Why Poets?

" . . . and why poets in a desolate time?" Hölderlin asks in the elegy "Bread and Wine." Today we hardly understand the question. How are we ever going to grasp the answer that Hölderlin gives?

" . . . and why poets in a desolate time?" The word "time" here means the age to which we ourselves still belong. The appearance and sacrificial death of Christ, for the historical experience of Hölderlin, mean that the end to the days of divinity has set in. Evening is falling. Since the "united three,"' Herakles, Dionysus, and Christ, forsook the world, the evening of the world-era has been drawing to its night. The world's night disseminates its darkness. The age is determined by God's keeping himself afar, by "God's default."1 However, the default of God which Hölderlin experienced does not contradict the fact that a Christian relationship to God continues among individuals and in the churches, and it certainly does not disparage this relationship to God. The default of God means that a God no longer gathers men and things to himself visibly and unmistakably and from this gathering ordains world-history and man's stay within it. However, in the default of God notice is given of something even worse. Not only have the gods and God fled, but the radiance of divinity is extinguished in world-history. The time of the world's night is the desolate time because the desolation grows continually greater. The time has already become so desolate that it is no longer able to see the default of God as a default.

With this default, the ground for the world ceases to be grounding. Abyss [Abgrund] originally means the soil and ground toward which, as the lowest level, something hangs down a declivity. In what follows, however, let us understand the "Ab-" as the total absence of ground. Ground is the soil for taking root and standing. The age for which the ground fails to appear hangs in the abyss. Assuming that a turning point in any way still awaits


Off the Beaten Track (GA 5) by Martin Heidegger