Bread And Wine

by Friedrich Holderlin

Friedrich Hölderlin

Round about the city rests. The illuminated streets grow
Quiet, and coaches rush along, adorned with torches.
Men go home to rest, filled with the day's pleasures;
Busy minds weigh up profit and loss contentedly
At home. The busy marketplace comes to rest,
Vacant now of flowers and grapes and crafts.
But the music of strings sounds in distant gardens:
Perhaps lovers play there, or a lonely man thinks
About distant friends, and about his own youth.
Rushing fountains flow by fragrant flower beds,
Bells ring softly in the twilight air, and a watchman
Calls out the hour, mindful of the time.
Now a breeze rises and touches the crest of the grove - Look how the moon, like the shadow of our earth,
Also rises stealthily! Phantastical night comes,
Full of stars, unconcerned probably about us -
Astonishing night shines, a stranger among humans,
Sadly over the mountain tops, in splendor.
The kindness of exalted Night is wonderful, and no one
Knows where she comes from, or what will emerge from her.
Thus she moves the world, and the hopeful minds of humans:
Not even a sage knows what she's up to.
The highest god, who loves you very much, wants it so;
Therefore you prefer reasonable day to the night.
But occasionally a clear eye loves the shadows as well,
And tries to sleep just for pleasure, before it's necessary,
Or a brave person likes to gaze directly into the Night:
Surely it's right to dedicate wreaths and songs to her,
Since she is holy to those who are lost or dead, although
She herself exists totally free in spirit, forever.
But she must grant us oblivion and holy drunkenness,
That in the hesitating interval, in the darkness,
There'll be something for us to hold on to.
She must grant us flowing words, sleepless
As lovers are, and a fuller cup, and bolder life, and
Holy remembrance as well, to stay wakeful at night.
We, masters and apprentices both, hide our hearts
In vain, and repress our enthusiasm for no reason.
For who could stop it, or forbid us our pleasure?
The fire of the gods drives us to set forth by day
And by night. So come, let us look at what is apparent,
And seek what is ours, as distant as it may be!
One thing is certain: a standard always exists, at noon
Or at midnight, common to all of us. But also
To each of us something personal is granted;
Everyone goes and comes where he can.
Thus playful madness may mock mockery itself,
Seizing singers suddenly in the holy night.
Then let's be off to the Isthmus! There, where
The open sea roars at Parnassus, and the snow
Shines around the Delphian cliffs,
There in the land of Olympus, on Cithaeron's peak,
Under the pines, amid vineyards, from which
Thebes and Ismenos roar in the land of Cadmus.
The approaching god comes from there, and points back.
Holy Greece! Home of all the gods - so it's true,
What once we heard when we were young?
A festival hall, whose floor is the ocean, whose tables
Are the mountains - anciently built for a single purpose.
But where are the thrones? Where the temples, the songs,
The vases full of nectar for the pleasure of the gods?
Where are the oracles that shine for miles and miles?
Delphi sleeps, and where does great Fate resound?
Where does Fate suddenly break forth, full of omnipresent
Joy, thundering out of clear air over our eyes?
Father Aether! It called and flew from tongue to tongue
A thousand times, and nobody had to endure life alone.
Shared, such fortune is a joy; exchanged with strangers,
It becomes jubilant. Sleeping, the power of the word grows:
Father! Joyful! The ancient sign resounds, as far it reaches,
Inherited from the elders, striking, creating.
Thus the gods enter; thus the season of the gods falls
From the shadows down to men, shaking the depths.
At first the gods come unperceived. Children try to get
Near them. But their glory dazzles and blinds and
Awakens fear. A demi-god scarcely knows the people
By name, who now approach him with gifts. But their
Courage is great. Their joy fills his heart, and he hardly
Knows what to do with the offerings. He busies himself
And becomes wasteful, and unholy things almost become holy,
Which he touches with a blessing hand, foolishly and kindly.
The gods tolerate it as long as they can, and then in truth
They appear themselves. And people become accustomed
To this fortune, to the daytime, and to the sight of the manifest
Ones, the faces of those formerly called the "One and All,"
Deeply making every silent breast content, and first and alone
Filling every desire. It's the way people are. When something
Good appears, and even when it's a god that provides them
With gifts, they don't see or recognize it. First they have
To get used to it; then they call it their closest possession.
And only then will words of praise arise, like flowers.
And now they prepare in earnest to honor the holy gods.
Everything must really and truly proclaim their praise.
Nothing displeasing to the high ones may come to light.
Idle endeavors aren't proper for the Aether.
Therefore, to stand worthily in the presence of the gods,
Nations rise in splendid order and beautiful
Temples and cities are built, strong and noble, which rise
Above the banks of the waters -but where are they?
Where are the famous, flourishing cities, crowning the festival?
Thebes and Athens are fading. Don't the weapons clash
At Olympus, or golden chariots at the games? Are there
No longer wreaths to decorate the ships of Corinth?
Why are the ancient holy theaters silent?
What happened to the joyful ceremonial dancing?
Why doesn't a god place his sign on a human forehead,
Leaving his mark on the person he has struck?
Or, as gods used to, come comfortingly, and assume human
Shape, then complete and close the festival of the gods?
But friend, we come too late. It's true that the gods live,
But up over our heads, up in a different world.
They function endlessly up there, and seem to care little
If we live or die, so much do they avoid us.
A weak vessel cannot hold them forever; humans can
Endure the fullness of the gods only at times. Therefore
Life itself becomes a dream about them. But perplexity
And sleep assist us: distress and night-time strengthen,
Until enough heroes have grown in the bronze cradle,
With hearts as strong as the gods', as it used to be.
Thundering they arise. Meanwhile I often think it is
Better to stay asleep, than to exist without companions,
Just waiting it out, not knowing what to do or say
In the meantime. What use are poets in times of need?
But you'll say they're like holy priests of the wine god,
Moving from land to land in the holy night.
Some time ago - to us it seems like a long time -
All those who made our lives happy climbed upwards.
The Father turned his face away from people,
And sorrow came rightly upon the earth.
Finally a quiet genius appeared, comforting in a god-like
Way, who announced the end of the day, and disappeared.
The choir of gods left some gifts behind, as a sign
Of their presence and eventual return, which we
May appreciate in our human fashion, as we used to.
That which is superior had grown too great for pleasure
With spirit among men. And to this day no one's strong enough
For the highest joys, although some gratitude survives quietly.
Bread is the fruit of the earth, yet it's blessed also by light.
The pleasure of wine comes from the thundering god.
We remember the gods thereby, those who were once
With us, and who'll return when the time is right.
Thus poets sing of the wine god in earnest, and their
Ringing praises of the old one aren't devised in vain.
Yes, they say rightly that he reconciles day with night,
And leads the stars of heaven up and down forever -
Joyful always, like the boughs of evergreen pine
That he loves, and the wreath he chose of ivy,
Since it endures, and brings a trace of the fugitive gods
Down to the darkness of those who must live in their absence.
What the sons of the ancients foretold of God's children:
Look, it's us, the fruit of Hesperia!
Through humans it is wonderfully and exactly fulfilled;
Let those believe who've examined the matter. But so much
Goes on, yet nothing succeeds: we are like heartless shadows
Until our Father Aether recognizes us and belongs to us all.
Meanwhile the Son, the Syrian, comes down among
The shadows, as torchbearer of the Highest.
Holy sages observe it; a smile shines out from
The imprisoned soul; their eyes thaw in the light.
Titans dream more softly, asleep in the arms of the earth-
Even jealous Cerberus drinks and falls asleep.

Last updated January 14, 2019