825. Man, by Friedrich Hölderlin

Scarce had the young peaks begun, O earth,
   To burgeon from your waters, and from the gray
      Ocean wilderness the first islands,
         Dense with evergreen woods, to waft

Fragrant breaths of pleasure; and the sungod's eye
   Gazed with joy upon the new arriving
      Plants, radiant children of his
         Eternal youth, and your offspring.

Then on the fairest island, round whose woods
   Calm and delicate air constantly flowed,
      Lay, after a warm night,
         Born under grapes at break of day,

O mother earth, your fairest child; and up he looks,
   The boy, to his father Helios, him he knows,
      And he wakes and takes, tasting the sweet
         Berries one by one, the holy

Vine as nurse; soon he is tall; the animals
   Shun him, for he is different, man, resembling
      Neither his father nor yourself,
         For in his being, from the start,

His father's sheer soul uniquely blent,
   And daringly, with your delight, o earth, and sorrow:
      His will it is to be like nature,
         The mother of gods, and all-embracing.

Ah! hence from your heart's reach his exuberance
   Drives him, earth, your gifts and tender trammels
      Are all for nought; wild he is
         And something better is what he looks for.

Leaving his fragrant meadow inland, man
   Must set forth on blossomless deep waters;
      And though his orchard shine with fruit,
         Gold like the night of stars, he digs his

Tunnels in the hills, and scans the shaft, aloof
   From his father's calm light, and more,
      Disloyal to the sungod, who bears no love
         For slavish men and mocks care.

For forest birds more freely breathe, although
   Man's heart more gloriously soars aloft,
      And he, seeing the future, dark,
         Must see death and alone fear it.

And in persistent fright and pride man wields
   Weapons against all that breathes; in feuds
      He burns his life out, and his peace,
         Fragile, flowers but little time.

Of all his fellow beings, man, is he not
   Most full of bliss? So fate, balancing all,
      Ever more deep and rushing, grips
         Yet his strong inflammable heart.

(trans Christopher Middleton)

Source: Friedrich Holderlin and Eduard Morike - Selected Poems

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