All the Fruit...

by Friedrich Holderlin

English version by Robert Bly
Original Language German

All the fruit is ripe, plunged in fire, cooked,
And they have passed their test on earth, and one law is this:
That everything curls inward, like snakes,
Prophetic, dreaming on
The hills of heaven. And many things
Have to stay on the shoulders like a load
of failure. However the roads
Are bad. For the chained elements,
Like horses, are going off to the side,
And the old
Laws of the earth. And a longing
For disintegration constantly comes. Many things however
Have to stay on the shoulders. Steadiness is essential.
Forwards, however, or backwards we will
Not look. Let us learn to live swaying
As in a rocking boat on the sea.

-- from News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, Edited by Robert Bly

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

All the fruit is ripe, plunged in fire, cooked...

This is a statement of maturity, completion. When the fruit is ripe, when the food is cooked, there remains nothing more to be done. Ripening, while natural, is often painful, for it is a pathway of growth and change. The young hard fruit only knows its greenness. To expand, to soften, to fill with sweet juice, requires leaving the old self behind. To be cooked, food must first be dropped into the intensity of the alchemical fire before it is made ready.

And they have passed their test on earth...

But I think my favorite lines are--

...everything curls inward, like snakes,
Prophetic, dreaming on
The hills of heaven.


This statement evokes images for me of shamanic cave paintings, of spirals and creatures turning in on themselves. All things turn inward to their center, seeking to know their very nature and, within that knowledge, seeking "the hills of heaven."

I read this poem as being a meditation on the struggle of the spiritually-oriented individual engaged in worldly life. Holderlin speaks of shouldering loads, of failure, a longing for disintegration (or escape into purely spiritual realms).

While the poet doesn't seem to resolve the struggle within this poem, he summons the earthy strength to move forward: "Steadiness is essential."

Those of us with spiritual inclinations tend toward a certain ethereal otherworldiness that can make one uniquely vulnerable. But the road of life is bumpy for everyone, its cookfires are hot. We spiritually-minded must remember that spiritual growth is hard, sometimes painful, sometimes slow. We don't float to heaven. Like a tree, we sink roots deep into the rocky soil, and so, year-by-year, reach higher into the heavens.

The challenge is to develop the essential steadiness and strength to endure life's ripening process without ever losing that inward awareness and our prophetic dreaming. Doing so we develop the balance to weather the journey:

Let us learn to live swaying
As in a rocking boat on the sea.



Recommended Books: Friedrich Holderlin

News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry Poems of Friedrich Holderlin Holderlin: Selected Poems and Fragments Hymns and Fragments
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All the Fruit...