Monday, October 13, 2008

Hölderlin's poetry and his insanity

Friedrich Hölderlin lived a brilliant and creative life as a poet, essayist, novelist, and private tutor until, after a violent and disconcerting event in France, he begin to lose his ability to function normally. He found a home, finally, in a round tower on the Neckar River in Tübingen, cared for by a family with the name of Zimmer (Zimmermann is the word for carpenter, and thus the references to the carpenter in the essay). He lived there for about three decades before his death.

Romantic poet Wilhelm Waiblinger was a friend of Hölderlin, and the following account is his.

From Wilhelm Waiblinger's essay:

"Friedrich Hölderlin's Life, Poetry and Madness" (1830)

Translated from the German by Scott J. Thompson.


. . . Now if one were to step into this unfortunate man's house, he certainly would not expect to meet a poet who had merrily wandered along the Ilyssus with Plato; but the house is not ugly, it is the dwelling of a prosperous carpenter; a man who has an uncommon degree of culture for a man of his standing, and who speaks about Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Novalis, Tieck and others. One inquires after the room of Herr Librarian - for Hölderlin still enjoys being addressed by title - and then comes to a small door. Talking can already be heard inside, and one assumes that Hölderlin already has company, but is then told by the honest carpenter that H. is completely alone and talks to himself day and night.

[the rest of the essay can be read here:


Jorgen said...

It is both interesting and very sad that (it seems) most of the greatest minds end up insane before their death. I wonder if reaching that highest level just wears your mental capability out, or... I don't know?

I'm just discovering Holderlin's poetry, though, and I am liking it more and more each day.