The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Homecoming” is the last of Friedrich Hölderlin’s eight elegies. It consists of six stanzas of eighteen lines each, for a total of fifty-four elegiac distichs. The poem begins with unqualified expressions of joy in the sight and sounds of a world disclosing itself in its pristine relation. It then moves to a somberness still marked by joy but wrought with care: The poet must care, if others cannot, about apprehending the divine source of joyousness and finding names for the High Ones to supersede the outworn terms that have lost the glory of radiant holiness. The naming of God, in the deity’s disclosure of himself, is a participation in creation as a constant reality. The poet, still joyous in his ability to address the higher powers (the great Father and the angels), confronts incipient despair at the apparent impossibility of new efficacious naming.

The first stanza picks up the ambiguity of the poem’s dedication, “An die Verwandten,” which might be dedicating the poem to relatives to whom the poet is returning or simply to like-minded persons whom the poet is addressing. It exhibits creation as gloriously fraught with inherently resolved contradictions: bright night under a cloud; a cloud in the act of composing the poetic lines that the poet is composing about the cloud; a gähnende valley (a valley that is gaping or yawning as it comes awake and that is swallowing—presumably swallowing the night covered by the cloud in infantile self-sustenance). The stanza begins, “There inside the Alps it is still bright night, and the cloud, composing/ Joyousness, covers it within the yawning valley.” The darkness is bright within a yawning (deep) valley that is waking with a yawn and gapingly...

(The entire section is 707 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Hölderlin applies the literary devices of ambiguity and paradox to an inversion of the biblical experience of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Saul, leaving his home, was blinded by the divine light and was changed by his audience with God into Paul, God’s emissary to those whom he must persuade to eschew their earthly homes. The poet in “Homecoming” is enlightened by the darkness and is restored by his audience with God to appreciation of the joys of his homeland at the same time that he is tentatively saddened by the impossibility of relating this vision and its significance to those whom he must nonetheless encourage to fulfill themselves in their earthly homes.

Inversion is also extended to the effective use of indirection—that is, achieving a goal by distancing oneself from it. Hölderlin’s poet is seeing his home not as he had seen it while he lived there but in an entirely fresh Chaos of joyousness occasioned by his having been away from it. This achievement through indirection is analogous to the experiences of other characters in literature: Odysseus gets home by being kept away from it, Parzival finds the Grail by departing from the castle in which it is housed, Dante gets to the Blissful Mountain by going through the Inferno, Franz Kafka’s K gets closer to the Castle when he is moving away from it than he does by heading straight for it, and Pär Lagerkvist’s Tobias sustains his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by choosing to...

(The entire section is 467 words.)