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This article is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

Hölderlin Charlie Louth

FRIEDRICH HÖLDERLIN, Poems and Fragments, translated by Michael Hamburger (Anvil) £19.95

Hölderlin's poems are the most perfect embodiment of that hope released at the time of, and partly by, the French Revolution. Like almost everyone else, Hölderlin was shocked and disappointed by what came after, but for as long as he continued writing in a way that engaged with the reality of the world (that is until 1806, when, declared mad, he was taken in by the carpenter Zimmer and could only contemplate what he saw from his window or on brief, accompanied walks) he managed, against a background of defeat and disappointment in almost every branch of his personal life, to preserve and nourish that hope and the possibility of imminent change in poems which themselves become engenderers of hope in the reading. Hope is not Hölderlin's subject, or only rarely, but his poems quicken the sense in us that hope is possible, that in fact we have hope, that it is a real resource.

Perhaps the end of any century encourages the consciousness which should be alert in us at all points in time, that we are under way, in passage, with expectations which might be fulfilled. It also gives rise to predictions of doom. But the end of the eighteenth century was one of those moments when the world seemed particularly promising. Hölderlin, and others like him, believed for a while that a time of fulfillment was truly pending, and the task ...


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