Friedrich Hölderlin was a great German poet whose main themes were society and the relationship between man and nature. He had a special perception of the world and an idiosyncratic style of language. However, recognition of his poetic achievement did not begin until the 20th century.
His most famous poem, ‘At the Middle of Life’ is about how a person, after a happy life as a young person, has to deal with aging in the second half of life.
At the Middle of Life
The earth hangs down
to the lake, full of yellow
pears and wild roses.
Lovely swans, drunk with
kisses you dip your heads
into the holy, sobering waters.
But when winter comes,
where will I find
the flowers, the sunshine,
the shadows of the earth?
The walls stand
speechless and cold,
rattle in the wind.
‘Hyperion’ his only written novel, is one of the most brilliant poetic works in German literary history.
Friedrich Hölderlin was born in 1770 in Lauffen am Neckar, in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The Neckar was the river of Hölderlin’s childhood and youth where he initially found poetic inspiration. Listen a moment to his poem ‘The Neckar’.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the same year. They didn’t know each other personally.
Some strokes of fate, the Christian faith and the strict protestant way of life shaped him in his childhood. He was supposed to become a priest.
Via monastery schools he got to study at the famous theological monastery in Tübingen, ‘Tübinger Stift’. There he met two philosophical friends Hegel and Schelling.
The years with them in the beautiful landscape; talks about Plato, Kant, Rousseau and the French Revolution, shaped his poetic and social thinking. He decided to become a poet instead of a priest.
With the support of Schiller, he went to Jena University. He attended lectures by philosophers such as Fichte and was a guest at the homes of both Schiller and Goethe.
He abruptly, and for unknown reasons, abandoned his studies, left Jena and went to Frankfurt am Main as a tutor. There, a love affair developed with Susette Gontart, the wife of his employer.
Hölderlin experienced the most fulfilling years of his life.
After the painful separation from Susette, he wandered restlessly. He moved to Bordeaux via Switzerland and finally returned to his homeland with a changed spirit.
There is some controversy as to whether he could have been mentally ill. In any case, he came under psychiatric care in the second half of his life.
Finally, it was decided that it was no longer worth treating and was put in the Tübingen Tower where he died in 1843 at the age of 73.
This year the city of Tübingen celebrates the 250th anniversary of Friedrich Hölderlin’s birth.
For more information about the events around the anniversary see this link.
Have a look to this website, if you like to visit the Hölderlinturm
Photo 3: ©Historiograf