In the final stanza of his famous poem “Die Heimat” (“Homeland”), Friedrich Hölderlin captured the essence of his personal artistic calling and its lyrical product. The pairing of love, the divine fire that stimulates creativity, with suffering, the holy reward that the gods give to their poet-prophet, defines the poles of existential tension that were a primary focus of his life and works. A peculiar mixture of the poetry of experience and that of ideas, his early hymns and his mature odes, elegies, and hymns in free rhythms are at once the offspring of intense adoration—of beauty, nature, Greek antiquity, an idealized world of tomorrow—and profound spiritual pain resulting from recognition of the abyss between the poet and the things that he cherishes. The result is a constant duality of mood: on one hand, deeply elegiac longing for the elements of a lost golden age; on the other, overwhelming joy in the message of love that is the joint legacy of the Greek world and the Christian tradition. Oscillating between hope and despair, anticipation and resignation, tragic darkness and powerfully prophetic vision, his verse documents the continuing struggle of a spirit that needs to belong to society yet remains alone as a priest who serves no church, a singer of a people no longer or not yet there.
Despite the concentrated projection of the deeply personal strivings of his own soul into his writings, Hölderlin’s lyrics were based firmly in an...
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