Holderlin On The Innate Sense Of The Noble And Good


Holderlin is generally praising and trustworthy of God/the gods (he talks of Divinity both as a Christian and as an aficionado of Greek mythology, seemingly feeling no discomfort at the conflict).  However, he does sometimes present a certain ambivalence to the god/s, as in Bread And Wine when he writes in stanza seven,

“but, my friend, we have come too late.  Though the gods are living,

Over our heads they live, up in a different world.

Endlessly there they act and, such is their kind wish to spare us,

little they seem to care whether we live or do not.”

And in The Rhine, Holderlin writes that,

“if the Heavenly have need of one thing

it is of heroes and human beings

and other mortals.  For since

the most  Blessed in themselves feel nothing,

another –if to say such a thing is

permitted– must, I suppose,

Vicariously feel in the name of the gods.”

Holderlin doesn’t get too philosophical about ethics.  He feels like that we KNOW what’s wrong and and what’s right, and that’s that.  In On The Birth Of A Child (the ONLY poem from Holderlin’s last forty years which I liked enough to quote in my numerous posts on the poet), Holderlin contends that those humans who are fully developed will naturally move toward the Good since, “from a good soul there issues forth/ the beauty of a noble striving.”

Giving us a glimpse into his metaphysics in The Farewell (second version), Holderlin seems to hold that if we could peer into the acorn of our soul, we’d find contained there an infinity, for though clothed in mortality, we port the eternal within our breast, or as Holderlin puts it, “Ah, ourselves we know little, / for within us a god commands.”

Politically, Holderlin appears to hold vaguely with the principle of democracy, probably more due to his adoration of ancient Greece, especially Athens, then due to any deep political studies or considerations.

In Voice Of The People, speaking of the will of the populace, he says…

“the voice of God I called you and thought you once,

in holy youth; and still I do not recant!

no less indifferent to our wisdom

likewise the rivers rush on, but who does//

not love them? always too my own heart is moved

when far away I hear those foreknowing ones,

the fleeting, by a route not mine but

surer than mine, and more swift, roar seaward.”

Here again Holderlin brings up this idea that we are carrying the divine will within us.  The masses follow the divine will, not consciously, but simply because it has been implanted in their hearts.  As someone else has said, Instinct is obedience to God.

Contained within the divine instructions tattooed upon our hearts, Holderlin supposes also a death wish, one that is activated when our “allotted paths” are completed…

“for once they travel down their allotted paths

with open eyes, self-oblivious, too ready to

comply with what the gods have wished them,

only too gladly will mortal beings//

speed back into the All by the shortest way;

so rivers plunge — not movement, but rest they seek–

drawn on, pulled down against their will from

boulder to boulder– abandoned, helmless–//

by that mysterious yearning toward the chasm;

chaotic deeps attract, and whole peoples too

may come to long for death.”

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 Downside Of Love



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