Poetry by Friedrich Hölderlin


God shaves some of the highest meadows green
To contrast with his sky-blue, cloud-shot eyes
When He gets tired of over-seeing
Cow-paths our boots metaphorize.

Three-hundred sixty-five, twenty-four seven,
Spotlight-tanned, or billion-billion-candle-lit,
We think each shitty step is legible from heaven—
That’s how we handle it.

The Shaft

You play, and tease, and laugh, my friends—that’s as it must be!
But my soul feels—alas!—its desperate needs.

Better People

Better people like to pretend that better people
Have insides and outsides, as in that handy game—
With the two-fisted church, the finger steeple—
But inside and outside are the same the same the same the same.

Hypocritical Poets

Cold hypocrites, speak not of the Gods!
You think! You do not believe in Helios,
Nor the Thunderer, nor Poseidon!
The earth is dead! No one will thank her now!

Ach, my Gods! You still adorn their songs,
But all the soul’s gone out of your names,
And when they need a really big word
They use “Mother Nature.”


Friedrich Hölderlin

Poet, translator, and novelist Friedrich Hölderlin was born on March 20, 1770 in Lauffen am Neckar, Württemberg, and died on June 7, 1843 in Tübingen, Württemberg. Well-educated and even from his youth connected to or acquainted with fellow students and teachers such as Schelling, Hegel, Schiller, Goethe, Fichte, and Novalis, Hölderlin was nonetheless subject to a passionate and hypochondriacal temperament, which was aggravated in his case by a disastrous love affair with the wife of his employer. Hölderlin’s mental health had collapsed by the turn of the century, and though attempts were made to treat him and to find him a sinecure, he was at last invited to stay in the home of a poetry-reading carpenter, Ernest Zimmer, who, along with his family, took care of Hölderlin for the next 36 years. Though he continued to write some of the most important poems in German lyric literature, the friends of his youth for the most part abandoned Hölderlin during his long, quiet Turmzeit.

Daniel Bosch

Daniel Bosch's collection Crucible was published by Other Press in 2002.  His poems, translations, essays, and reviews have appeared in journals such as The Paris Review, Poetry, Slate, Beloit Poetry Journal, 3 A.M. Magazine, and The Fortnightly Review. He teaches expository writing and poetry at Emory University, and he is Senior Editor at Berfrois.

English translation copyright (c) Daniel Bosch, 2016. "Hypocritical Poets" first appeared in Berfrois.