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An Zimmern is the title of two poems by Friedrich Hölderlin. Hölderlin lived with the family of the master carpenter Ernst Friedrich Zimmer (1772-1838) – with his wife Marie Elisabetha (1774-1849) and their daughter Lotte (1813-1879) – in the Hölderlinturm in Tübingen from 1807 to 1843, from his release from the hospital in Tübingen as incurable until his death.[1] Both poems have been preserved through Zimmer’s copies.

Hölderlin (c. 1825) in Mörike’s essay in the Freya 1863

  • Zimmer wrote the first poem, “Die Linien des Lebens sind verschieden …” (“The lines of life are different …”), in 1812 without a heading in a letter to Hölderlin’s mother Johanna Christiana née Heyn (1748-1828) in Nürtingen. It was first printed in 1846 in the Sämmtliche Werke Hölderlins edited by Christoph Theodor Schwab (1821-1883), in the second volume in a section entitled “Gedichte aus der Zeit des Irrsinns”.[2]
  • The second poem “Von einem Menschen sag ich, wenn der ist gut …” was written by Zimmer around 1825 on a piece of paper, on the other side of which Hölderlin had personally written his hymnic draft Was ist Gott?[3] by Hölderlin himself. Here Zimmer put the poem title “An Zimmern” over his copy. Eduard Mörike copied the second poem several times and first printed it in 1863 in Freya, Illustrirte Blätter für die gebildete Welt.[4]

Texts

The texts are taken from the historical-critical Stuttgart edition edited by Fredrich Beissner, Adolf Beck and Ute Oelmann (* 1949).[5] The “Leseausgaben” by Michael Knaupp and Jochen Schmidt offer slightly different texts.

  • The first poem reads in document volume 7, 2 of the Stuttgart edition in the context of Zimmer’s letter of 19 April 1812:[6]

“Dear Mrs. Kammerrathe!

A very important change has occurred in your dear Hölderle <…>. His poetic spirit still shows itself active, so he saw a drawing of a temple in my house, he told me I should make one of wood like it, I told him that I had to work for bread, I was not as happy to live in philosophical peace as he was, he immediately added, Oh, but I am a poor man, and in the same minute he wrote me the following verse in pencil on a board

The lines of life are different
As are the ways, and as are the mountains’ bounds.
What Hir we are, there can complement a god
With harmonies and eternal reward and peace.

<…> You can rest easy about his rations.

<…> Your obedient dinner Ernst Zimmer.”

In the poetry volume 2, 1 of the Stuttgart edition, the poem is transferred from Zimmer’s spelling to Hölderlin’s orthography.[7]

  • Mörike prefaces the second poem with an introduction in Freya:

“The poem is addressed to the brave carpenter Zimmer in Tübingen, in whose house Hölderlin spent so many years in a state of insanity.

The poet sought to give these verses, to please the man to whom they are dedicated, as individual a character as possible by alluding, on the one hand, to his agricultural property, the loving care of his vineyard, and, on the other hand, to his skill as a craftsman, and it makes a comically touching impression, to see how he, who, as is well known, lived and wove in the ancient Greek world, also treats this task in his usual, solemnly idealistic manner with the help of Daedalus, that highly famous mythical artist to whom, among other things, the invention of the saw and the drill is attributed.

To rooms
Of a man I say if he is good

And wise, what need hath he? Is any one

That which is good for a soul? is a stalk, is

A vine most ripe on earth
Grown that nourish him? The sense is this

So. A friend is often the mistress, much

Art. O my lord, I’ll tell thee the truth.

Daedalus’ spirit and the forest’s yours.”

Mörike’s version in the Freya differs from the one reproduced here in the poetry volume 2,
1 of the Stuttgart edition[8] slightly off.

Comment

The poems from Hölderlin’s years with the Zimmer family are usually grouped together as the “Späteste Gedichte” or “Turmgedichte”. In the Stuttgart edition there are forty-eight. To the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries-with the exception of Gustav Schwab-they were considered merely the products of a mental patient, at best of medical-psychiatric interest and lacking in artistic character. Mörike wrote in 1838, “I have received a rush of Hölderlinic papers these days, mostly illegible, extremely dull stuff.”[9] This attitude changed with an essay by Bernhard Böschenstein in the Hölderlin-Jahrbuch 1965/1966. Böschenstein and research after him distinguish an earlier group before from a later group after 1838.

The 27 poems of the later group, beginning with Der Frühling (Es kommt der neue Tag aus f ernen Höhn herunter …) are often signed with a fictitious date (in the aforementioned poem “d:3ten März 1648”) and the fictitious name “Scardanelli”. They are strangely inanimate, with stereotyped titles, seven times The Spring, six times “The Winter” or “Winter.” Antiquity has disappeared from them, the words “God” and “I” no longer appear. The ability to dwell on concrete human life is lost. Man and nature are, poem by poem, in tensionless harmony. “But if anything about these poems points to illness, it is the even recurrence of such affirmation. It is a sign of utter self-alienation.”[10]

Different the earlier group, so exemplary the two poems An Zimmern. It speaks an “I”. With Daedalus, antiquity is quoted. The “I” is confronted with “God”. Human feelings are prominently present. Hölderlin dwells on concrete human life.

  • The first poem, famous poignant verses[11] in five-foot iambs with an embracing rhyme, responds perceptively to Ernst Zimmer’s objection that he, Zimmer, did not live in such happy philosophical tranquility as Hölderlin. Hölderlin wrote the four lines, typical of those years, in a very short time. In a letter to an unknown person from December 22, 1835, Zimmer reports: “He wrote the poem that follows in 12 minutes, I asked him to write something for me again, he only opened the window, took a look at the Freue, and in 12 minutes it was finished.[12]
  • Mörike has interpreted the poet’s response to the vineyard owner and scribe Zimmer in the second poem, in alcian verse with excess syllables in the third lines. According to Cyrus Atabay, Hölderlin asks what might suffice the soul on its journey. In an attempt at an answer, the most ephemeral earthly plant, the grass(Ps 90:5EU), is contrasted with the vine as a characteristic of advanced human culture. Love and friendship are capable of much, as is art. “Until his death, over three decades, Hölderlin lived in the community of the master carpenter Zimmer and his family, a togetherness in which forbearance and silence certainly played their part: there Daedalus, the craftsman who worked with wood and plane, and here the poet who found his asylum in song.”

Literature

  • Cyrus Atabay: Daedalus and his Poet. Interpretation of Hölderlin’s An Zimmern (Von einem Menschen sag ich, wenn der ist gut …) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 8 August 1992.
  • Bernhard Böschenstein: Hölderlins späteste Gedichte. In: Friedrich Beissner, Paul Kluckhohn (eds.): Hölderlin-Jahrbuch Vol. 14. J. C: B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1965/66, pp. 35-56.
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Complete Works. Stuttgart edition. Edited by Friedrich Beissner, Adolf Beck and Ute Oelmann. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1946 to 1985.
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Complete Works and Letters. Edited by Michael Knaupp. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1992 to 1993.
  • Friedrich Hölderlin: Poems. Edited by Jochen Schmidt. Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1992. ISBN 3-618-60810-1.
  • Ute Oelmann: Späteste Gedichte. In: Johann Kreuzer (ed.): Hölderlin-Jahrbuch, Leben – Werk – Wirkung. J. B. Metzler’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-476-01704-4, pp. 403-409.

Individual references

  1. Zur Familie Zimmer Stuttgarter Ausgabe Vol. 7, 2, pp. 376-377.
  2. Christoph Theodor Schwab (ed.): Friedrich Hölderlin’s sämmtliche Werke. Second volume. J. G. Cotta’scher Verlag, Stuttgart/Tübingen 1846.
  3. Stuttgart edition vol. 2, p. 210.
  4. Eduard Mörike: Remembrance of Friedrich Hölderlin. In: Freya, Illustrirte Blätter für die gebildete Welt 3, pp. 337-338, 1863.
  5. See literature.
  6. Stuttgart edition vol. 7, 2, pp. 422-425.
  7. Stuttgart edition vol. 2, 1, p. 268.
  8. Stuttgart edition vol. 2, 1, p. 271.
  9. Stuttgart edition vol. 2, 2, p. 897.
  10. Böschenstein 1965/1966, p. 49.
  11. Stuttgart edition vol. 7, 3, p. 137.
  12. Stuttgart edition vol. 7, 3, p. 134.