Thursday, April 23, 2009


The poetry of the 18th century German poet Friedrich Holderlin can in many respects be considered a precursor to many modern forms of poetic expression. He was born in 1770, but gave the world an oeuvre that resonates strongly with modern poetry - through modernism and postmodernism to the contemporary. Some of his poetry (although by no means all) displays the fragmentation characteristic of today's work. His subject matter plays with meaning. He combines classical motifs with contemporaneous concerns, much like Pound, Eliot and other modernists. Essentially, he is a modern poet.

And there is, I will argue here, a particular reason why this might be considered the case. Essentially Holderlin was mad. He is now commonly thought of as having suffered from schizophrenia. The philosopher Karl Jaspers in various works argues this point. In 1801 Holderlin lost his hold on reality, and the world of Greek antiquity that he was imbuing throughout his poetry, became a real and existing one in his mind. And this brings me to the argument of this post. Modern poetry, with its polymorphous meanings, its stilted meters, its free verse, its neglect of formal structures such as rhyme, alliteration and assonance, its line breaks and grammatical irregularities, is essentially trying to emulate the sorts of poetic expressions that are common in forms of madness such as schizophrenia.

I obviously have a vested interest in this argument. I am a poet and suffer from schizophrenia. Maybe I am only hoping and wishing that those with schizophrenia are important in setting the trends of poetic expression. But I believe there is more to my argument than this. I believe that in forms of madness such as schizophrenia there is the seed of a poetic expression that is currently considered hegemonic. Perhaps those who now create in this vein aren't themselves schizophrenic, but they are creating in a manner which was inspired by those such as Holderlin who, having broken with reality, created with surprising originality.

No comments: