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Poetry and History: the necessary foundation and possible deployment of Language - the teaching of Martin Heidegger on the

essence of thinking
(by Manuela Santos)

This article aims to follow the teaching of Martin Heidegger on the relationship entertained between poetry and history, and the relation both phenomena entertain with language. Our aim is to understand to what extent the philosopher assigns language as the source of guidance for thought. This study seems to be a necessary step prior to an investigation of Being and Time that remains, in our view, the prerequisite for understanding the Being of man in its first open perspective in contemporary philosophy – we say “first”, because precisely the basic effort of Heidegger's philosophy is to teach that only now, at the height of the danger brought on by the technological age, when man faces the risk of losing his own essence, Being achieved, through itself, for thinking, the place to become the motive for the question by itself, and thus reveal its autonomy from the being1 .

Hölderlin’s poetry is the thread Heidegger offers for his own philosophical research to think of the meaning of what concerns History essentially, as well as poetry and language. To take this thread offered by the philosopher to problematize human existence on the basis of this phenomenal triad, means to rise to a perspective able to see the structure that governs all that existence is originally connected, determining it in a tacit, incessant imperious way. We assume this is in fact considering that for both philosopher and poet,


When the ontological phenomena is in its existencial aspect, the term “Being” will always be ind icated with a substantive; and the term “the being” will always be used when the ontological phenomena is in its factual aspect.

poetry is the institution of Being housed in the word, and the historical foundation of a people.

History as the course of a discourse: the destination of Dasein

In line with the methodological procedure prescribed by Heidegger in his Being and Time, we begin to approach Being through its factual manifestation. We want to investigate here the phenomena of poetry, history and language. We know that Heidegger sees poetry as the basis of History and as the essence of language. History would be, therefore, the shape of this factual unfolding of language whose essence is poetry. We will try to see then, how language unfolds as History, and perhaps this will enable us to contemplate the proper form of its essence.

Heidegger understands History as the course of a discourse that constitutes the Being of man as a being-in-the-world [In-der-Welt-sein]. This scheme which sets up Being of man’s existential structure in terms of a Dasein2 is offered as an a priori determination of this Being as pure comprehensiveness, instituted in view of the possibility of its own facticity – namely, the understanding-of-Being [Seinsverständnis].

History, as the single Being mode of being-in-the-world, in no way determines itself in its essence as a sequence of events past or present, nor as a simple check of critical or

It is worth here, to note what Heidegger repeatedly noted: Dasein does not qualify itself as just another name for “man”. Dasein is not the man, but the occurrence in man of a referential structure, which determines its existence as transitivity in terms of a Being in march to its can-be [Seinkonnen].

exemplary character, neither as an illustrative way of such facts, of such times. History – in determining itself as the course of a discourse that constitutes human existence – institutes from the start the modes and the orientation for this existence in its totality, in this or that time.

Therefore, to take rightly History as the course of a discourse concerning existence itself, means to take History from the perspective of the being-in-the-world structure, which understood (as stated above) as comprehensiveness, through which the Being of man must be determined in view of the proper possibility of its facticity – this is left to be seen in terms of a destination of Dasein within language. To understand this with the accuracy it requires, albeit here in a very general way, we will try to present the existential factualfalling configuration which Heidegger proposes as the structure of the Being of man in his Being and time. Let us try here a brief discussion on this problematic complex:

In this work, Heidegger introduces and explains the structural set that constitutes the existential-factual-temporal essence of the Being of man in its proper meaning of a Dasein. In its first part, we are taught that the mode which determines the Being of man in terms of a Dasein, that is, of an existence determined by an exclusive transitivity within language, lets itself to be configured through the scheme of an ontological-temporal structure: Beingitself-anticipated-already-in-a-world together with the intrawordily encountered being; this structure lets itself be unified under the name of Care [Sorge] – latent necessary meaning of the phenomenological determination of what can be understood by the name of History.

The first moment of the formal-ontological structure constitutive of Dasein, the Being-itself-anticipated, determines the Being of this ontological-being in its existentiality, in terms of a projection in view of a can-be [Seinkonnen] – which determines, from the start, Dasein as a Being-in the imminence of ... therefore as something entirely other than a subsistent being, both by its transitive character (full projection) and by its debtor character of its own self always ahead. – This here demands the need for a quick note: this Being-in the imminence of ... must necessarily determine Dasein as a pure imminence, and thus, as an opening. This brings us to understand that Heidegger, in distinguishing the German term Dasein separating the meanings involved in this concept with a hyphen (Da-sein), wants to accentuate precisely the proper determination of this Being-in which should guide the understanding of Dasein in terms of a Being- the-there, i.e., of an open and continuous course of an opening, granted by its Being always already in question. In other words: a continuous comprehension and possibility of comprehension granted by Being.

The second moment configures this Being in its proper facticity, in terms of a Being-already-in-a-world, and thereby it determines the proper domain of possibility of a Being-projective, pointing immediately to the problematic concerning the meaning of Being-in [In-Sein] and of world.

The third moment determines, finally, this Being in its positive daily life in terms of a Being-together with the intrawordly encountered being . If we already have understood both aspects of the second estructural moment of the determination of Dasein – the Beingin as an occupied and assistant Being-coexistent , that is, as a curator; and the world as the scope of possible signification for this Being-in and of reiterated possibility to its Being-

projective, we conclude easily that the third moment, which Heidegger calls the moment of the falling [Verfallen], insofar as it integrates everyday life of Dasein, constitutes the positive deployment scope of the facticity formalized in the second moment.

It is thus seen – having in presence this structural framework where the Being of man determines itself as a Dasein – that it becomes possible to visualize the formal foundations of the connection established by the philosopher among history-languagepoetry, and the relationship of this settler complex with man (not by chance, man is set here as the second term of the relation, and this for not fixing “man” as an autonomous term in the face of another term: history-language-poetry – but to affirm its emergence, since the human phenomenon emerges as such from the ontological connection in question, according to it, and thus to its own Being rested in it).

Understood from the unique perspective of the being-in-the-world structure, that is, as the destination of Dasein within language, History, in its course and its discourse, reveals itself as the orientation mean to engage the question about the who and how we are, revealing the grounds and the course of the comprehensive structure where existence emerges, determining it always already as historical.







among the


dialogue modes that govern daily life of Dasein, Heidegger seeks to elucidate an essential dialogue that takes place in a connection with the primordial time – a time concerning those who initiated themselves through a great deal of struggle against the misappropriation of Being in favor of the appropriation of a Same almost always already kidnapped in the

course of the Being-anticipated; those who instituted time as the time of the people – a dialogue configured itself as History and engaged by poets, philosophers, priests and founders of State, in the fundamental scope of poetry, their essential homeland.

Poetry, as the scope of this essential dialogue, could not be other than the very homeland of our being-in-the-world, of its history and its constituted people. Heidegger institutes it, in partnership with Hölderlin, saying that historical Dasein derives from poetry, and from it, knowledge itself, in the sense of Philosophy. Therefore History, founded by poetry and sheltered in it, constitutes itself as the essential dialogue caught by human existence with its own primordial time, which is never a time already past, but rather, it is necessarily the proper permanent of time: the have-been, projected to the future, in the openness of the present , and the latter is generated in this re-iteration – the source and the guide for a more proper chronology.

But if History is based on poetry as the essential dialogue, it is necessary to understand in what way poetry qualifies itself to be justified as such a foundation. On this problematic, Heidegger invites us to attempt to poetry in a different way of our usual attention, which actually reveals itself more as an “inattention” leading us to suppose that this essential-do of existence is a game, and, at best, a beautiful expression of reality. But if poetry engenders a knowledge such as Philosophy, as stated by both the philosopher and poet (Hölderlin says it textually in his Hyperion), this can only mean that poetry has the essential character of language because Philosophy is the question undertaken by language about its own Being, that is, about the condition of possibility of its essence and the modes of its unfolding.

In fact, it is in the poetic discourse that the safeguard of language’s essential saying occurs. If we consider that language is the proper occurrence of Being in its existential determination as a transitivity within meaning in view of its own factual possibility, i.e., of its can-be, according to the scheme coined in Being and Time, we are led to understand that this essential saying (safeguarded in poetry, occurred and held in its proper scope and alluded in each poeticized poem precisely to proceed to the allusion required by Being itself) is necessarily the saying of the dialogue entertained between language and its essence (which is none other than existence), and as such it is the proper constitutive content of History’s discourse.

In understanding the eminent meaning of History as the tacit discourse entertained by the dialogue between language and its own essence, we are able to think in what sense Heidegger repeatedly says that man is destined in language. We understand this assertion as the affirmation that Dasein bestows itself in and as History, i.e., as the course of a discourse which is merely the course of Being in its existential scope. But this bestowal, concerning Dasein in and as History, is bestowed in the truth of Being, which manifests itself illuminating the being as the being it is, and as what it is. Heidegger clarifies it rigorously: "(...) Man is thrown by Being itself in the truth of Being, so that, existing in this way, he safeguards the truth of Being, and in the light of Being, the being

manifests itself as the being it positively is"3 .


Heidegger, Martin . Brief über den “Humanismus” in Wegmarken, Vittorio Klostermann. Frankfurt am Main, 1967. p 161.

And to make it very clear, that language and History are neither an owning or a derivation of any pre-established subject destitute of world, the philosopher concludes: “Whether and how the being appears, whether and how the God and the Gods, History and Nature penetrate the clearing of Being, how they present or absent themselves, man does not decide. The advent of the being lies in the destiny of Being. To man, therefore, remains the question of whether he finds the convenience of his essence, which corresponds to this destiny, because according to it, man is the shepherd of Being.”4

If History reveals itself to be the essential dialogue held by existence with its primitive time, a dialogue which the constitutive content is the very matter of the dialogue entertained between language with its own essence – if History is concomitantly course

and discourse, then it is within both, that one can learn about what and how occurs and has been occurred the saying of the being in the totality, i.e., the saying of Being, which, after all, is primarily a manifestation of Dasein’s historical correspondence to the calling of Being.

"Since we are a dialogue…”

We have used repeatedly the term “dialogue” to name the relation entertained between language and its essence and the relation between human existence and its primitive time (i.e., by Being and the essential time) and pointed out poetry as the place of occurrence of such relation. In the little excerpt from Letter to Humanism cited above, we find Heidegger's observation that, for man, remains the question of whether he is able to

Idem, p 162.

find the convenience of his essence, which corresponds to the destiny of Being. If the essence of man determines itself by a convenience to the destiny of Being – and this in fact confirms itself that way –, insofar as the Being of man manifests itself by his correspondence to the projective character of Being in its existential slope; insofar as the Being of man proves to be "inept" to let itself be fixed in terms of a predicable subsistence; insofar as, finally, this Being only lets itself be determined as an insurmountable Possible, if this is in fact so, this convenience to be found has its condition of possibility always permanently in the pure and simple dialogue. And this because “to agree” is precisely to be convenient and to keep the agreement. Hence the passage of Hölderlin’s poem In a placid blue it flourishes quoted in the frontispiece of this paragraph, unfolds itself in the following verse saying: "And we can hear each other."

Let’s see, more attentively, the concrete possibility of the essential saying that constitutes poetry, which determines itself as a dialogue. We place here three preliminary questions to guide our approach of the subject matter: 1) In what sense this dialogue establishes the convenience of the essence of Dasein with the destiny of Being? 2) In what sense this “hearing each other” supports and ensures this convenience – if it is true that this hearing one another is in fact a support and warranty relation? 3) And with a little more persistence: what is properly this hearing?

On the first question we can answer that the justification of poetry’s saying is that it is bestowed as a dialogue, insofar as the latter is what institutes the truth of Being, saying at the same time the essence of the being. Now, everything that says something says it to a possible hearing; everything that says something, says it in view of a convenience, i.e., of a

granted agreement in terms of a counter- diction. If we consider Heidegger’s observation: “what speaks properly is language, man speaks only insofar as he corresponds to language, as he hears the orientation of language”, we understand accurately that the constitutive character of poetry’s saying is a phenomenon which essence is referencing. And how could it be different, if language inaugurates itself from the projection of the existential Being to its factual can-be which destines itself in man destining him, in view of itself, and at the same time, destining itself to Being.

Considering that this “destining” of Being unfolds itself within meaning in terms of a being-in-the-world, we understand why there is language, and more fundamentally, why this occurrence is determined by the dialogue’s form. We then conclude that man is the occurrence of this open referential structure in view of itself. Language is not, therefore, an instrument or a mean belonging to man, rather, man is the matter of employment and the way language dialogues with its own essence about its Being, a way that clarifies the convenience of the essence of man with Being in concomitance with the very essence of the being as the factual condition for the Being-projective. It is only because "we can hear each other" that we can also close our ears to each other, i.e., subtract ourselves from the dialogue we essentially are.

On the second question that asks in what sense the “hearing each other” supports and provides this convenience, if this hearing each other is in fact a relationship of support and warranty, we can respond concisely that a truthful hearing makes the learning and teaching of the established and announced truth. In such learning lies the convenience support to be maintained (and because although formally it cannot be abolished, it can be,

from the factual point of view, determined precisely by its privation, unfolding itself in the molds of an inconvenience), and in such teaching lies the guarantee of this convenience between the essence of man with Being, as the latter permanent safeguard.

On the third question that asks about what hearing really is, both Heidegger and Hölderlin teach that hearing is truly a genuine “taking into account” the offer of an appropriate measure for the relationship entertained between man and Being, an offer that is made by the poetic word in the very work of its instituting and revealing the poetic saying. . We will go here from the third question. We said that the poetic word makes the gift of a measure, a measure taken by itself. Asking then, what is it that Hölderlin's poetic word determines as the measure to be taken, we hear from Heidegger that the poetry of Hölderlin determines the foreign manifested in the Sacred as the proper measure of the correspondence observed between the Being of man and the totality of the being, a correspondence which is merely what we have called above: the convenience of its essence with Being.

Why the “Sacred in the foreign”? Because the measure to be obtained by man must teach him once more in History that the relationship of his Dasein to the world and to the being encountered in it is not fit to be determined under the perspective of a subject-object relation – man is not the measure of the being, and the latter is not an object resulted from his knowable action. The Sacred points to the foreign that must guide man’s way back to his Homeland, always already lost from the start, in the very occurrence of the spirit’s

inaugural awakening, since it has been History as the oblivion of Being. The Sacred, which does not let itself be represented in its pertinency to the Divine, while sustaining man in the unsurpassed foreign of every beginning, teaches him the proper meaning of his own living on this Earth as a dwelling in the “between” of Sky and Earth. This co-measured dwelling appropriate to man, is the experienced dwelling that springs from the most familiar spectacle of the Sky to its maximum unaprehensiveness, and from the most familiar

presence of the Earth to its maximum unfathomableness – the proper dwelling of the spirit: the poetical dwelling. This differs a lot from the naively meritorious living which is suitable for man taken itself as a mere doer of deeds.

What goes down as the determinant thing of such dwelling co-measured by the presence and safeguard of the foreign in its historical context? Heidegger makes it clear that what sets here is precisely the reversal of the representation dominance on the knowledge of the being, reversing then, the oblivion of Being.

Human existence guided by metaphysical knowledge, that is, by the understanding of Being in the limits of the being, led itself to the following fundamental misconceptions in regard to the facticity of our original understanding of Being: it kidnapped the spirit by reason; it elected the latter as the measure of knowledge, established its limited representative knowing as the law of knowledge, and established the horizon of its possibility as the open place for the emergence of the being.

From here on it is possible to understand the extent of Hölderlin’s verses in his Elegy Bread and wine, deeply discussed by Heidegger: "Indeed, in the beginning, the spirit/

is not at home, is not at the source "5 . The spirit cannot be at home because precisely in the moment that his Homeland opens itself entirely, it already closes itself leaving the gift offered by its opening – a gift to which the spirit, in taking it inadvertently as his Homeland, strives to exhaustion to concern.

But the spirit has, in a necessary way, to be repeatedly frustrated in this effort to concern itself to the being as its Homeland, for out of the very determination of its Being as the “expert will from the origin”6 , its vocation is to be the spirit to the Whole, and in this measure the thoughts of the spirit, being in common to the Whole, have the lean to think the reality of the real before thinking itself. If we take this essay of Heidegger Homecoming / To Kindred Ones7 in line with his dialogues Country Path Conversations (especially when he discusses the serenity), we find a clear indication to think the proper content of the spirit’s occurrence, far beyond the narrow armor of reason. If the spirit is an expert will, this should mean, in one hand, that the spirit is the first occurrence of freedom in its positive and fundamental determination as the bestowal of an inception of something from its own self. In a more original sense, the spirit as expert, is the sparkled light of this turnaround of freedom on itself, and as a possibility of the Possible, it constitutes, as spontaneity, the continuous refolding of the open of the free amplitude. On the other hand, this must mean that the versed character of this will certainly owes itself to the welcoming and conditioning calling of this open, a calling from which something can rest in its scope as something other than this open, that is, the being. Indeed, the spirit could not be versed

.Hölderlin, Friedrich. (Sämtliche Werke) Zweiter Band . W. Kohlhammer Verlag J.G. Gottasche Buchhaudlung Nadfolger. Stuttgart, 1953, p. 94. 6 Heidegger , Martin. Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dischtung in Vittorio Klosyrtmann. Frankfurt Main. Vierte, erweitert Auflage 1971. p 90 7 Idem. Ibidem.

in its “being free” if it hadn’t have from where to learn about its own freedom. Just as freedom needs the being to think itself about its own spontaneity, its Being needs and employs man, inasmuch as he is determined by thought to think the skill involved in this Being.

And because the spirit tends to, and has the necessity to think the reality of the real; because it is determined by freedom which gives it light and ignites it, however we try to shut it down in the figure of a reason, of a conscience, it is not possible to detain it there in an absolute way. Spirit tends to the Homeland, as the fire tends to the Sky. Its Homeland is this non-real in the unique context where it is possible a real, not understood as an effect of a cause, but as its condition (of possibility), only.

With this understanding gained from the measure granted by the Sacred, by the foreign, the thinking able to visualize the historical enclosure of the spirit in the slavish practice of the representation, can then prepare to proceed the step back proposed by the philosophy of Heidegger. We say “prepare” because, in understanding its essential destination, thinking can only begin its patient task bequeathed by the consummation of its historical wandering, and establish again the foundations of its dwelling on this Earth which is always still a tarrying in the proximity of the source, i.e., in the clearing of Being.

It is thus seen that Heidegger was not carried away by the poetry of Hölderlin dazzled by the verification of a supposed genius that would reveal a stylistic superiority in poetry. His passion for the poetry of this poet springs from his understanding of the proper contribution of this poetry for the elucidation that was positively granted to thinking about

its essence and mission. In poetizing about the poet, Hölderlin made seen his proper place as the most genuine tutor of the spirit. Only the poet can teach, poetizing the essential thoughts of the spirit, that the essential meaning of the abode of man on this Earth is the poetic Being-together with the being, in view of Being, co-measured with the Sacred. From Hölderlin, Heidegger than could set up with high precision the proper missionary sense of the poetry and of the poet: "If the spirit ever want to become 'the spirit' of the History of humanity on this Earth, it is necessary that the spirit of the poetic thoughts to be combined and consumed in the poet's soul, as he on this Earth, and yet beyond her, shows the Sky and in showing it, allows the Earth to appear in its poetic Ether. Inspired by the spirit of poetry, the poet's soul animates, and this because it points out to the poetic foundation of the real and brings primarily to its 'essence' the reality portrayed through this. The spirit of poetry institutes, by the craft of the one who animates, the poetical dwelling of the sons of the Earth"8 . Completing this clarification, Heidegger highlights the most fundamental thing: the poet's soul names and has the power to name the poetic foundation of the real, because the spirit that lives in advance in the founding foundation is the spirit of poetry, and this precisely because the matter of its thought is its own Homeland – the fire, the Sky that gives life and nourishes the spirit.



Idem. p 91.

Bibliography :

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (London: SCM Press, 1962). _____________ . Country Path Conversations. Trans: BW Davis, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2010. _____________ . Brief über den “Humanismus” in Wegmarken, Vittorio Klostermann. Frankfurt am Main, 1967. ____________ . Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dischtung in Vittorio Klosyrtmann. Frankfurt Main. Vierte, erweitert Auflage 1971. ______________ . Hölderlin's Hymns: 'Germania' and The Rhine . Translation: W. McNeill, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 2004. ______________ . Holderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”. Translation: William McNeill & Julia Davis. Ed: Indiana University Press. Indiana, USA 1996. _____________ . Poetry, Language, Thought . Translation: Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971- 225.










Buchhaudlung Nadfolger. Stuttgart, 1953