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Apotheoses and the Hölderlin Monument, Old Botanical Gardens, Tübingen

December 2023, no. 460

Apotheoses and the Hölderlin Monument, Old Botanical Gardens, Tübingen

December 2023, no. 460

My father is in his last hours
and I stand beside the statue I don’t want
            to pull down, have my photo
            taken. To take a photo. Or its past
participle. I am thinking of students
who almost worship the poet,
            and I am thinking of the missing
            arm of this ‘Hellenic’ Hölderlin,
which I learn held a laurel
before it was damaged, stolen.
            ‘Vandalised’. This happened
            in the nineteenth as well as
the twentieth century. All
that protrudes from the right
            shoulder is a tarnished metal pin.
            In Perth, my father has stopped
wanting to live. Last night he had another
stroke. He is in the private anguish
            of dying and wants it to remain private. Ergo,
            I wouldn’t presume to talk about light,
and he wouldn’t want to hear.
He never worshipped the old gods
            of Greece, and never wanted
            to climb Mount Parnassus.
He was the top apprentice
mechanic in Western Australia
            each year of his apprenticeship.
            He went to a minuscule bush school.
He lived with his mum, dad and sister
at Gleneagle where each was the other’s
            lightning rod. Jarrah trees were monuments.
            He wouldn’t have vandalised a statue
even if it made no sense to him.
Personally, I don’t care what happens
            to a statue of an explorer
            or aristocrat, but I see the statue
of such a poet differently. I am
comfortable having my photo
            taken alongside it. But it’s mounted
             in the old botanical gardens where trees
were sampled and cultivated from around
the world. The collectors have gone, many trees
            remain. The oldest tree is native
            to the region – a 250-year-old
beech tree. Its roots are uneasy.
It’s not far from the God-like
            statue of or to Hölderlin, who suffered
            so much in his life and was no god.
He felt pain gods just can’t feel.
My father’s body is breaking down.
            And as he wants to leave life,
            it’s not his will that’s broken –
in fact, I am sure that it’s thriving,
like the reach of the statue’s
            missing limb, the laurel already
            bestowed upon us all,
whatever our failings,
whatever we’ve cherished.


John Kinsella

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