Friedrich Hölderlin Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The untimely deaths of both his father and his stepfather determined the course of Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin’s childhood and youth. His mother, a devoutly religious Lutheran, insisted that he prepare for a career in the clergy. While attending monastery schools at Denkendorf and Maulbronn, he began writing poetry that reflected the suffering of a sensitive spirit under the rigors of traditional discipline and an inability to reconcile the demands of practical reality with his inner sense of artistic calling. Youthful love affairs with Luise Nast (the “Stella” of his early poems) and Elise Lebret exacerbated the tension between the two poles of his existence.

In 1788, Hölderlin entered the theological seminary at the University of Tübingen. Although he completed his studies and received a master’s degree that titled him to ordination, the years spent in Tübingen eased him away from any desire to become a pastor. With his friends Christian Ludwig Neuffer and Rudolf Magenau, he founded a poetry club patterned after the Göttinger Hain. He also joined a secret political organization with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Schelling and openly advocated social reforms inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. The true key to his rejection of a life of service in the church, however, was neither purely artistic inclination nor political commitment but rather deep spiritual conflict within himself. Concentrated exposure to the literature, art, and philosophy of classical antiquity caused him to develop a worldview that placed the ancient Greek gods, as vital natural forces, next to Christ in importance for the dawning of a new, humane era of enlightenment and harmony. The tension between the old pantheon and...

(The entire section is 717 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Friedrich Hölderlin (HURL-dur-leen), a German Romantic poet who used Greek mythology to express his dreams of a perfect world order, was born in 1770. Two years after his birth his father died, and his mother became the major influence in his life, an influence which was relentlessly used by her until the very end. His mother’s wish to make a theologian out of her son was not fulfilled. Hölderlin studied theology, but he could not find satisfaction in the strict disciplinarian concept of his mother’s brand of Christianity. He found it much easier to imagine the personalized gods of ancient Greece.

Poetry was his major interest, but he was also a talented musician on the flute, the violin, and the piano. It is not surprising, therefore, that most critics agree that the musicality of his lyric is unsurpassed. At fifteen, Hölderlin was already a remarkable poet, but his great German contemporaries (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) were not quite in agreement with his priestly ideas of poetry and his preference for everything Greek. Hölderlin was well aware of how eccentric his point of view was, and for this reason he broke off an engagement to his first love, Luise Nast.

In 1796 he had the most decisive encounter of his life. When he took a position in a bank in Frankfurt, he met the banker’s wife, Suzette Gondard, who represented the fulfillment of all his dreams of Greek perfection and soaring idealism. Under the name Diotima he glorified Gondard in many poems. It is not known to what degree she responded to his...

(The entire section is 651 words.)