Holderlin On The Downside Of Love


Today the topic is Holderlin In Love.  Holderlin is a lover of love, though his own love-life was a trainwreck.  Thus, his paeans to love and beauty are interspersed with verses of woe and torment.  What love poetry wouldn’t be?

In The Unpardonable, we learn that Holderlin holds the sublime moments that lovers share to be something which should remain inviolable, even holy… “If you drop an old friend, laugh at the artist and/ meanly, vulgarly judge, wronging the deeper mind,/ God forgives you;  but never/ break the quiet that lovers know.”  I note this is one of the relatively rare times that Holderlin uses humor to make his point.

Holderlin sings, in Menon’s Lament For Diotima, of  love as “one song that our two souls were singing, wholly at peace with ourselves, childishly, raptly alone.”  In the same poem he imagines that when two lovers meet… a “holy breath, then, divine, through their bright bodies will flow/ while the feast is inspired and love like great floodwaters gathers”

Unfortunately for Holderlin, his life’s big love affair did not end happily-ever-after, and we can feel his pain and loss in the poem, The Farewell, one of several written to his dear (and forever lost) love, “Diotima”…

 “Later, perhaps one day, Diotima, we’ll meet here, but desire by then / will have bled away” [and…]

“like strangers we’ll// walk about, as our talk leads us now here, now there,/ musing, hesitant” [until…]

“wondering I look at you, voices and lovely song / as from distant times, music of strings, I hear/ and the lily unfolds her / fragrance, golden above the brook.”

Feeling guilty for the pain of which he was he was half the cause, Holderlin admits to his lover, in Plea For Forgiveness, that, “you learned from me much that might have been spared you, life’s more hidden, obscurer griefs.”

“I know, I know,” he says in Home, that “this grief, the grief of love, will be slow to heal, / of this no lullaby that mortals/ chant to give comfort will now relieve me.//

for they who lend us heavenly light and fire, / the gods, with holy sorrow endow us too./ so be it then.  A son of Earth, I / seem;  and was fashioned to love, to suffer.”

Even that which usually brings Holderlin some of his most sublime joy– his time spent with Nature– no longer brings him happiness now that his love is gone.  As he writes in Memnon’s Lament For Diotima“At times a tear coldly creeps out of my eyes, / and the flowers of the field, the singing of birds make me sad now, / being heralds of heaven, bearers of heavenly joy,/ but to me, in my heart’s dank vault, now the soul-giving sun dawns / cool, infertile, in vain, feeble as rays of the night, / oh, and futile and empty walls of a prison, the heavens/ press, a smothering load heaped on my head from above!”

And for the romantic Holderlin, without true love there is no possibility of his ever having children.  This depresses him, as evident in these lines from The Traveler…   “to give birth to nothing and nothing to lovingly care for, never to see your own self imaged in children, is death”

 Indeed, his pain sometimes must have seemed unbearable to Holderlin, who despairingly instructs in The Farewell [second version], “Pass the cup then, yourself, that of the rescuing,/ Holy poison enough, that of the lethal draught / I may drink with you, all things, / hate and love be forgotten then.//

To be gone is my wish.”

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 Poet As Hero

The Sad Plight Of The Poet


Holderlin on the Human Condition…

Life’s Swift Passage

The Noble And The Good


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