Hölderlin, Johann Christian Friedrich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hölderlin, Johann Christian Friedrich


Born Mar. 20, 1770, in Lauffen; died June 7, 1843, in Tübingen. German poet.

Hölderlin studied theology at Tübingen (1788-93) at the same time as Hegel and Schelling. From 1794 to 1795 he lived in Jena, where he heard lectures by Fichte and became acquainted with Schiller and Goethe. The position of impoverished tutor and especially his unrequited love for Susette Gontard, the wife of a banker and the Diotima of his poetry, drastically affected the poet’s state of mind. However, Hölderlin continued to work on his poetry and translations. He was put in a psychiatric hospital in 1806.

A late representative of the Strum und Drang in the 1780’s (for example, the poems “The Laurel Wreath” and “Gustavus Adolphus”), at the beginning of the Great French Revolution Hölderlin created poetry imbued with civic awareness. In Hymns to the Ideals of Mankind (1790-97)— models of revolutionary enlightened classicism—Hölderlin expressed the aspiration to struggle for the triumph of freedom. The hope that the Great French Revolution would become a source of progressive changes in feudally fragmented Germany was lost for the poet following the events of Thermidor. In the mid-1790’s, Hölderlin turned to a pantheistic cult of nature influenced by Rousseau (“To Nature”) and sought a philosophical understanding of the contradictions of postrevolutionary reality (“Song of the Fate of Hyperion,” “Man,” “Vanini,” and “The Voice of the People”). A humanistic utopia in the spirit of Hellas became his ideal (“Diotima,” “Menon’s Lament for Diotima,” and “Archipelago”). At the turn of the century an elegiac tone, images of love and suffering, and motifs of hopeless loneliness appeared in Hölderlin’s poetry. His heroes—romantic rebels in the lyric novel Hyperion, or a Hermit in Greece (1797-99) and the tragedy The Death of Empedocles (1798-99; Russian translation, 1931)—meet tragic fates.

An innovator in poetry, Hölderlin influenced 20th-century German poetry. Elements of mysticism, which appeared in his later poetry, were used by bourgeois critics to distort his creative outlook. Soviet literary scholars and scholars in the German Democratic Republic have shown that Hölderlin’s work is transitional between the Enlightenment and progressive romanticism.


Sämtliche Werke, vols. 1-6. Stuttgart, 1946-61. In Russian translation: Sochineniia. Moscow, 1969.


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Becher, J. R. Über Literatur und Kunst. Berlin, 1962. Pages 865-71.
Leonhard, R. “Foreword.” In Hölderlin, J., Ein Lesebuch für unsere Zeit. Weimar, 1956. Pages 7-56.
Michel, W. Das Leben F. Hölderlins. Frankfurt am Main [1967].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.