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|Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843)|
One of the greatest German lyric poets melding classical and Christian themes in his works. Among Hölderlin's major works is his novel Hyperion oder Der Eremit in Griechenland (1797-99), expressing longing for ancient Greece. His actual career as a writer lasted only about a decade. Hölderlin's life was never settled or happy: he lacked both money and recognition and his socially suspect love affair with a married woman finally drove him insane. Once he wrote: "I am mortal, born to love and to suffer." He rejected the commonly accepted ideal of happiness, for him pleasure was but "tepid water on the tongue".
Nur einen Sommer gönnt, ihr Gewaltigen! / Und einen Herbst zu reifem Gesange mir, / Dass williger mein Herz, vom süssen / Spiele gesättiget, dann mir sterbe. (from 'An die Parzen')
Friedrich Hölderin was born in Lauffen am Neckar, Württemberg. His father, who worked as an executive at the local monastery, died when Friedrich was two, and a few years later his mother, Johanna Christina Hölderlin, married the mayor of Nürtingen. At the age of 14 Hölderlin already had started to write poems, which were read by his friends from school and teachers. In 1788 he entered the university of Tübingen, where he studied theology and obtained a master's degree. During this period he became friends with Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) and shared with him a great admiration of the French Revolution. Under the oppressive regime in Württenberg, Hölderlin expressed his opposition in abstract tems but basically poetry served as a vehicle of revolt.
Hölderlin was introduced in 1793 to Friedrich von Schiller, who published some of his poems, such as 'The Oaks'. Later Hölderlin copied the published version of this poem in a notebook and began to rework its ending. "The poet has a clear view of nature, but he only seems to have come to it through tradition," said Goethe of Hölderlin's early pieces. In 1793 Hölderlin worked as a private tutor in Waltershausen, but the turning point in his life was, when he took post in a house of a wealthy Frankfurt banker Jakob Gontard. Hölderlin had a painful but platonic love affair with his employee's wife Susette Gontard, whom he called 'Diotima' in his poems. He had been working on Hyperion before first meeting Susette. "Forgive me that Diotima dies," he said. Their happiness was short-lived and ended by the husband. However, the were in correspondence and met secretly; the last time they saw each other was 1800. Susette's letters to the poet have survived.
"The greatest lyric poets, for instance Hölderlin or Keats, are men in whom the mythic power of insight breaks forth again in its full intensity and objectifying power..." (Ernst Cassirer in Language and Myth, 1946)
Hölderlin left Frankfurt in 1798 and went through a period of intense creativity, producing his great elegies and the second volume of Hyperion. He also wrote philosophicval texts and a tragedy, Der Tod des Empedokles, which was left unfinished. In the conclusion to his great hymn 'Patmos', the poet named the "cultivation of the firm letter and the interpretation of what is" as the proper office of poetry. Shortly before his departure for France, Hölderlin said: " Now I can rejoice over a new truth, a better view of what is above us and around us, though I fear that things may eventually go with me as for ancient Tantalus, who received more from the gods than he could digest." After working for a short time as a tutor at Bordeaux, Hölderin returned in 1802 to Germany, walking the disastrous journey in an advanced stage of schizophrenia. Back in Nürtingen he heard that Susette had died, and in 1805 his mental health collapsed totally. During the periods, when regained sanity enough to write, he translated among others Sophocles's tragedies.
The last 36 years of his life Hölderin spent under the shadow of insanity, living his last years in a carpenter's house in Tübingen. He died on June 7, 1843. Among Hölderlin's finest lyrics are 'Brod und Wein', an elegy celebrating both Jesus and Dionysus, 'Der Archipelagus', an ode in which it is hoped that modern Germany will tend toward the character of ancient Greece, 'Heidelberg' and 'Der Rhein', odes on the city and the river, and the patriotic ode 'Germanien'. In 1861 Friedrich Nietzsche, who died insane, wrote an enthusiastic essay on his "favorite poet", Hölderlin, mostly forgotten at that time. A collection of Hölderlin's works, Ausgewählte Werke, came out in 1874, but it was not until the early 20th century, when he started to gain recognition as Germany's greatest poet after Goethe.
Ach! der Menge gefällt, was auf den Marktplatz taugt,
Hölderlin was not directly affiliated with either of the two major literary movements of his time, Weimar Classicism or Romanticism, but his thought has elements in common with both. In his use of classical verse forms and syntax, Hölderlin was follower of Friedrich Klopstock (1724-1803), who attempted to develop for the German language a classical perfection of its own that would place it on a par with Greek and Latin. Hölderlin shared the classicists' love of "edlen Einfalt und stillen Grösse" (noble simplicity and calm greatness), formulated by Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768), and added to it his mystical sense of nature with elements of pantheism and Christian images. Like William Blake and W.B. Yeats, he explored cosmology and history to find a meaning in uncertain world. Hölderlin also played an important role in the development of philosophy from Kant to Hegel, and hence in the formation of German Idealism.
The poetry of Hölderlin also fascinated the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) who wrote: "Poetry is the establishment of Being by means of the word." Heidegger's essays on Hölderlin (1936) are translated in Existence and Being by W. Brock (1949). Although Nietzsche had been interested in Hölderlin, it was not until the post-World War I decades in Germany, when his work received wide attention, partly due to the enthusiasm of Norbert von Hellingrath. In his lectures in the 1930s Heidegger regarded Hölderlin as a poet the national awakening, a prophet of the future Being [Seyn] of a nation. Ironically, Hölderlin's hero in Hyperion sees his ideals collapse and he is forced to leave his home country because of its despotic rule. "Poets have mostly arisen at the beginning or at the end of a world period," Hölderlin himself once said. Though he was widely celebrated in the Third Reich in 1943 and his collected works were published in four volumes, new translations of his poems were published also in London and in the United States.
For further reading: Holderlin's Hyperion: A Critical Reading by Walter Silz (1969); Reading After Freud: Essays on Goethe, Holderlin, Habermas, Nietzsche, Brecht, Celan, and Freud by Rainer Nagele (1987); Holderlin's Silence by Thomas Eldon Ryan (1988); Holderlin by David Constantine (1988); Die Kunst Der Differenz by Eric Bolle (1988); Holderlin: The Poetics of Being by Adrian Del Caro (1990); Literature & Religion by Walter Jens, Hans Kung (1991); Holderlin and the Golden Chain of Homer by Emery E. George (1992); The Poet As Thinker: Holderlin in France by Geert Lernout (1994); Finding Time: Reading for Temporality in Holderlin and Heidegger by Timothy Torno (1995); Leaves of Mourning: Holderlin's Late Work, With an Essay on Keats and Melancholy by Anselm Haverkamp (1995); Studies in Poetic Discourse: Mallarme, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Holderlin by Hans-Jost Frey (1996); Holderlin's Hymn 'the Ister' by Martin Heidegger, et al. (1996); The Course of Remembrance and Other Essays on Holderlin, ed. by Eckart Forster (1997); The Solid Letter: Readings of Friedrich Holderlin, ed. Aris Fioretos (1999) - Note: Goethe's house in the Duchy of Weimar attracted writers: Friedrich Hölderlin was received well but the dramatist and storywriter Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1843) never recovered from the depression resulting from his rejection by Goethe. However, neither Goethe nor Schiller recognized Hölderlin's greatness. - Trivia: American writer Dan Simmon's took the title Hyperion for his science fiction saga (Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, sequels: Endymion, The Rise of Endymion, the title Endymion referring to John Keats's unfinished long poem about the displacement of old gods.). The first volume was structured after Chaucer's The Cantebury Tales: seven pilgrims have been called to the planet Hyperion and en route they tell tales contributing to the mosaic of the overall story. The first two parts were later published together, under the title Hyperion Cantos. - Suom.: Kirjailijalta on suomeksi julkaistu valikoima Vaeltaja (1945) sekä suomennoksia teoksessa Tuhat laulujen vuotta, toim. Aale Tynni (1974). Vuonna 1996 julkaistiin Teivas Oksalan kääntämänä Leipä ja viini ja Huomautuksia Sofokleen kääntämisestä, toim. ja suom. Esa Kirkkopelto, ilmestyi 2001. Lisäksi mainittakoon suomenruotsalaisen Mikael Enckellin tutkimus Hölderlin (1975).