Hölderlin Ode to The Gods

Hölderlin’s Ode to The Gods (Die Götter)

Translated by Steven J. Willett

Here is a picture of Hōlderlin’s Tower in Tübingen

Note: This poem uses the accentual version of the alcaic strophe. For those who might want to learn the meter for recitation–always important in understanding a poem–may I recommend Fritz Schlawe, Neudeutsche Metrik (Stuttgart, 1972).

You silent Aether! always you prove how bright

my soul is struck with pain, and ennobles me

   to bravery before your sunbeams,

      Helios! rousing my heart to anger.

You kindly gods! man poor is, and knows you not,

in brutal breast his discords will never rest,

   and night is world to him and not a

      pleasure that prospers or song alone his.

But you, with your perpetual youth, sustain

in hearts who love you, giving them childish mind,

   when sorrow comes or wandering error

      never commit to their genius trust. 

Die Götter 

Du stiller Aether! immer bewahrst du schön 

   Die Seele mir im Schmerz, und es adelt sich 

      Zur Tapferkeit vor deinen Strahlen, 

         Helios! oft die empörte Brust mir. 

Ihr guten Götter! arm ist, wer euch nicht kennt, 

   Im rohen Busen ruhet der Zwist ihm nie, 

      Und Nacht ist ihm die Welt und keine 

         Freude gedeihet und kein Gesang ihm. 

Nur ihr, mit eurer ewigen Jugend, nährt 

   In Herzen, die euch lieben, den Kindersinn, 

      Und laßt in Sorgen und in Irren 

         Nimmer den Genius sich vertrauern. 

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23 Responses to Hölderlin Ode to The Gods

  1. Fred says:

    “Hōlderlin’s Tower in Tübingen”
    This reminds me of a book TTG recommended here about a boat journey across Europe. I’ll have to see if I can find my copy.

    • The Twisted Genius says:

      Fred, I had the same thought. The photo reminded me of the Swabian town of Sigmaringen on the upper reaches of the Danube. The book was “1,000 Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe” by John MacGregor about his journey across the rivers, canals and lakes of Europe. He describes his sail and paddle past Sigmaringen on the the Danube. I spent a lot of time there.

      • LeaNder says:

        The river in front of the Hölderlin Tower is the Neckar, not the Danube, Donau in German.

        And from my own rather biased perspective Tübingen is the more interesting town. Never mind that the Neckar isn’t nearly as impressive a river as the Danube. 😉

        • The Twisted Genius says:

          Obviously Tübingen is not Sigmaringen, nor is the Neckar the Danube. My point was that that photo of the Neckar reminded me of the Danube flowing through Sigmaringen. Both rivers at that point are used by small boats rather than commercial shipping. I especially liked the large rock outcroppings overlooking the Danube in Sigmaringen.

          Never spent time in Tübingen, having only driven through it, so I’ll take your word about it being a more interesting town.

          Hölderlin’s Ode doesn’t remind me of either river. It does remind of some rather disturbing bronze sculptures in Nuremberg. You Germans have a knack for expressing such disturbed ideas.

          • Steven J. Willett says:

            The ode doesn’t “remind me of either either” because it has nothing to do with rivers. It about the failure of humanity to follow divine principles–gods if you wish–because man is poor, ridden by his constant internal discords and quarrels: all the world to him is night, Und Nacht ist ihm die Welt. And I don’t know who “You” could be, the poet, the translator, the commenters or the Germans.

          • LeaNder says:

            Steven, concerning us Krauts, the British would say: The Germans are heavy, the Americans are more likely to draw a direct line from the 18th century to the Nazis. Es expressed in bronze sculptures? Or more likely the Nürnberg of Nazi rallies? And the Nuremberg Trials?

            Otherwise I struggle a little with your translation, it feels ‘nähren’ should remain nourish, and by adding giving you break the flow. But then I definitively can see that Kindersinn is difficult to translate. …

            Thanks anyway. 😉

          • Steven J. Willett says:

            Thanks NeaNider for your thoughts. Translating Hölderlin is right at the top of difficulty with Leopardi. Part of the problem with Die Götter is the use of accentual Lesbian metrics, in this case the alcaic strophe. Some translators confuse it with the asclepiad strophe. Hamburger’s version of the poem distorts not only the tone but the syntax to get the meter right. He also has problems with Kindersinn, but that word is beyond English hope. Hölderlin occasionally takes liberties with the meter to accommodate his German, but it still has a rhythm unlike any other poets of his time. I’ll tinker with the ode before I include it in my volume of poetic translations. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents were German.

          • Steven J. Willett says:

            πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει καὶ δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης, Plato Cratylus expansion of what is attributed to Heraclitus.

          • The Twisted Genius says:

            And everything comes back to the river.

          • LeaNder says:

            You don’t mind, I hope, Steven.

            Sinn: is closer to sense than to mind.


            I wouldn’t be very surprised if a closer look at usage in its context would be connected either to a child or a woman historically. Maybe that’s why the connotation of a child’s (naive) trust is close. The sense that Jesus is close and listening to the prayer? 😉 Or alternatively an adults’ ignorance of dangers as in the passage by Schiller. Notice religion is close via the “Pilgerstab”, ditto in Goethe. Not quite a purely monotheist god anymore but some type of pantheist Eternal spirit? Eternal – perpetual?

            Otherwise, I have to admit, while I love some poets and/or poems, I was never more interested in metrics. Or not more than was demanded, and thus would need to reflect a lot more seriously on why and how that could restrict you. You made me curious though:

            Hamburger’s version of the poem distorts not only the tone but the syntax to get the meter right.

          • LeaNder says:

            ooops, I didn’t realize I cannot link directly to Kindersinn, you either have to scroll down to it, or type it into the search box.

            Take care.

      • LeaNder says:

        I should add, the supposed origin of the Donau always seemed a little mythical to me, but then we can not ever be experts in every field.


        Anyway I grew partly up close to what seems to be still considered the origin of the Danube.


      • Fred says:

        Thanks TTG, that’s the one I was thinking of.

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  3. bystander04 says:

    Mr. Willett
    Wonderful that you present Hölderlin (again) to the world of Turcopolier. So many of my memories are connected to Tübingen, to Neckar with the “Stocherkähne”, the wall over the stream. I spent many formative years there, listening to Hans Küng, Ernst Bloch, Walter Jens. However, I did not become a “leftist” in that milieu, I was immune to the praise of “left” ideology after escaping the soviet style regime. On the contrary, I was still under the influence of the Western propaganda – “the Free West”, everything that came out of the Western media was for me the gospel truth. Somewhat sad recognition in my old age that the US – Propaganda was much “better” than from Moskau. Nowadays, it seems the reverse.
    But, returning to the poetry post – for me, a laic in poetry, it seems very comprehensible, and true in tone and spirit to the original.

    • English Outsider says:

      From a bilingual German speaker that’s high praise and gives me confidence in my similar though less well-informed judgement.

      I know a few people from rural areas of the old DDR. The regime didn’t affect them much and they speak with affection of a time when everyone had a job and you could leave your door unlocked. But I don’t think that’s Ostalgie. Merely a recognition we have, irrespective of location, that the despised old days had a lot going for them that we’ve now lost.

      Is that not so sometimes on the Colonel’s site? Embattled refugees from the Little House on the Prairie, not so much seeking to return to a dead past as wondering how the hell we ended up so badly adrift.

  4. The Twisted Genius says:

    Steven Willett,

    Yes, I and other commenters concentrated our gaze on the lazy river rather than on the former inhabitant of the Tübingen tower and his poetry. We then took the conversation off on that tangent. We must seem as undisciplined students unable to concentrate on the lesson at hand. My mind then wandered to distant moments gazing at the Pegnitz flowing through Nuremberg and to the bronzes in the city’s center. I still find them disturbing. The same feeling occurred to me while reading Hölderlin’s poem. Thus, my mental wanderings came full circle back to the lesson at hand.

    The “you” was writing to in my last comment was LeaNder and his fellow Germans, the sculptors of those Nuremberg bronzes and this poem by Hölderlin.

    • LeaNder says:

      TTG, curiously enough this reminds me of your families Baltic origins. I am sure I babbled in one of our exchanges about a more recent film from there I accidentally watched on the French-German public channel ARTE. The context was the Soviet Occupation and the Forest Brothers. As German, I was admittedly slightly startled that there wasn’t any attempt to put matters into context. Hitler vs Stalin? I am not fastidious, I minor subplot line would have been quite enough for me.

      Otherwise, more vaguely, I recall exchanges on Virginia, ice cream and statues.

      But now, dear TTG, I seriously would like to know what bronzes and sculptures were on your mind? And at what time in space you witnessed Nuremberg or its river?

      • The Twisted Genius says:


        I worked in Nuremberg, off and on, for six years beginning in 1990. I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed working all over Germany. Well, I wasn’t especially thrilled by Frankfurt. Germany was a great place for an American to live and to work, especially in my line of work at the time. The country was reunifying. The Warsaw Treaty Organization and the Soviet Union were disintegrating. It was a target rich environment for an intelligence case officer.

        There are three bronzes in Nuremberg that I found disturbing, but I’m sure that’s just what the artists intended. Der Hase by Jürgen Goertz was probably inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s Der Feldhase. This one struck me hard because of my love for rabbits, a love that many Germans share. Seems my family and I would be attending local rabbit shows every other week. Das Narrenshiff or Ship of Fools is another bronze also based on a work by Dürer. The most frightening is the Ehekarussel or Marriage Merry-Go-Round. The artist must have had an extremely bad marriage experience. This bronze fountain confronts you as you exit an U-Bahn station and makes quite an impression.

        You probably watched the NATO film on the Forest Brothers. I remember when that came out. Moscow put up a huge stink about it. It wasn’t the full story. Lithuania and the rest of the Baltics regained their independence after WW I. Shortly after that, Pilsudski’s Poland invaded Lithuania. WW II ended that invasion. Stalin’s USSR then occupied the Baltics. Just before Hither began his invasion of Russia, Lithuanian Resistance managed to liberate the country once again. Hitler then swept that short lived independence aside and occupied the Baltics until Stalin reoccupied them in 1944. Active resistance to the Soviets lasted until 1953. The Lithuanians didn’t regain their independence until 1990.

        • Tess says:

          But due the degree of independence any country belonging to NATO in fact enjoy, do you think Lithuanina, or the other Baltics for that matter, regainned anything at all?

          In any case, thye regainned freedom to harass Russian speakers and monuments to liberators of Europe…

          Related to freedom, independence, and Nuremberg, what is you opinion on mandatory vaccination with products granted authorization ofr emergency use but still not approved?
          In the same token, what about “vaccination passports”?

          Taking into account that current products in use approved for use against Covid-19 do not confere real immunity, is it not the stablishment of a “vaccination passport” a way to discriminate some citizens with respect others for not compliance with government desires?

          Does this not go against Nuremberg Legislation?

          What is your opinion on the growing freedom they enjoy in the Baltics with respect paying homage to Nazi battalions?

        • LeaNder says:

          should I be wondering if those three were on my mind, as possibly on yours? …

          But then, I am not sure if any encounters here ever were real. I still am thankful you or TTG defended me his own way, when I was offered up for a democratic collectively decided ban. Curiously enough, I cannot really dislike Babak for supporting the ban. … To be banned shortly after? … ???

          I was around trying to support you when matters turned more crazy here. … by the way. Not as Spanish female or as confusedponderer/Confused Ponderer, by the way.

          I am not a master in Lithuanian history, as I during our exchange I realized. Nevertheless, the movie bothered me, and no it wasn’t a NATO film. It was a movie, a feature film or however you like to call it. I wish I had taken notes on it, which I didn’t.

          Which gets me back mentally into the two factions in the film department here as a student. One side argued the crowd should be given what it demanded: bread and circuses, the other, my camp, people understood much more than they were assumed by camp one, given a chance. And as far as I am concerned they weren’t given a chance in that movie. Other than being pulled into reigning rigid East-West frontiers.

        • LeaNder says:

          Das Narrenshiff or Ship of Fools is another bronze also based on a work by Dürer.


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