Hölderlin’s “Sung Under the Alps” on God’s Presence



Hölderlin's Sung Under the Alps (Unter den Alpen gesungen)

Translated by Steven Willett



1/10/1793 Friedrich Hölderlin statue paying a visit to Schiller in Ludwigsburg


Note: Hölderlin visited the Swiss Alps in 1801.

This is the one completed poem Hölderlin wrote in a German accent version of the Sapphic meter. It is an extremely difficult stanza to write or translate in both English and German, as I know from translating most of Horace's love poems in it.

Holy Innocence, you to both men and the

Gods are dearest trusted the most! you may in

House or out of doors at their very feet now

    Sit with the ancients,


Full of always gratified wisdom; for much

Good a man knows, yet he’s astonished like an

Animal, oft heavenward looks, yet pure is

    All to you, Pure One!


Look! the rough beast over the meadows gladly

Serves and trusts you, voiceless the forest speaks as

Once to ancients, now to you his oracles, and the

    Mountains still teach their


Holy laws to you, and as what we now do,

Clearly deep in wandering far, the holy

Father wants proclaimed to us, you alone may

    Brightly announce it.


Thus with heaven’s power to be alone, and

Light is passing over, and streams and wind, and

Time will rush the place, at their front with steady

    Eyes to contain them,


Nothing more blessed I know or want, so long as

Unlike willows, me too onrushing waves take,

Well supported, sleeping along the way I

    Must on the billows;


But he gladly stays at his home who in true

Heart holds godliness, and as I am free, so

Long’s I may, you speeches of heaven, all I'll

    Sing and interpret.



Heilige Unschuld, du der Menschen und der
Götter liebste vertrauteste! du magst im
Hause oder draußen ihnen zu Füßen
      Sitzen, den Alten,

Immerzufriedner Weisheit voll; denn manches
Gute kennet der Mann, doch staunet er, dem
Wild gleich, oft zum Himmel, aber wie rein ist
      Reine, dir alles!

Siehe! das rauhe Tier des Feldes, gerne
Dient und trauet es dir, der stumme Wald spricht
Wie vor Alters, seine Sprüche zu dir, es
      Lehren die Berge

Heil'ge Gesetze dich, und was noch jetzt uns
Vielerfahrenen offenbar der große
Vater werden heißt, du darfst es allein uns
      Helle verkünden.

So mit den Himmlischen allein zu sein, und
Geht vorüber das Licht, und Strom und Wind, und
Zeit eilt hin zum Ort, vor ihnen ein stetes
      Auge zu haben,

Seliger weiß und wünsch' ich nichts, so lange
Nicht auch mich, wie die Weide, fort die Flut nimmt,
Daß wohl aufgehoben, schlafend dahin ich
      Muß in den Wogen;

Aber es bleibt daheim gern, wer in treuem
Busen Göttliches hält, und frei will ich, so
Lang ich darf, euch all', ihr Sprachen des Himmels!
      Deuten und singen.



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