Holderlin On The Poet As Hero


In his early poems (those written before 1805), Holderlin speaks several times of the high calling of the poet.  In Diotima (Bliss Of The Heavenly), Holderlin implies that it is the poet (helped by his Muse) who, with his narration of Life, gives form to chaos and turns a barrage of events into a story of progress and lyricism…

Bliss of the heavenly Muse who on elements once imposed order,/ come, and for me now assuage the chaos come back in our time,/ temper the furious war with peace-giving, heavenly music/ til in the mortal heart all that’s divided unites.”

And in Bonaparte, Holderlin contends that “Poets are holy vessels / in which the wine of life, / the spirit of heroes is preserved.”  Poets are thus a type of hero… Heroes live… poets keep heroes alive.

In Holderlin’s poem Kepler, I can’t help but think that what he says of Johannes Kepler he also believes of genius in general, and that would mos def include poets:

“In starry regions my mind perambulates, hovers over Uranian fields, and ponders.  Solitary and daring is my course, demanding a brazen stride.”


In the poem, To The Fates, Holderlin writes of the personal fulfillment he gets from writing poetry, and asks the powers-that-be for another half-year to complete his art:

“One summer only grant me, you powerful Fates,/ and one more autumn only for mellow song,/ so that more willingly, replete with / music’s late sweetness, my heart may die then” [for…] “when what’s holy, dear to me, the/ Poem’s accomplished, my art perfected, // then welcome silence, welcome cold world of shades!”

Once allowed to live long enough to fulfill his high calling, Holderlin states that he can then die a happy man, “for once I / lived like the gods, and no more is needed.”

In the poem, Rousseau, Holderlin speaks of the poet as “the yearning man”— a man who does not need to be struck by the lightning-finger of Zeus before recognizing the hand of God in the Universe.  The Yearning Man can see the larger, deeper truths that run like veins of ore through the hinting details of Life…  “For the yearning man / the hint sufficed.  In hints from/ time immemorial the gods have spoken. / /  And marvelous, as though from the very first / the human mind had known all that grows and moves, / foreknown life’s melody and rhythm, //in seed grains he can measure the full-grown plant; / and flies, bold spirit, flies as the eagles do / ahead of thunderstorms, preceding/ Gods, his own gods, to announce their coming.

In To The Germans [the earlier poem of that name], although speaking sarcastically, he brings up the possibility that the power of words can exert real-world influence…  “as lightning from clouds, out of mere thoughts will deeds/ potent, come leaping out?  Books now begin to live?”

In Bread And Wine, written in 1800 or 1801, Holderlin remarks upon the balancing act of the poet… he must be gentle and sensitive, yet he must also be strong enough to absorb and transmit the great powers of the Universe– “for not always a frail, a delicate vessel can hold them,” and “only at times can our kind bear the full impact of gods.”

Continuing, he writes of poetic revelation as life-changing epiphany, one which may create the ecstatic Wandering Poet (“priests of the wine-god who in holy Night roamed from one place to the next”), and he hints that the poet needs a heart as strong as a demi-god if he hopes to contemplate higher things and yet not shatter.  Once a poet-seer gets a glimpse of the gods… “Ever after our life is dream about them.  But frenzy, wandering, helps, like sleep;  Night and distress make us strong til in the cradle of steel heroes enough have been fostered…  Hearts in strength can match heavenly strength as before.”

In another poem (I failed note the poem’s name), Holderlin writes confidently of the poet’s great power to suffer and withstand interaction with the gods if– if!– he remains “pure in heart”…

“yet, fellow poets, us it behooves to stand

bare-headed beneath God’s thunderstorms,

to grasp the Father’s ray, no less, with our own two hands

and, wrapping in song the heavenly gift,

to offer it to the people.”  […]


“For if only we are pure in heart,

like children, and our hands are guiltless,//

the Father’s ray, the pure will not sear our hearts

and, deeply convulsed, and sharing his sufferings

who is stronger than we are, yet in the far-flung down-rushing storms of

the God, when he draws near, will the heart stand fast.”

 By making themselves holy “the sons of Earth,” says Holderlin, may, “without danger”… “drink heavenly fire.”

Other posts from HAMMERING SHIELD on Holderlin…

On Nature, Homeland, and Forebears in the poetry of Holderlin…

Respect For Forebears

Home-Coming And Nature’s Welcoming Opens

Keeping Faith With The Fatherland


Holderlin on The Poet…

The Sad Plight Of The Poet


Holderlin on the Human Condition…

Life’s Swift Passage

The Downside Of Love

The Noble And The Good


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s