There are, as my Bibliography shows,
many works on Hölderlin and Keats considered individually,
so that any new work that claims, like the present
thesis, to be independent, needs some. justification.
The questions arise: Is there any
sense in comparing these two poets? What is the
essence of Hölderlin and the essence of Keats?
It may be simply stated that both
John Keats and Friedrich Hölderlin were great poets.
The first glimpse we take of them shows us two, men
living and writing at about the same time, often on
similar themes; both with an actual poetic life of
a very few years, both with personal histories of a
sad and tragic nature. Sharing in some of the
characteristics of the Romantic age, they were not
necessarily wholly Romantic themselves. Both claimed
for themselves the right to challenge authority, and
as original genúpses to strike out on a path for
My task is to explain
and compare the characteristic individualities of these
poets, by considering their respective backgrounds.
The literature of the past, I think, we can only truly
understand, if we can relate it to the history, not
only of the political movements, but also of the religious,
philosophical and scientific movements of the time.
The particular purpose of this investigation
is to ascertain and bring out the differences between
Germany and England at that period, and to consider how
these two poets, with certain basic similarities in
temperament and gifts, developed differently in their
different environments. The individualistic point of
view lays emphasis on the importance of self- realisation;
on the other hand, the environmental point of view makes
primary and fundamental questions such as the value of
knowledge or social duties and responsibilities.
By 'environment' I imply more than "surroundings which
compass an individual", namely, the "specific continuity
of the surroundings with his own active tendencies."
Both poets have seen most deeply into the meaning
of Nature; both brought to their study and the individual
interpretation peculiar to each, the supreme qualities of
close and loving observation and sympathy. And both
poets 'resemble each other in the determination which
their genius gave to these qualities.
Both poets were deeply conscious that poetry
was their mission; it is revealed in their writings,
and we have their own words for it too. Poetry as
Hölderlin saw it was entrusted with the mission of
revealing to a community the gods it should serve.
Poetry sums up the circumstances in which a people comes
into communion with its gods and in such poetry finds its
higher life expressed and realised at one and the same
time. Keats's conviction of the poet's office is to
be the voice of one proclaiming a message, making clear
a vision, transmuting into the words of a less esoteric
language the conception and enunciation of a high truth,
so that it may be "understanded of the people ".
The function of the poet is to draw away the veils
that obscure the splendours of Nature, and reveal their
true and intrinsic beauty to man, so that in poetry he
may find comfort to soothe him when laden with cares,
and raise his thoughts above everyday life.
In Part I it is the differences between the two
backgrounds, especially in so far as they arise from
deep -seated differences between the two countries and
peoples, on which particular stress is laid. It may be
a fact, as Dr. Johnson says, that "Nobody can write
the life of a man but those who have eat and drunk
and lived in social intercourse with him." Unfortunately such a requirement cannot now be fulfilled in
the case of Hölderlin and Keats, but we can at least
get to know much that was said and done by those who
did come into close personal contact with them. So, too,
we can contemplate their external circumstances of every
kind and so form some idea of the effects these may have
had on what they wrote.
During my preparations it became clear to me
that such an attempt requires more to carry it through
than the sharp clearness of critical reasoning. That is
necessary. But it is more necessary to have a psychological and emotional sympathy.
In Part II, therefore, I have endeavoured in this
way to trace the growth and development of the soul from
its initial stages, with the influences which have been
brought to bear on it.
I attempt to show to what degree Hölderlin
and. Keats resemble each other, and how far what was most
similar in them came to be differently expressed,
Partly because of their backgrounds and partly because
of their different psychologies.