Holderlin On The Swift Passage of Youth and Life


For today’s Holderlin post, I want to speak specifically about Holderlin’s thoughts on human life-time.  During the years 1798 to 1803, Holderlin wrote several times upon the fleeting and unsure existence of humankind.

In Hyperion’s Song Of Fate, he speaks of a human life in terms of a free fall from womb to tomb…  “But we are fated/ to find no foothold, no rest,/ and suffering mortals/ dwindle and fall/ headlong from one / hour to the next, / hurled like water / from ledge to ledge / downward for years to the vague abyss.”

In Rousseau, he remarks, “how narrowly confined is our day-time here. / You were and saw and wondered, and darkness falls; / now sleep, where infinitely far the / years of the peoples go drifting past you.”

or Holderlin, the swiftness and perishability of life’s works and days dictates a certain humility.

“Tell me, where now is Athens?” he asks in The Archipelago, before continuing…

“Here, on your shores, on the holy, sorrowing god, has your city

dearest of all to you perished, utterly crumbled to ashes,

or does a token, a trace remain, just so much that a sailor

passing by will mention her name, will notice the site and recall her?

there did not columns rise high, and there on the citadel roof-top

did not shining figures of gods once gaze down at the people?

and the voice of the people, did it not roar like a wind-lashed

forest from the Agora, and there, to a prosperous harbor

from the joyful gates did the streets not come hurrying down to meet you?”

Holderlin returns to several times to the topic of Youth, most especially its all-too-quickly disappearing vitality. 

In stanza six of Menon’s Lament For Diotima, Holderlin opines, “once, how different it was!  O youth, will no prayer bring you back, then, / never again?  And no path ever again lead me back?”

“The heart demands/ too much,” complains Holderlin in Evening Fantasy, “but youth at last, you the dreamy, wild,/ unquiet, will burn out, and leave me/ all my late years for serene contentment.”

More Holderlin to come…

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…

The Downside Of Love

The Noble And The Good


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