Holderlin, Homecoming, And Nature’s Open Arms


Holderlin, I think, pined for a wondrous homecoming… he talks so glowingly in his poetry of returning home, to the love and beauty awaiting him there with open arms.  Here is the very short poem called “Home,” quoted completely below– one of at least two poems by Holderlin given that name…

Kind river-banks that tended and brought me up, / can you allay love’s sufferings, give me back, / you forests of my childhood –should I come to you now– the same peace as ever?

Home, Nature, and Fatherland… all are a bounteous, beauteous one for Holderlin.  What may begin as a poetry of Nature will often expand to include his home-folk or humanity in general.  In Go Down, Then, Lovely Sun,  Holderlin commiserates with the under-appreciated sun that the people do not give it the proper respect…

Go down, then, lovely sun, for but little they/ regarded you, nor, holy one, knew your worth,/ since without toil you rose, and quiet, / over a people forever toiling

And in the poem Love, Holderlin speaks of the rejuvenative powers of Nature, and its ability to bounce  back after even the coldest winter…

Yet no matter how cold, songless the year may be, / when the season is due still from the field all white/ new green blades will be sprouting, / often one lonely small bird will sing.//  when the woods all expand,

 I’m not usually a big lover of Nature poetry, but I think Holderlin has created a beautiful work in The Traveler, which describes with exquisitely chosen details the sleepy little village nestled in the countryside in which Holderlin grew up and to which now, in his dreams, he (“the fugitive”) returns…

 “And from the wood comes the stag now, from clouds comes the daylight,/

Up in a sky that is clear now hangs the hawk and looks round./

But in the valley below where the flowers are nourished by well-springs,/

Look, the small village spreads out among meadows, relaxed./

Quiet, it’s here.  From afar comes the noise of the mill-wheels revolving,/

But the day’s decline church bells convey to my ear./

Pleasantly clangs the hammered scythe and the voice of the farmer/

Who, going home with his bull, likes to command and to curb, /

Pleasant the mother’s song as she sits in the grass with her infant;/

Sated with seeing he sleeps; clouds, though, are tinged now with red, /

and by the glistening lake where the orchard extends its full branches/

over the open yard gate, window-panes glitter with gold,/

There I’m received by the house and the garden’s secretive half-light,/

Where together with plants fondly my father reared me;/

Where as free as the winged ones I played in the boughs’ airy greenness/

Or from the orchard’s crest gazed into spaces all blue./

Loyal you were, and loyal remain to the fugitive even,/

Kindly as ever you were, heaven of home, take me back.”

However, the vision of this idyll and sweet homecoming begins to evaporate when Holderlin realizes that old truism, “you can’t go home again”…

“Though as before I come and address by love’s names, by the old ones,

all that I see, and adjure heartbeats that once would respond,

Utter silence will meet me.  For so it is:  much is bound by,

much is severed by time.  I to them will seem dead, they to me;

and I’m left all alone.”

I can’t help but to come away from my reading of Holderlin picturing a poet who craved love, craved family– and yet was granted neither, and lived out his long years quite lonely, escaping in his flights of poetic fancy into ancient memories of his great love and into the always welcoming embrace of Nature.

Holderlin, himself, in the short poem The Course Of Life [first version] (quoted entirely below), juxtaposes the early, to-the-moon trajectory of youth with the eventual course that leads him home again…

“High my spirit aspired, truly.  However, love/ pulled it earthward;  and grief lower still bows it down./ so I follow the arc of / life and return to my starting-place.”

Holderlin later rewrote these lines and incorporated them into a longer poem.  The lines as rewritten are infused with a more positive spin…

 “More you also desired, but every one of us/ love draws earthward, and grief bends with still greater power; / yet our arc not for nothing / brings us back to our startin-place”

In Holderlin’s first version of Home, we find him dreaming of a happy homecoming again– but with the notion that FIRST, he would like to make his mark in the world and return home in a more heroic, or at least accomplished, posture…

“Content the boatman turns to the river’s calm/ from distant isles, his harvest all gathered in; / I too would gladly now turn homeward, / only, what harvest but pain have I reaped?”

Other posts from HAMMERING SHIELD on Holderlin…

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

Respect For Forebears

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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