Now for it words like flowers leaping alive he must find.*
To think our way through these verses it will be helpful to think over what Hölderlin himself says in another version of this passage, though that will require even deeper reflection:
Long and hard is the word of this coming but White (Light) is the moment. But those who serve the gods know The earth well, and their step toward the abyss is More human with youth. but that in the depths is old.**
Once again the word appears in the region, the region that determines earth and sky to be world regions, as it makes earth and sky, the streaming of the deep and the might of the heights, encounter one another. Once again: "words, like flowers."
It would mean that we stay bogged down in metaphysics if we were to take the name Hölderlin gives here to "words, like flowers" as being a metaphor.
True, in a curious lecture on "Problems of the Lyric," Gottfried Benn says (1951, p. 16): "This 'like' is always a break in the vision, it adduces, it compares, it is not a primary statement ... ," it is "a flagging of the tension of language, a weakness of creative transformation." This interpretation may be largely valid, for great and small poets. But it is not valid for Hölderlin's saying, Hölderlin whose poetry Gottfried Benn—correctly from his point of view—regards accordingly as nothing more than a "herbarium," a collection of dried-up plants.
"Words, like flowers": that is not a "break in the vision" but the awakening of the largest view: nothing is "adduced" here, but on the contrary the word is given back into the keeping of the source of its being. There is no lack here of a "primary statement," for here the word is brought forth from its inception; no "weakness of creative transformation" but the
* Translation by Michael Hamburger, loc. cit. p. 247/249. (Tr.)
** Cf. Hölderlin, ed. Hellingrath IV, pt. 2, Appendix p. 322 (Tr.)