… für Friedrich Hölderlin

The 20th of March 2020 was the 250th birthday of Friedrich Hölderlin.

From Zarko´s and my book Repetitions:

Tübingen: We decide to spend the afternoon in the garden of the Evangelisches Stift.  Near the Seminary an enamel sign on a strong metal fence orders “Do not lean bicycles against the fence!”  Bicycles lean against the sign and along the fence.  Across the street is a storefront office whose windows are plastered with calls to political action.  Over the door a sign announces the Tübingen office of the anti-authoritarian Green Party — “Die Grünen.”  That explains the bicycle.

We walk down into the outer courtyard of the Stift.  I glance into the courtyard of the house where Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin lived and studied.  Religious education for future pastors.  But these “pastors” preached the Weltgeist, art, nature, and Greece. 

Climbing down stairs we enter a civilized paradise.  Along the Neckar River stretches a well-tended strip of grass, dotted with shade trees and lined with beds of flowers.  Fully dressed people sit on white lawnchairs at small tables, reading or writing.  Others, less fully dressed, lie in the sun and sleep or read.  Two children push one another along a flagstone path in a little car. 

On the side of the garden opposite the river rises the Stift, six stories high.  Behind it rise the walls and tile roofs of bourgeois Fachwerk houses.  One house has had its roof stripped off, exposing the old beams.  New beams shine with the bright yellow among the grey timbers.

I sit under a tree, reading, writing, enjoying the quiet knocking of wood against wood from punts poled past by students.  A slight splash of water.  Zarko stretches out in the sun, shirt and shoes off, dozing, reading, looking around. The grey of his Levis intersects the white flesh of feet and upper body.

I finish Repetition.  Filip returns home to his village from the Karst where he has found a kind of ephemeral utopia.  Full of stillness and newly-won knowledge and love, he is met by fellow citizens who, in the not distant past, had “tortured and murdered,” happy even now only if they have put someone in prison.  The shock of return into that environment can be overcome, argues the calm narrator, through narration that provides a counter force to the prison house of language/culture/society.

In the beauty of the garden I experience the stillness and fullness I have come to Tübingen to find.  This moment should last forever.  Church bells ring three times.  Three p.m.  Behind me a rather unimaginative bird cheeps harshly, unvaryingly, endlessly: ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch. . . .  From a house where tiles are being hung on a steep roof there comes a sudden sustained screeching.  A warning shout, a curse, and a crash as the bundle of tiles shatters against pavement.  The siren of an emergency vehicle wails from the Nekar bridge.

The children with the car begin to fight.  The bigger child, a boy, drives away from his screaming sister.  “I’ve got to go to work,” he yells back.  “I’ve got to take the car to work.  You stay home.  You don’t need to work.”

A long boat slides past.  A young woman in the boat looks up at me.  A small grey cat slips furtively across the grass.  From its mouth dangles a large bird, one wing hanging crooked from the body.

From Paul Celan´s Meridian:


Zur Blindheit über-

redete Augen.

Ihre – “ein

Rätsel ist Rein-

entsprungenes“ –, ihre

Erinnerung an

schwimmende Hölderlintürme, möven-


Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner bei


tauchenden Worten:


käme ein Mensch,

käme ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit

dem Lichtbart der

Patriarchen: er dürfte,

spräch er von dieser

Zeit, er


nur lallen und lallen,

immer-, immer-


(“Pallaksch. Pallaksch.”)


Eyes con-

vinced to blindness.

Their – “a

riddle is pure-

origin” –, their

memory of

floating Hölderlin towers, swarmed

by gulls.

Visits by drowned cabinetmakers while


diving words:

If a person were,

were to come,

if a person were to come to the world,

today, with the lightbeard of

the patriarchs: he could,

if he spoke of this

time, he


only babble and babble,

always-, always-


(“Pallaksch. Pallaksch.”)

The tower in Tübingen where Hölderlin spent the last decades of his life

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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4 Responses to … für Friedrich Hölderlin

  1. alex caldiero says:

    This morning as I read your blog it occurred to me that I was reading holderlin last night and through the night so it was so pleasant to discover that it was his birthday I was reading in the translation of Nick Hoff who I think captures something that no one else can of course I say this not knowing German but I say this knowing hoelderlin and how do I know holderlin? about 1965 1966 I discovered the penguin edition of his poems in Michael hamburgers translation and I started reading it and I thought I had found something wonderful which I did and I showed it to my mentor and friend Lekakis telling him look what I just found look at this and Lekakis who knew told me you have a good find there stay close to it and I have over all these many years and continue to love and read him holderlin has been my constant companion —so happy birthday dear Friedrich happy birthday to you.


    • Scott Abbott says:

      like you, Alex, Hölderlin has been a constant in my life for decades. the spring and summer i spent in Tübingen, where Hölderlin went to school and lived out his final decades i felt especially close to him. someone had, that summer, spraypainted a wall of his tower with an assertion in swabian dialect . . . Hölderlin esch net verürckt geweh . . . Hölderlin was not crazy


  2. alex caldiero says:

    reading this excerpt from Repetion i realize i had forgotten what a fine piece of writing you ve produced. thanks for the reminder.


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