Nature contemplates the days to come,
Does not prevail in the crookedest Orcus
One straightness, one Law?

This I experienced. For never, in the manner of mortal masters,
Have you Divine Ones, you who sustain our world,
Yet led me on the straight path,
Not with intent, not that I knew it.

A man must test all that comes his way, say the Divine Ones,
In order that he, powerfully nourished, give thanks for what he learns,
That he understand the freedom,
To move hence, where he wishes.

Friedrich Hölderlin, Lebenslauf (1800) in Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, vol. 1, p. 285 (G. Mieth ed. 1970)(S.H. transl.)


This poem of Hölderlin’s follows a typical theme of the reconciliation of thinking of classical antiquity and Christianity. The poem follows Heraclitus of Ephesus fairly clearly, and the phrase “up or downwards” and the concept of the “arc of life” are taken from his works. Orcus is a Roman god of the underworld, either cruel or gentle depending on the circumstances, but known as a wrathful punisher of those who swear false oaths. The last stanza is a paraphrasing of Thessalonians 5:21 (“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” in the King James text, though the first verb would be modernized as “proof” or “test”).

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2015

The Joke

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abolish High School

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beat Reporter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Going It Alone

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rotten Ice

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Life After Guantánamo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
Photograph by the author
Article
Rotten Ice·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“When I asked if we were going to die, he smiled and said, ‘Imaqa.’ Maybe.”
Photograph © Kari Medig
Article
Life After Guantánamo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’ve seen the hell and I’m still in the beginning of my life.”
Illustration by Caroline Gamon
Article
Going It Alone·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The call to solitude is universal. It requires no cloister walls and no administrative bureaucracy, only the commitment to sit down and still ourselves to our particular aloneness.”
Photograph by Richard Misrach
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Years it would take Jim Bakker to earn enough to pay his federal fine at his current job cleaning prison toilets:

2,331

Zoologists speculated that cannibalism among hippos might have led to an anthrax outbreak in Uganda that has killed at least 220 of the beasts. “I knew hippos were nasty,” said one anthrax expert, “but I didn’t know they went around eating each other.”

A white man in St. Louis was charged with punching a black man at a gas station after telling him to “go back to Ferguson.” “I’m going to let the authorities handle this,” said the victim, a former Major League baseball player, “but I’ve had enough of St. Louis.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today