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Friedrich Hölderlin

Friedrich Hölderlin
Born (1770-03-20)20 March 1770
Lauffen am Neckar, Duchy of Württemberg
Died 7 June 1843(1843-06-07) (aged 73)
Tübingen, Kingdom of Württemberg, Germany
Occupation Lyric poet

Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (German: ; 20 March 1770 – 7 June 1843) was a major Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling.[1][2][3]


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
  • Dissemination and influence 3
  • Music 4
    • Vocal music 4.1
    • Instrumental music 4.2
  • Cinema 5
  • Recordings 6
  • Works 7
  • English translations 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • Notes 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Hölderlin's birthplace, Lauffen am Neckar

Hölderlin was born in Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph 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. Michael Hamburger surmised that up to this time, Hölderlin was most influenced by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and his religious verse.[4] In 1793–94 he met Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang 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 am Main 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, The Death of Empedocles, 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 genuine Greek sculptures, as opposed to later copies, Roman or modern, for the only time in his life). He arrived home in Nürtingen both physically and mentally exhausted. 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 Autenrieth, inventor of a mask for the prevention of screaming in the mentally ill.[5]

The first floor of the pictured center tower was Hölderlin's place of residence from 1807 until his death in 1843

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 in Tübingen, which had been a tower in the old city wall, with a view across the Neckar river and meadows. The tower would later be named the Hölderlinturm, after the poet's 36-year-long stay in the modestly furnished room. His residence in the building made up the second half of his life and is also referred to as the Turmzeit (or "Tower period"). Zimmer and his family cared for Hölderlin until his death in 1843, 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 travelers and autograph-hunters. Often he would play the piano or 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[6]) have a piercing beauty and have been set to music by many composers.

Hölderlin Memorial in Lauffen

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 stepbrother only once. His mother died in 1828: his sister and stepbrother 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, nor had the (now famous) friends of his childhood, Hegel and Schelling, had anything to do with him for years; 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 died a rich man, and never knew it.[7]


Hölderlin's autograph of the first three stanzas of his ode "Ermunterung" ("Exhortation")

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 published by his friends during his lifetime, it was largely ignored for the rest of the 19th century.

Indeed, 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. In his early years he was an enthusiastic supporter of 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 his understanding of it was very personal. 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 though, 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"), "Brod 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 they have astonishing intensity. He seems sometimes also to have considered the fragments, even with gaps and unfinished lines and incomplete sentence-structure, to be poems in themselves. This obsessive revising and his stand-alone fragments were once considered evidence 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

A pencil sketch of Hölderlin done the year before his death.

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.[7] A second, enlarged edition with a biographical essay appeared in 1842, the year before Hölderlin’s death.

Only in 1913 did 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 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, Michel Foucault and Theodor Adorno.


Hölderlin's poetry has inspired many composers.

Vocal music

One of the earliest settings of Hölderlin's poetry is

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.

Instrumental music

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. Josef Matthias Hauer wrote many piano pieces inspired by individual lines of the poems. Paul Hindemith's First Piano Sonata is influenced by Hölderlin's poem Der Main. Hans Werner Henze's Seventh Symphony is partly inspired by Hölderlin.


  • A 1981–82 television drama, Untertänigst Scardanelli (The Loyal Scardanelli), directed by Jonatan Briel in Berlin.
  • 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).
  • German director Harald Bergmann has dedicated several works to Hölderlin; these include the movies Lyrische Suite/Das untergehende Vaterland (1992), Hölderlin Comics (1994), Scardanelli (2000) and Passion Hölderlin (2003)[8]


Many of Hölderlin's work have been recorded as audio books. Notable is a reading by Martin Heidegger for the dedication of the record label ECM. It has released two readings of Hölderlin poets: one in 1984 by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz simply called Hölderlin (ECM 1285), and one in 2012 by voice actor/vocalist Christian Reiner called Turmgedichte (ECM 2285). Furthermore ECM released an album called Scardanelli with spoken texts and music from the 2000 movie of the same name by German director Harald Bergmann.[9] Another example is the 1991 recording of Heinz Holliger's Scardanelli-Zyklus (ECM 1472) conducted by the composer.[10]


  • Friedrich Hölderlins Sämtliche Werke. Ed. Gotthold Friedrich Stäudlin (Berlin: Cotta, 1846).
  • Sämtliche Werke. Ed. Norbert von Hellingrath, Ludwig von Pigenot and Friedrich Seebass. 6 vols. (Berlin: Propyläen, 1913–23 and 1943).
  • Sämtliche Werke. Große Stuttgarter Ausgabe. Ed. Friedrich Beißner (works) and Adolf Beck (letters and documents). 8 vols in 16 parts. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1943–1985).
  • Sämtliche Werke. Known as the "Kleine Stuttgarter Ausgabe". Ed. Friedrich Beißner. 6 vols. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1944/1946–1962).
  • Sämtliche Werke. Frankfurter Ausgabe. Ed. D.E. Sattler. 20 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld, 1975–2003).
  • Sämtliche Werke und Briefe in drei Bänden. Ed. Jochen Schmidt. 3 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1992–94).
  • Sämtliche Werke und Briefe. Ed. Michael Knaupp. 3 vols. (München: Hanser, 1992–1993).
  • Gesammelte Werke von Friedrich Hölderlin, Hans-Jürgen Balmes ( Herausgeber ) Ed.Verlag: Fischer (Tb.), Frankfurt; (Broschiert ) Auflage: 1 (4. April 2008)

English translations

  • Some Poems of Friedrich Holderlin. Trans. Frederic Prokosch. (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1943).
  • Alcaic Poems. Trans. Elizabeth Henderson. (London: Wolf, 1962; New York: Unger, 1963). ISBN 0-85496-303-0
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Poems & Fragments. Trans. Michael Hamburger. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966; 4ed. London: Anvil Press, 2004). ISBN 0-85646-245-4
  • Friedrich Hölderlin, Eduard Mörike: Selected Poems. Trans. Christopher Middleton (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1972). ISBN 0-226-34934-9
  • Poems of Friedrich Holderlin: The Fire of the Gods Drives Us to Set Forth by Day and by Night. Trans. James Mitchell. (San Francisco: Hoddypodge, 1978; 2ed San Francisco: Ithuriel's Spear, 2004). ISBN 0-9749502-9-7
  • Hymns and Fragments. Trans. Richard Sieburth. (Princeton: Princeton University, 1984). ISBN 0-691-01412-4
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Essays and Letters on Theory. Trans. Thomas Pfau. (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1988). ISBN 0-88706-558-9
  • Hyperion and Selected Poems. The German Library vol.22. Ed. Eric L. Santner. Trans. C. Middleton, R. Sieburth, M. Hamburger. (New York: Continuum, 1990). ISBN 0-8264-0334-4
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Selected Poems. Trans. David Constantine. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1990; 2ed 1996) ISBN 1-85224-378-3
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Selected Poems and Fragments. Ed. Jeremy Adler. Trans. Michael Hamburger. (London: Penguin, 1996). ISBN 978-0-14-042416-4
  • What I Own: Versions of Hölderlin and Mandelshtam. Trans. John Riley and Tim Longville. (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998). ISBN 1-85754-175-8
  • Holderlin's Sophocles: Oedipus and Antigone. Trans. David Constantine. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 2001). ISBN 1-85224-543-3
  • Odes and Elegies. Trans. Nick Hoff. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Press, 2008). ISBN 0-8195-6890-2
  • Hyperion. Trans. Ross Benjamin. (Brooklyn, NY:Archipelago Books, 2008) ISBN 978-0-9793330-2-6
  • Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin. Trans. Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover. (Richmond, CA: Omnidawn, 2008). ISBN 978-1-890650-35-3
  • Essays and Letters. Trans. Jeremy Adler and Charlie Louth. (London: Penguin, 2009). ISBN 978-0-14-044708-8
  • The Death of Empedocles: A Mourning-Play. Trans. David Farrell Krell. (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2009). ISBN 0-7914-7648-0


  • 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 (after 1.1.2001: IHB online).
  • Homepage of Hölderlin-Archiv


  1. ^ "Because of his small philosophical output, it is important to indicate in what way Hölderlin’s ideas have influenced his contemporaries and later thinkers. It was Hölderlin whose ideas showed Hegel that he could not continue to work on the applications of philosophy to politics without first addressing certain theoretical issues. In 1801, this led Hegel to move to Jena where he was to write the Phenomenology of Spirit.... Schelling’s early work amounts to a development of Hölderlin’s concept of Being in terms of a notion of a prior identity of thought and object in his Philosophy of Identity." Christian J. Onof, "Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 15 Jan 2011.
  2. ^ "Hegel is completely dependent on Hölderlin – on his early efforts to grasp speculatively the course of human life and the unity of its conflicts, on the vividness with which Hölderlin's friends made his insight fully convincing, and also certainly on the integrity with which Hölderlin sought to use that insight to preserve his own inwardly torn life." Dieter Henrich, The Course of Remembrance and Other Essays on Hölderlin, Ed. Eckart Förster (Stanford: Stanford University, 1997) p. 139.
  3. ^ "Indeed, the Pietistic Horizon extended for generations up to and including the time when Hegel, together with his friends Hölderlin and Schelling, spent quiet hours strolling along the banks of the Neckar receiving the theological education they would eventually challenge and transform through the grand tradition now known as German Idealism." Alan Olson, Hegel and the Spirit. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 39.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Constantine (1990), p. 299.
  6. ^ Constantine (1990), p. 302.
  7. ^ a b Constantine (1990), p. 300.
  8. ^
  9. ^ ECM Website
  10. ^ ECM Website

Further reading

  • 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. pp. 109–49.
  • David Constantine, Hölderlin. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1988, corrected 1990. ISBN 0-19-815169-1.
  • Aris Fioretos (ed.) The Solid Letter: Readings of Friedrich Hölderlin. Stanford: Stanford University, 1999. ISBN 0-8047-2942-5.
  • Annemarie Gethmann-Siefert, "Heidegger and Hölderlin: The Over-Usage of "Poets in an Impoverished Time"", Heidegger Studies (1990). pp. 59–88.
  • Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei, Heidegger, Hölderlin, and the Subject of Poetic Language. New York: Fordham University, 2004. ISBN 0-8232-2360-4.
  • Dieter Henrich, Der Gang des Andenkens: Beobachtungen und Gedanken zu Hölderlins Gedicht. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1986; The Course of Remembrance and Other Essays on Hölderlin. Ed. Eckart Förster. Stanford: Stanford University, 1997. ISBN 0-8047-2739-2.
  • Martin Heidegger, Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1944; Elucidations of Hölderlin's Poetry. Trans. Keith Hoeller. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000.
  • Martin Heidegger, Hölderlins Hymne >>Der Ister<<. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1984; Hölderlin's Hymn "The Ister". Trans. William McNeill and Julia Davis. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1996.
  • David Michael Kleinberg-Levin, Gestures of Ethical Life: Reading Hölderlin's Question of Measure After Heidegger. Stanford: Stanford University, 2005. ISBN 0-8047-5087-4.
  • Jean Laplanche, Hölderlin and the Question of the Father (fr: Hölderlin et la question du père, 1961), Translation: Luke Carson, Victoria, BC: ELS Editions, 2007. ISBN 978-1-55058-379-3.
  • Gert Lernout, The poet as thinker: Hölderlin in France. Columbia USA : Camden House, 1994.
  • Paul de Man, “Heidegger’s Exegeses of Hölderlin.” Blindness and Insight. 2nd Ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1983, pp. 246–66.
  • Andrzej Warminski, Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987.

External links

  • Works by Friedrich Hölderlin at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Friedrich Hölderlin at Internet Archive
  • Works by Friedrich Hölderlin at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Hölderlin-Archiv
  • Hölderlin Gesellschaft (in German, links to English, French, Spanish, and Italian)
  • Selected Poems of Hölderlin – English translations
  • Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin – English translations
  • Selective list of Hölderlin's poems in German, with linked texts – contains most of his major finished poems up to ca 1804, but not complete
  • "Hölderlin-Songs" on YouTube composed by Viktor Ullmann, signed and translated into Austrian Sign Language by Horst Dittrich, sung by Rupert Bergmann in a production of ARBOS - Company for Music and Theatre
  • Antigonai on YouTube, an opera based on fragments by Sophocles and Hölderlin for three choirs and a women trio, composed by Carlos Stella
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