Friedrich Hölderlin

Portrait of Hölderlin (1792)

Two poems in English translation by Johannes Beilharz

When I was a boy ...

When I was a boy
   A god would often save me
      From the scolding and switches of men,
         And I would play safely and beautifully
            With the flowers of the grove,
               And heaven's soft breezes
                  Played with me.

And as you delight
The hearts of the flowers
When they extend
Their tender arms to you

You delighted my heart,
Father Helios! and, like Endymion,
I was your favorite,
Holy Luna!

O all you faithful
Friendly gods!
If only you knew
How my soul loved you!

Then I did not call you
By your names, and you
Did not call me as men do,
As if they knew each other.

But I knew you better
Than I've ever known mankind,
I understood the silence of the sky,
But never men's words.

I was raised by the melody
Of the murmurming grove
And to love I learned
Among flowers.

I grew up in the arms of the gods.

[Translation of Da ich ein Knabe war ...]

Then and now

In my youth I enjoyed the morning
   And wept at night; now that I'm older
      My day begins with doubt but
         Its end is sacred and serene.

[Translation of Ehmals und jetzt]

Translator's note

Da ich ein Knabe war ... is probably one of the Hölderlin poems translated most often. What prompted me to attempt yet another version were the previous translations I am aware of – while they seemed adequate enough in translating the words, I felt that they did not approximate the original in sound and had, in part, a 20th century feeling to them.

Hölderlin was steeped in Greek spirituality – he lived in it in spirit. I received a more emotional than intellectual glimpse of this spirit through the writings of Rudolf Steiner. This was a living spirituality of which contemporary philological understanding seems to have no notion.

Johannes Beilharz, April 2005

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