The Full Wiki

Friedrich Hölderlin: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin

Born 20 March 1770(1770-03-20)
Lauffen am Neckar, Duchy of Württemberg 1
Died 6 June 1843 (aged 73)
Tübingen, Germany
Occupation Lyric poet
Literary movement Classicism, Romanticism

Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (German pronunciation: [ˈjoːhan ˈkrɪsti.aːn ˈfriːdrɪç ˈhœldərliːn]; 20 March 1770 – 6 June 1843) was a major German lyric poet, commonly associated with the artistic movement known as Romanticism.



Hölderlin was born in Lauffen am Neckar in the Duchy of Württemberg. His father, the manager of a church estate, died when the boy was two years old. He was brought up by his mother, who in 1774 married the Mayor of Nürtingen and moved there. He had a full sister, born after their father's death, and a half-brother. His stepfather died when he was nine. He went to school in Denkendorf and Maulbronn and then studied theology at the Tübinger Stift, where his fellow-students included G.W.F. Hegel, Friedrich Schelling (who had been a fellow-pupil at his first school) and Isaac von Sinclair. It has been speculated that it was probably Hölderlin who brought to Hegel's attention the ideas of Heraclitus about the union of opposites, which the philosopher would develop into his concept of dialectics. Finding he could not sustain a Christian faith, Hölderlin declined to become a minister of religion and worked instead as a private tutor. In 1793-94 he met Schiller and Goethe and began writing his epistolary novel Hyperion. During 1795 he enrolled for a while at the University of Jena where he attended Fichte's classes and met Novalis.

As a tutor in Frankfurt from 1796 to 1798 he fell in love with Susette Gontard, the wife of his employer, the banker Jakob Gontard. The feeling was mutual, and this relationship was the most important in Hölderlin's life. Susette is addressed in his poetry under the name of 'Diotima'. Their affair was discovered and Hölderlin was harshly dismissed. He lived in Homburg from 1798 to 1800, meeting Susette in secret once a month and attempting to establish himself as a poet, but was plagued by money worries, having to accept a small allowance from his mother. He worked on a tragedy in the Greek manner, Empedokles, producing three versions, all unfinished. Already at this time he was diagnosed as suffering from a severe "hypochondria", a condition that would worsen after his last meeting with Susette Gontard in 1800. After a sojourn in Stuttgart, probably working on his translations of Pindar, at the end of 1800 he found further employment as a tutor in Hauptwyl, Switzerland and then, in 1802, in Bordeaux, at the household of the Hamburg consul. His stay in that French city is celebrated in "Andenken" ("Remembrance"), one of his greatest poems. In a few months, however, he returned home on foot via Paris (where he saw Greek sculptures for the only time in his life). He arrived home in Nürtingen both physically and mentally prostrated. Susette died from influenza in Frankfurt about the same time.

After some time in Nürtingen he was taken to the court of Homburg by Sinclair, who found a sinecure for him as court librarian, but in 1805 Sinclair was denounced as a conspirator and tried for treason. Hölderlin was in danger of being tried too but was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. The state of Hesse-Homburg was dissolved the following year after the Battle of Jena. On 11 September Hölderlin was delivered into the clinic at Tübingen run by Dr Ferdinand Authenrieth, inventor of a mask for the prevention of screaming in the mentally ill.[1] The clinic was attached to the University and the poet Kerner, then studying medicine, was assigned to look after Hölderlin for a while. The following year he was discharged as incurable and given three years to live, but was taken in by the carpenter Ernst Zimmer (a cultured man, who had read Hyperion) and given a room in his house, which had been a tower in the old city wall, with a view across the Neckar river and meadows. Zimmer and his family cared for Hölderlin until his death, 36 years later. Wilhelm Waiblinger, a young poet and admirer, left a poignant account of Hölderlin's day-to-day life during these long, empty years. Hölderlin continued to write poetry of a simplicity and formality quite unlike what he had been writing up to 1805. As time went on he became a kind of minor tourist attraction and was visited by curious travellers and autograph-hunters. Often he would spontaneously write short verses for such visitors, confining himself to conventional subjects such as Greece, the Seasons, or The Spirit of the Times, pure in versification but almost empty of affect, although a few of these (such as the famous 'The Lines of Life', Die Linien des Lebens, which he wrote out for his carer Zimmer on a piece of wood[2]) have a piercing beauty and have been set to music by many composers.

Hölderlin's own family did nothing to support him but instead petitioned (successfully) for his upkeep to be paid by the state. His mother and sister never visited him, and his step-brother only once. His mother died in 1828: his sister and step-brother quarrelled over the inheritance, arguing that too large a share had been allotted to Hölderlin, and tried unsuccessfully to have the will overturned in court. Neither of them attended his funeral; the Zimmer family were his only mourners. His inheritance, including the patrimony left him by his father when he was two, had been kept from him by his mother and was untouched and continually accruing interest. He was a rich man, and never knew it.[3]


The poetry of Hölderlin, widely recognized today as one of the highest points of German literature, was little known or understood during his lifetime and slipped into obscurity shortly after his death; his illness and reclusion made him fade from his contemporaries' consciousness – and, even though selections of his work were being published by his friends already during his lifetime, it was largely ignored for the rest of the 19th century.

In fact, Hölderlin was a man of his time, an early supporter of the French Revolution – in his youth at the Seminary of Tübingen, he and some colleagues from a "republican club" planted a "Tree of Freedom" in the market square, prompting the Grand-Duke himself to admonish the students at the seminary. He was at first carried away by Napoleon, whom he honors in one of his couplets.

Like Goethe and Schiller, his older contemporaries, Hölderlin was a fervent admirer of ancient Greek culture, but had a very personal understanding of it. Much later, Friedrich Nietzsche would recognize in him the poet who first acknowledged the Orphic and Dionysian Greece of the mysteries, which he would fuse with the Pietism of his native Swabia in a highly original religious experience. For Hölderlin, the Greek gods were not the plaster figures of conventional classicism, but living, actual presences, wonderfully life-giving and, at the same time, terrifying. He understood and sympathized with the Greek idea of the tragic fall, which he expressed movingly in the last stanza of his "Hyperions Schicksalslied" ("Hyperion's Song of Destiny").

In the great poems of his maturity, Hölderlin would generally adopt a large-scale, expansive and unrhymed style. Together with these long hymns, odes and elegies – which included "Der Archipelagus" ("The Archipelago"), "Brot und Wein" ("Bread and Wine") and "Patmos" – he also cultivated a crisper, more concise manner in epigrams and couplets, and in short poems like the famous "Hälfte des Lebens" ("The Middle of Life"). In the years after his return from Bordeaux he completed some of his greatest poems but also, once they were finished, returned to them repeatedly, creating new and stranger versions sometimes in several layers on the same manuscript, which makes the editing of his works problematic. Some of these later versions (and some later poems) are fragmentary, but have astonishing intensity. He seems also to have considered fragments, even with gaps and unfinished lines and unfinished sentence-structure, sometimes as poems in themselves. Both these tendencies (the obsessive revisions, the stand-alone fragments) used to be taken as proof of his mental disorder, but they were to prove very influential on later poets such as Paul Celan. In his years of madness, Hölderlin would occasionally pen ingenuous rhymed quatrains, sometimes of a childlike beauty, which he would sign with fantastic names (most often "Scardanelli") and give fictitious dates from the previous or future centuries.

Dissemination and influence

Hölderlin’s major publication in his lifetime was his novel Hyperion, which was issued in two parts (1797 and 1799). Various individual poems were published but attracted little attention and in 1799 he also attempted to produce a literary-philosophical periodical, Iduna. His translations of the dramas of Sophocles were published in 1804 but were generally met with derision over their apparent artificiality and difficulty caused by transposing Greek idioms into German. In the 20th century, theorists of translation such as Walter Benjamin have vindicated them, showing their importance as a new – and greatly influential – model of poetic translation. Der Rhein and Patmos, two of the longest and most densely charged of the hymns, appeared in a poetic calendar in 1808.

Wilhelm Waiblinger, who visited Hölderlin in his tower repeatedly in 1822-3 and depicted him in the protagonist of his novel Phaëthon, urged the necessity of issuing an edition of his poems and the first collection of his poetry was issued by Ludwig Uhland and C. T. Schwab in 1826. They omitted anything they suspected might be 'touched by insanity'. A copy was given to Hölderlin, but some years later this was stolen by a souvenir-hunter.[3] A second, enlarged edition with a biographical essay appeared in 1842, the year before Hölderlin’s death.

Only in 1913 did Norbert von Hellingrath, a member of the circle around poet Stefan George, bring out the first two volumes of what eventually became a six-volume edition of Hölderlin's poems, prose and letters (the 'Berlin Edition', Berliner Ausgabe). For the first time, Hölderlin's hymnic drafts and fragments were published and it became possible to gain some overview of his work in the years between 1800 and 1807, which had been only sparsely covered in earlier editions. The Berlin edition and von Hellingrath's impassioned advocacy of Hölderlin's work shifted the emphasis of appraisal from his earlier elegies to the enigmatic and grandiose later hymns. At the same time, Hölderlin's appeals to the Germans became all too easy to abuse among nationalists and finally among Nazi-inflected groups.

Already in 1912, before the Berlin edition began to appear, Rainer Maria Rilke composed his first two Duino Elegies whose form and spirit draw strongly on the hymns and elegies of Hölderlin. Rilke had met von Hellingrath a few years earlier and had seen some of the hymn drafts, and the Duino Elegies heralded the beginning of a new appreciation of Hölderlin's late work. Although his hymns can hardly be imitated, they have become a powerful influence on modern poetry in German and other languages, and are sometimes cited as the very crown of German lyric poetry.

The Berlin edition was to some extent superseded by the Stuttgart Edition (Grosse Stuttgarter Ausgabe) edited by Friedrich Beissner and Adolf Beck, which began publication in 1943 and eventually saw completion in 1986. This undertaking was much more rigorous in textual criticism than the Berlin edition and solved many issues of interpretation raised by Hölderlin's unfinished and undated texts (sometimes several versions of the same poem with major differences). Meanwhile a third complete edition, the Frankfurt Critical Edition (Frankfurter Historisch-kritische Ausgabe), began publication in 1975 under the editorship of Dietrich Sattler; it is still in progress. There are other editions; it should be noted that no two of them show all the major poems in congruent textual status. Strophes and readings are sometimes arranged in different ways from one edition to the next.

Though Hölderlin's hymnic style – dependent as it is on a genuine belief in the divinity – creates a deeply personal fusion of Greek mythic figures and romantic nature mysticism, which can appear both strange and enticing, his shorter and sometimes more fragmentary poems have exerted wide influence too on later German poets, from Georg Trakl onwards. He also had an influence on the poetry of Hermann Hesse and Paul Celan. (Celan wrote a poem about Hölderlin, called "Tübingen, January" which ends with the word Pallaksch - according to C. T. Schwab, Hölderlin's favourite neologism "which sometimes meant Yes, sometimes No").

Hölderlin was a poet-thinker who wrote, fragmentarily, on poetic theory and philosophical matters. His theoretical works, such as the essays "Das Werden im Vergehen" ("Becoming in Dissolution") and "Urteil und Sein" ("Judgement and Being") are insightful and important if somewhat tortuous and difficult to parse. They raise many of the key problems also addressed by his Tübingen roommates Hegel and Schelling. And, though his poetry was never "theory-driven", the interpretation and exegesis of some of his more difficult poems has given rise to profound philosophical speculation by thinkers as divergent as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and Theodor Adorno.


Hölderlin's poetry has inspired many composers, one of the earliest examples and perhaps the most famous being the Schicksalslied by Brahms, a setting of Hyperions Schicksalslied. Other composers to have made settings of his poems include Peter Cornelius, Hans Pfitzner, Richard Strauss (Drei Hymnen), Max Reger (An die Hoffnung), Richard Wetz (Hyperion), Josef Matthias Hauer (who also wrote many piano pieces inspired by individual lines of the poems), Stefan Wolpe, Paul Hindemith (whose his First Piano Sonata is also influenced by Hölderlin's poem 'Der Main'), Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze (whose Seventh Symphony is also partly inspired by Hölderlin), Bruno Maderna (Hyperion, Stele an Diotima), Heinz Holliger (the Scardanelli-Zyklus), Hans Zender (Hölderlin lesen I-IV), György Kurtág (who planned an opera on Hölderlin), György Ligeti (Hölderlin-Phantasien), Hanns Eisler (Hollywood Liederbuch), Viktor Ullmann (who wrote settings in Terezin concentration camp), Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Walter Zimmermann (Hyperion, an epistolary opera) and Wolfgang Rihm. Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's Tag des Jahrs for mixed choir and electronics (2001) is based on four of Hölderlin's late poems, Graham Waterhouse based Sechs späteste Lieder nach Hölderlin on six of these poems. Robert Schumann's late piano suite Gesänge der Frühe was inspired by Hölderlin, as was Luigi Nono's string quartet Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima and parts of his opera Prometeo. Carl Orff used Hölderlin's German translations of Sophocles in his operas Antigone and Oedipus der Tyrann. Many songs of Swedish alternative rock band ALPHA 60 also contain lyrical references to Hölderlin's poetry. Finnish melodic death metal band Insomnium has transposed and used Hölderlin's verses in several songs.


A 2004 film, The Ister, is based on Martin Heidegger's 1942 lecture course (published as Hölderlin's Hymn "The Ister"). The film features Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Bernard Stiegler, and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.

The 1985 film Half of life is named after a poem of Hölderlin and deals with the secret relationship between Hölderlin and Susette Gontard. It stars German actors Ulrich Mühe and Jenny Gröllmann.

In 1986 and 1988 Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub shot two films "Der Tod Des Empedokles" and "Schwarze Sünde" in Sicily, which were both based on the drama Empedokles (respectively for the two films they used the first and third version of the text).

A 1981-82 television drama, "Untertänigst Scardanelli" (The Loyal Scardanelli), directed by Jonatan Briel in Berlin.


  1. ^ Constantine (1990), p. 299.
  2. ^ Constantine (1990), p. 302.
  3. ^ a b Constantine (1990), p. 300.


  • Hölderlin, Sämtliche Werke ed. Norbert von Helligrath, Ludwig von Pigenot and Friedrich Seebass (Berlin, Propyläen Verlag, 6 vols, 1913-23)
  • Sämtliche Werke < Große Stuttgarter Ausgabe > hrsg. Friedrich Beißner <Werke> und Adolf Beck <Briefe und Dokumente>. 8 Bände, Stuttgart : 1943-1985 ; hrsg. Friedrich Beissner, Adolf Beck, Ute Oelmann. Stuttgart : Kohlhammer, 1983-1985.
  • Sämtliche Werke. Frankfurter Ausgabe, Historische kritische Ausgabe von D.E. Sattler. 20 Bände. Basel: Stroemfeld-Verlag / Frankfurt a. M. : Verlag Roter Stern, 1975-2003.
  • Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, 3 Bände, hrsg. von Jochen Schmidt. Francfort am Main : Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1992-94.
  • Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, 3 Bände, hrsg. von Michael Knaupp. München, Wien : Carl Hanser Verlag, 1992-1993.

English translations

  • Friedrich Hölderlin, Poems & Fragments translated by Michael Hamburger (3rd edition: London, Anvil Press, 1994) ISBN 0 85646 245 4
  • Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected Poems translated by David Constantine (Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1990, expanded 1996) ISBN 1 85224 378 3
  • What I Own: Versions of Hölderlin and Mandelshtam by John Riley and Tim Longville (Manchester, Carcanet Press, 1998), ISBN 1 85754 175 8
  • « ...Belle Garonne et les jardins...  » Version planétaire [Translation in more than twenty languages of the poem Andenken], Bordeaux, William Blake edition, 2002 ISBN 2-84103-118-7
  • Odes and Elegies translated by Nick Hoff (Wesleyan Press, 2008) ISBN 0 81956 8902
  • Hyperion translated by Ross Benjamin (Archipelago Books, 2008) ISBN 978-0-9793330-2-6


  • Internationale Hölderlin-Bibliographie (IHB). Hrsg. vom Hölderlin-Archiv der Württembergischen Landesbibliothek Stuttgart. 1804-1983. Bearb. Von Maria Kohler. Stuttgart 1985.
  • Internationale Hölderlin-Bibliographie (IHB). Hrsg. vom Hölderlin-Archiv der Württembergischen Landesbibliothek Stuttgart. Bearb. Von Werner Paul Sohnle und Marianne Schütz, online 1984 ff (depuis 1.1.2001: IHB online). Homepage vom Hölderlin-Archiv :

Secondary literature

  • Theodor W. Adorno, "Parataxis: On Hölderlin's Late Poetry." In Notes to Literature, Volume II. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Trans. Shierry Weber Nicholson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. 109-49.
  • Roseline Bonnellier, Sous le soleil de Hölderlin: Oedipe en question - Au premier temps du complexe était la fille, Paris, L'Harmattan, Collection "Études psychanalytiques", février 2010, 358 pages, ISBN 978-2-296-10411-2
  • David Constantine, Hölderlin. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1988, corrected 1990. ISBN 0 19 815169 1.
  • Annemarie Gethmann-Siefert, "Heidegger and Hölderlin: The Over-Usage of "Poets in an Impoverished Time"", Heidegger Studies (1990), 59-88.
  • Martin Heidegger, Elucidations of Hölderlin's Poetry. Trans. Keith Hoeller. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2000.
  • Jean Laplanche, Hölderlin et la question du père. Paris, PUF,1961. Translation: Hölderlin and the Question of the Father, with an introduction by Rainer Nägele, edited and translated by Luke Carson, Victoria (Canada), ELS Editions no. 97, 2007, ISBN 978-1-55058-379-3
  • Gert Lernout, The poet as thinker: Hölderlin in France. Columbia USA : Camden House, 1994.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It was not delight, not wonder that arose among us, it was the peace of heaven.

Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (20 March 17706 June 1843) was a major German lyric poet, whose work bridges the Classical and Romantic schools.



What is all that men have done and thought over thousands of years, compared with one moment of love. But in all Nature, too, it is what is nearest to perfection, what is most divinely beautiful!
  • Being at one is god-like and good, but human, too human, the mania
    Which insists there is only the One, one country, one truth, and one way.
    • "The Root of All Evil" as translated by Michael Hamburger
  • You seek life, and a godly fire
    Gushes and gleams for you out of the earth,
    As, with shuddering long, you
    Hurl yourself down to the flames of the Etna.

    So by a queen's wanton whim
    Peals were dissolved in wine- heed her not!
    What folly, poet, to cast your riches
    Into that bright and bubbling cup!

    Yet still are you holy to me, as the might of the earth
    That bore you away, audaciously perishing!
    And I would follow the hero into the depths
    Did love not hold me.

    • "Empedokles"
  • The earth with yellow pears
    And overgrown with roses wild
    Upon the pond is bent,
    And swans divine,
    With kisses drunk
    You drop your heads
    In the sublimely sobering water.
    But where, with winter come, am I
    To find, alas, the floweres, and where
    The sunshine
    And the shadow of the world?
    Cold the walls stand
    And the wordless, in the wind
    The weathercocks are rattling.
    • "Halves of Life"


As translated by Michael Hamburger
  • We were eager to have done and trusted to luck.
  • Now we were standing close to the summit's rim, gazing out into the endless East.
  • What is all that men have done and thought over thousands of years, compared with one moment of love. But in all Nature, too, it is what is nearest to perfection, what is most divinely beautiful! There all stairs lead from the threshold of life. From there we come, to there we go.
  • What is the wisdom of a book compared with the wisdom of an angel?
  • I call on Fate to give me back my soul.
  • It was not delight, not wonder that arose among us, it was the peace of heaven.
    A thousand times have I said it to her and to myself: the most beautiful is also the most sacred. And such was everything in her. Like her singing, even so was her life.
  • Before either of us knew it, we belonged to each other.


  • This name is fake. I was never called Hölderlin, but Scardanelli!
    • Upon seeing an edition of his own poetry. Original German: "Der Name ist gefälscht. Ich habe nie Hölderlin geheissen, sondern Scardanelli!"
  • Like a poet man lives.
    • Original: Dichterlich wohnt der Mensch.
    • Martin Heidegger attributed this quote to Hölderlin in his lecture upon him.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address