Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In his tragic odes, especially “The Poet’s Courage,” Hölderlin’s pantheism, his desire to be at one with the cosmos, continually comes up against his awareness not only of the essential differences between humans and the rest of nature but also of the isolation into which individual people are precipitated by their consciousnesses. The poet who possesses the great gift of knowing, of being at one with nature, suffers alienation from the rest of humanity, those who do not have the courage or the vision to recognize and embrace this relationship. In the fifth stanza, the poem describes “One such brave man” who stands apart from the masses and who is mourned in his passing not by his fellow human beings but primarily by the forces of nature and the virgins who have been uncorrupted by the general human retreat from nature. This tragic poem, then, provides a metaphor of an intellectual point of view that can be none other than the awareness of being at one with all that lives and an assertion of the courage that is required to embrace that awareness. This representation of the tragic is mainly based on what is monstrous and terrible in the coupling of God and humanity, in the total fusion of the power of nature with the innermost depths of humankind. Hölderlin said, “There is only one quarrel in this world: which is more important, the whole or the individual part,” and, in “The Poet’s Courage,” his message is clear: Individuals who acknowledge...

(The entire section is 532 words.)