Hans-Georg Gadamer on Education, Poetry, and History: Applied Hermeneutics

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Chapter 9
Hölderlin AND George

The theme "Hölderlin and George" is not an ordinary comparison where the particularity of one poet is to be contrasted to the other, but rather a truly historical theme. In a surprising manner Hölderlin and George have achieved a true contemporaneity in our century. Certainly Hölderlin's poetic work was already known and prized a century earlier by the generation of romantic poets. However, the Romantic reception of his poetry placed him in a context where the understanding of his works was determined by Romantic criteria. As the interest in Hölderlin's poetic work came alive in the beginning of this century, it was a true event when the late work of the poet became available for the first time through a new critical edition -- as always, and in this case as well, a constellation of the literary present was decisive -- namely the desire to oppose the ruling naturalism with a new sense of style. It was like the rediscovery of a lost work, no, it was like the discovery of an unknown poet, when Norbert von Hellingrath, who was preparing a dissertation at the University of Munich on Hölderlin's Pindar translations, examined the manuscripts in Munich, Stuttgart, and Homburg, and compiled in their totality the great hymns from Hölderlin's late period, of which only parts had previously been known.

The particular access which the classical philologist Norbert von Hellingrath found to the poet was therefore important. It was through Pindar. At that time the work of classical philology had placed the poetic form of Pindar's victory odes in a new light, which also provided a new perspective for the poetic style of the later Hölderlin. Pindar had long been recognized as an important example of poetic freedom, especially after Goethe, under the influence of Herder, had chosen Pindar as his model and had refined the form of free rhythm through his own significant poetic creations. That one saw in Pindar the ecstatic poet of exceptional hymns, not bound by strict meters, 1 agreed with the aesthetic theory of genius, which had selected Shakespeare to oppose to the rule-aesthetics of French classicism. On the other hand, as heir to a long tradition of philological research, which had in particular clarified Pindar's meter, Norbert von Hellingrath was impressed by Pindar's great artistic sense and the grave formality of his compositions. 2 This opened

Essay, published in the Hölderlin-Jahrbuch, 1967-68.


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