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Johann Friedrich Hölderlin was born in the Swabian town of Lauffen on the Neckar on March 20th, 1770. After the death of his father in 1772, young Hölderlin became deeply attached to his mother. From 1788 to 1793, he studied for his ordination at the Theological Seminary at Tübingen. There, Hölderlin befriended fellow students, (and future philosophers), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Schiller with whom he would correspond for the greater part of his life. After graduating, Hölderlin did not to enter into the Lutheran ministry as was planned. Hölderlin had a calling that was far nobler. The classical and theological studies undertook by Hölderlin, especially the focus on Ancient Greek poetry, had lead him to seek out a religious life dedicated to the gods as poet. Besides, Hölderlin's pantheism also made him too radical for any type of position in the Church.

As he became known as a poet, Hölderlin earned money by taking up several teaching positions as well as though patronage from Schiller. In the winter of 1802, Hölderlin began to show sings of mental disturbance and it is established that he suffered from schizophrenia. A carpenter to whom Hölderlin’s care was entrusted recounted the following story to Hölderlin’s mother about her son’s affliction: “His poetic spirit still shows itself to be active, for instance in my house he saw a drawing of a temple. He told me to make one out of wood. I replied that I have to work for my living, that I am not fortunate enough to live in a philosophic calm like him, immediately he replied, “Oh, I am a wretched creature” and in the same minute he wrote the following verses on a wooden board with his pencil:

“The lines of life are various; they diverge and cease
Like footpaths and the mountain’s utmost ends;
What are we here, elsewhere a god amends
With harmonies, eternal recompense and peace.”(source below)

In his madness, Hölderlin’s poems were few and far between, often written only at the request of visitors. He was to remain afflicted with schizophrenia until his death of pulmonary congestion in March 7th, 1843.

Hölderlin became a favorite poet of late philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Heidegger, in “Poetically Man Dwells,” points to Hölderlin as the sole example of an individual able to overcome the nihilism of Western metaphysics. Hölderlin's poetry dealt with the universal religious experience, drawing influence mainly from pagan Ancient Greek poets, but also from Christian thinkers and mystics, such as Meister Eckhart.

Some of Hölderlin's more famous works include: "Diotima," "To the Fates," "To the Germans," "To the Sun-God," "The Gods, "The Poet's Vocation," "Nature and Art," "Chiron," "Bread and Wine," "The Death of Empedocles," "The Ages of Life," "The Rhine," "The SOurce of the Danube," "The Eagle," "The Titans," "For from the Abyss," "Spring," as well as many others.

Source: Hamburger, M. Friedrich Hölderlin: Poems and Fragments. Cambridge University Press (1980).

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