Friedrich Hölderlin was rescued from oblivion by a young German scholar called Norbert von Hellingrath, who wrote a dissertation on Hölderlin's translations of Pindar and began the first historical-critical edition of his works. In 1915, a year before he died at Verdun, Hellingrath delivered a lecture describing Hölderlin as 'the most German of Germans', whose luminous hymns confide their message 'only to the select few' and remain 'perhaps never penetrable to non-Germans'. In June 1943, on the centenary of his death, a TLS Commentary celebrated Hölderlin as 'A Non-Nazi German' and claimed that his fatherland had turned its back on the poet's vision of a humanistic Germany synthesising Hellas and Christianity. 'All the more reason,' the article continued, 'why Hölderlin, no longer at home among his compatriots, should be saluted in those countries which can freely and dispassionately appraise his genius.' It wasn't true that Hölderlin was no longer revered in Germany - a 1943 field anthology of his poems was one of the most popular Nazi publications - but it was certainly true that his poetry was saluted elsewhere. According to the 2002 Hölderlin-Handbuch, he is the most frequently translated German poet, the most frequently cited after Goethe, and was the first German writer after Goethe to merit a Pléiade edition.
LRB 23 September 2004 | PDF Download