The mystic philosopher Hegel dedicated this poem to his friend Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin in August 1796. The two had first met at the Tübingen Seminary in 1788, and had remained in contact. Rich in mystical symbolism, the poem expresses the importance of the ancient mystery schools to these eighteenth century philosophers and literary figures.
Oh! If the doors of your sanctuary should
crumble by themselves
O Ceres, you who reigned in Eleusis!
Drunk with enthusiasm, I would
shiver with your nearness,
I would understand your revelations,
I would interpret the lofty meaning of the
images, I would hear
the hymns at the gods’ banquets,
the lofty maxims of their counsel.
Even your hallways have ceased to echo,
The circle of the gods has fled back to
from the consecrated altars;
fled from the tomb of profaned humanity,
the innocent genius who enchanted them
The wisdom of your priests is silent, not one
note of the sacred
initiations preserved for us—and in vain
the scholars, their curiosity greater than their
of wisdom (the seekers possess this love and
they disdain you)—to master it they dig
in which your lofty meaning might be
In vain! Only dust and ashes do they seize,
where your life returns no more for them.
And yet, even rotting and lifeless they
the eternally dead!—easily satisfied—in vain
remains of your celebration, no trace of an
For the son of the initiation the lofty
doctrine was too full,
the profundity of the ineffable sentiment was
for him to value the desiccated signs.
Now thought does not raise up the spirit,
sunken beyond time and space to purify
it forgets itself, and now once again its
is aroused. He who should want to speak
about it with others,
would have to speak the language of angels,
would have to experience the poverty of
He is horrified of having thought so little of
of having made so little of it, that speech
seems to him a
sin, and though still alive, he closes his
That which the initiate prohibits himself, a
law also prohibits the poorest souls: to make
what he had seen, heard, felt during the
so that even the best part of his prayers
was not disturbed by the clamor of their
and the empty chattering did not dispose
him toward the sacred,
and this was not dragged in the mud, but
was entrusted to memory—so that it did
a plaything or the ware of some sophist,
who would have sold it like an obolus,
or the mantle of an eloquent hypocrite or
the rod of a joyful youth, or become so
at the end, that only in the echo
of foreign tongues would it find its roots.
Your sons, Oh Goddess, miserly with your
honor, did not
carry it through the streets and markets, but
they cultivated it
in the breast’s inner chambers.
And so you did not live on their lips.
Their life honored you. And you live still in
Even tonight, sacred divinity, I heard you.
Often the life of your children reveals you,
and I introduce you as the soul of their acts!
You are the lofty meaning, the true faith,
which, divine when all else crumbles, does
Translation from Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: the Place of Negativity, translated by Karen Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 7-9, © 2006 University of Minnesota Press, http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/A/agamben_language.html.
1 Georg Hegel, Eleusis, in Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, translated by Karen E. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 6-9. Available at http://content2.wuala.com/contents/nappan/Documents/Agamben,%20Giorgio%20-%20Language%.
In: Rosicrucian Digest No. 2 2009, pp. 26-27.