The Return to Silence — An Essay on Friedrich Hölderlin (excerpt)

*‘That when the silence returns there shall be a language too.’


Friedrich_hoelderlin‘The end of speech could arrive on the day when everybody feels as theologically posthumous as Friedrich Hölderlin did, or when we, the only defensible illusions of his lost syntactically fatherland, come to feel as truncated by his voice as he did by God’s. He, a heresiarch of grammar, a stylistic and apophatic revolutionary—yet what greater advances on the holy lands might he have made if he had never once opened his mouth? If, in the middle of a poem, he had celebrated only the vocal impoverishment of man, rather than what, by the time of the late ‘Hymns’, had begun to impinge on humankind. In ‘Patmos’ we read: ‘Near is / And difficult to grasp, the God’, which is the moment when the retractable visor of God begins to draw across the visage, at the same time, of both animals and humans alike. But then Hölderlin, as if aggravated by the knowledge of all things divine, dreamt of nothing but what in the New Testament cannot be said. Establishing what is contrary to the fanatic and the zealot, the poet by-passed the reasonable believer, to pronounce the Christian a mute thinker, that is compared to the grammatically forming image of the real Christ inside of his head. Thus the purely ‘religious’ thinker, owner of a second-order mind, remains subsequently more remote from what the prophetic mind sees, i.e., the future of holiness.’ © Paul Stubbs, August 2014

The full text of this essay is available in Paul Stubbs’ book The Return to Silence, and Other Poetical Essays (Black Herald Press, 2016).

Poems and Fragments by Friedrich Hölderlin, translated by Michael Hamburger, Anvil Press, 2004

Poems and Fragments
by Friedrich Hölderlin, translated by Michael Hamburger, Anvil Press, 2004


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