Homecoming — Friedrich Holderlin

February 20, 2009


                                                            – to my Kinsfolk



It is still bright night in the Alps, and a cloud, 

Authoring joyfulness, covers the yawning valley. 

Playful mountain breezes rush and toss about, and a ray 

Of light shines abruptly through the firs and disappears. 

Chaos, quivering with joy, hurries slowly to do battle. 

Young in form, yet strong, it celebrates a loving quarrel 

Among the cliffs.  It ferments and shakes within its eternal 

Limits, for the morning accelerates in ecstatic dance. 

The year advances more rapidly out there, and the holy hours, 

The days, are more boldly ordered and mixed. 

A storm bird marks the time, and stays high in the air 

Between the mountains, announcing the day. 

Now the little village awakens down below.  Fearless, 

Familiar with the heights, it peers up beyond the treetops. 

It senses the growth, for the ancient streams fall like lightning, 

And the ground yields fine mists under the crashing waters. 

Echo resounds, and the vast workplace flexes its arm, 

Sending forth its gifts, by day and by night.


Let us begin our search for the essence of art with an essay entitled “Remembrance of the Poet” {[5], pp. 233-69}, first published in 1943. It is an analysis of Holderlin’s elegy “Homecoming.” (12) At the narrative surface, “Homecoming” tells the story of a man who returns from his youthful travels to the town of his birth, his home. He sails across Lake Constance and out of the shade of the Alps to the little town, where he finds familiar places and congenial faces. As Heidegger saw it, “Homecoming” tells a deeper story of a poet who is finding thesignificance of his homeland and, hence, of home itself. Holderlin considered the poet to be specially tempted to journey into distant lands and, because of that, to be specially prepared for a homecoming. Afterall it is the traveler who can place his “home” in the widest context of where and how people live.


Heidegger found the rudiments of a theory of art in this poem because he conceived of the poet’s journey in life as wholly a matter of “homecoming;” the essence of home is the general subject of poetry. Human life itself is wholly involved in the issue of finding “home;” life “really consists solely in the people of the country becoming at home in the still-withheld essence of home.” {[5], p. 245} That essence is never obvious to us and, usually indeed, we must leave our homeland and return before we can ever discover it. Nor is the discovery merely in seeing old and familiar places. Home is not the people and the place; merely coming into the homeland is not enough. “Homecoming is the return into the proximity of the source ..[but].. proximity to the source is a mystery.” {[5], p. 258-9} We will never quite know what home is; but home is the essence of our being on the earth and that toward which we should work in our lives. In the poet’s writing we can share the poet’s vision of this human quest.


Reminded of Anatefka, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, Tradition…

am i lost, am i out of place? what is my direction? what is this direction going towards? what is it going away from ? if i dont know what specific direction i am going in is it enough to just say i am going up and that i came from being down?  how specific a direction does one need to have? it is this question of specificity that emerges when i attempt to relay my personal direction to another.  it is here that directions become complicated because if you want to move together — or to arrive in the same place at the same time — you need to be succinct in your direction to explain where it is you are going and coming from.  the other person will not be able to follow if you can not relay this information discretely.  so it is in the presence and necessity to move with another that vague directions such as up or south or this way or that way are insufficient.  it is only with clear explanation of your own direction and an understanding of another’s direction that movement together becomes possible.

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