Friedrich Holderlin

(20 March 1770 – 6 June 1843 / Germany)

The Ister


Now is the time for fire!
Impatient for the daylight,
We're on our knees,
Exhausted with waiting.
It's then, in that silence,
We hear the woods' strange call.
Meanwhile, we sing from the Indus,
Which comes from far away, and
From the Alpheus, since we've
Long desired decorum.
It's not without dramatic flourish
That one grasps
Straight ahead
What is closest
To reach the other side.
But here we want to build.
Rivers make the land fertile
And allow the foliage to grow.
And if in the summer
Animals gather at a watering place
People will go there, too.

This river is called the Ister.
It lives in beauty. Columns of leaves burn
And stir. They stand in the forest
Supporting each other; above,
A second dimension juts out
From a dome of stones. So I'm
Not surprised that the distantly gleaming river
Made Hercules its guest,
When in search of shadows
He came down from Olympus
And up from the heat of Isthmus.


They were full of courage there,
Which always comes in handy, like cool water
And a path for the spirit to follow.
That's why the hero preferred
To come to the water's source, its fragrant yellow banks
Black with fir trees, in whose depths
The hunter likes to roam
At noon and the resinous trees
Moan as they grow.

Yet the river almost seems
To flow backwards, and I
Think it must come
From the East.
Much could
Be said further. But why does
It hang so straight from the mountain? That other river,
The Rhine, has gone away
Sideways. Not for nothing rivers
Flow in dryness. But how? We need a sign,
Nothing more, something plain and simple,
To remind us of sun and moon, so inseparable,
Which go away — day and night also —
And warm each other in heaven.
They give joy to the highest god. For how
Can he descend to them? And like earth's ancient greenness
They are the children of heaven. But he seems
Too indulgent to me, not freer,
And almost scornful. For when

Day begins in youth,
Where it commences growing,
Another is already there
To further enhance the beauty, and chafes
At the bit like foals. And if he is happy
Distant breezes hear the commotion;
But the rock needs engraving
And the earth needs its furrows;
If not, an endless desolation;
But what a river will do,
Nobody knows.

Submitted: Monday, April 02, 2012

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