On Holderlin’s Respect For His Forebears


Holderlin has great respect for his forebears, which in his mind, comes wrapped up with his love of homeland and of his homeland’s natural beauty.

In the lovely poem The Departed, Holderlin states that he feels as if he carries around within him those dearly departed ones whom he knew in his earlier days…

“With my own kind I lived and could grow for a day that was fleeting, /

one by one they depart, gone from me into their sleep./

Yet you sleepers within me are wakeful, and in my related/

soul an image of each, fugitive, lingers and rests./

And more living there you live on where the god-given spirit’s /

joy rejuvenates all, all who have aged, and the dead.”

Another of my favorite Holderlin poems that concerns his adoration for home and heritage is The Ancestral Portrait, which is probably the longest Holderlin poem that I like ENTIRELY; I feel it is a nice snapshot of a moment and a mood.  I will not quote it all here but here’s the gist…

In The Ancestral Portrait, Holderlin imagines a family gathered together in room beneath a portrait of the husband’s father, now dead.  “Aged father,” says the man of the house gazing up at the portrait from his loving domestic scene, “you gaze now as you did before/ when it pleased you to live here among mortal kin.”   The man than proceeds to describe the happy scene taking place in his home with his wife and children.  Gazing at his wife, the his mind wanders back to their courtship days, “when the proud one must learn to bow.”  Turning back to his father, he proclaims that the deceased man now dwells with them as “an immortal, here with your children.”  He credits his father (his children’s grandfather) with providing for the home’s serenity, which has sprung from “all that your hopes could plant”— which also includes non-metaphorical items such as the trees and grape-vines planted by the man in the portrait.  The husband then raises a whole-family toast (even the little one is included), using the wine made from the vineyard gifted by the deceased forebear.  Holderlin describes the scene as the husband makes the toast…

“high he raises his glass, looks at your portrait, says;

now our thought be of you, yours be the name that guards

this our household, its honor,

now and ever, within and without!”

Holderlin holds his forebears in such reverence that, in Nature And Art /or/ Saturan And Jupiter, he even chastises the God, Jupiter, for the completely disrespectful way in which he seized power from his father, the great god Saturn…

High up in day you govern, your law prevails,

You hold the scales of judgment, O Saturn’s son,

Hand out our lots and well-contented

rest on the fame of immortal kingship.//

Yet, singers know it, down the abyss you hurled

the holy father once, your own parent, who

long now has lain lamenting where the

wild ones before you more justly languish,//

quite guiltless he, the god of the golden age:

once effortless and greater than you, although

he uttered no commandment, and no

mortal on earth ever named his presence.//

So down with you!  or cease to withhold your thanks!

And if you’ll stay, defer to the older god

and grant him that above all others,

Gods and great mortals, the singer name him!//

For as from clouds your lightning, from him has come

what you call yours.”

Other posts from HAMMERING SHIELD on Holderlin…

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

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

The Noble And The Good


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