Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), now considered one of the greatest German Romantic lyric poets, was little read and largely misunderstood in his lifetime. Even after his death it took at least another fifty years before his importance was recognised. One of the first people to acknowledge the genius of Hölderlin, and, indeed, to be influenced by him, was the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
A cataclysmic event in Hölderlin's life was his love affair with Susette Gontard, the wife of Frankfurt banker Jakob Gontard, who employed the poet as a private tutor. Hölderlin was dismissed when the affair was discovered, but the couple continued to meet each other in secret, until Susette fatally contracted influenza in 1802. Already showing signs of mental illness, Hölderlin never really recovered from Susette's death (she became the 'Diotima' of his poems), and his mental condition worsened.
After a fruitless stay in a clinic in Tübingen — where he was given three years to live — a local carpenter, Ernst Zimmer, took pity on Hölderlin, giving him a room in his house, a tower in the old city walls overlooking the river Neckar (see pic). Zimmer and his family were to look after him for the next thirty-six years until his death in 1843. During this time Hölderlin's own family and friends (who included the philosophers Hegel and Schelling) completely deserted him. The only mourners at his funeral were the Zimmer family themselves.
Another day. I follow another path,
Enter the leafing woodland, visit the spring
Or the rocks where the roses bloom
Or search from a look-out, but nowhere
Love are you to be seen in the light of day
And down the wind go the words of our once so
Your beloved face has gone beyond my sight,
The music of your life is dying away
Beyond my hearing and all the songs
That worked a miracle of peace once on
My heart, where are they now? It was long ago,
So long and the youth I was has aged nor is
Even the earth that smiled at me then
The same. Farewell. Live with that word always.
For the soul goes from me to return to you
Day after day and my eyes shed tears that they
Cannot look over to where you are
And see you clearly ever again.
FRIEDRICH HÖLDERLIN (Translated by DAVID CONSTANTINE)
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)