Heinrich Heine: The Romantic School
The Poets of Legend: Goethe. Schiller and … Heinrich Heine.A favorite among Lieder composers, Heine’s literary works comprise twenty volumes, Die Romantische Schule two of them. Published in French and German 1833-36; this translation by Charles Godfrey Leland. Below, the great Poet’s thoughts on Novalis and Hoffmann.
But what was the Romantic School in Germany? It was nothing else but the Reawakening of the Middle Ages … its songs, images and architecture, in art and in life.
I have little to say regarding Schelling’s relationship to the Romantic School. His influence was mostly personal, but since the Philosophy of Nature through him has sprung into life and into vogue, Nature has been much more intelligently grasped by poets. Some are absorbed with all their human feelings into Nature; others have noted certain magic forms by means of which something human can be made to look forth and speak from it. The former are the true mystics, and resemble in many respects the Indian devotees who sink into Nature, and at last begin to feel in common with it. The others are more like enchanters, who, by their own power of will, evoked even fiends; they are like the Arabian sorcerers, who could animate every stone, or petrify, as they pleased, every living being.
To the first of these belong Novalis; to the second, Hoffmann.
Novalis saw everywhere the marvelous,
And, in its loveliness and beauty,
He listened to the language of the plants;
He knew the secret
Of every young rose, he identified himself with all
Nature; and when the autumn came and
the leaves fell, he died.
Hoffmann, on the contrary, saw spectres everywhere; they nodded to him from every Chinese teapot and every Berlin wig; he was a magician who changed men into brutes, and these again into Royal Prussian court counselors. He could call the dead from their graves, but he repulsed life from himself like a dismal ghost. And thus he felt he himself had become a spectre; all Nature was to him like a badly-ground mirror, in which he, distorted in a thousand ways, saw only his own death mask, and his works are only one terrible cry of agony in twenty volumes.
Hoffmann did not belong to the Romantic School. He was in no way allied to the Schlegels, and still less to their tendencies. I only mention him here in opposition to Novalis, who was really a poet of that kind. Novalis is less well known in France than Hoffmann, whom Loeve-Veimars has placed before the public in such admirable form, and thereby attained such a reputation.
By us inGermany, Hoffmann is no longer in fashion, but once it was otherwise. Once he was very much read, but only by men whose nerves were too strong or too weak to be affected by soft accords. Men of true genius and poetic natures would hear nothing of him; they, by far, preferred Novalis.
But, honestly speaking, Hoffmann was, as a poet. far superior to Novalis, for the latter always sweeps in the air with his ideal forms, while Hoffmann, with all his odd imps, sticks to earthly reality. But as the giant Antaeus remained invincibly strong while his feet touched his mother earth, and lost his strength when Hercules raised him in the air, so is the poet strong and powerful so long as he does not leave the basis of reality, but becomes weak when whirling about in the blue air.
The great resemblance in these poets lies in this: That in both their poetry is really a malady, and in this relation it has been declared that judgment as to their works was the business of a physician rather than a critic. The rosy gleam in the glow of Novalis is not the glow of health; and the purple heat in Hoffmann’s Phantasiestücken is not the flame of genius but of fever.
But have we the right to make such remarks, we who are not blessed with excess of health, above all at present; when literature resembles a vast lazar-house? Or is it perhaps poetry is a disease of mankind, just as the pearl is only the material of a disease which the poor oyster suffers?
Novalis was born May 2, 1772. His real name was Hardenberg. He loved a young lady who suffered from and died of consumption. This sad story inspired all his writings; his life was a dreamy dying in consequence, and he himself died of consumption in 1801, before he had completed his twenty-ninth year, or his novel.
This work as it exists is only the fragment of a great allegorical poem, which, like “Divine Comedy” of Dante, was to treat earnestly all things of earth and heaven. Heinrich von Ofterdingen, the famous poet, is the hero.
We see him as a youth in Eisenach, the charming town which lies at the foot of old Wartburg, where the greatest and also the stupidest things have been done; that is, where Luther translated the Bible, and certain idiotic Teutomaniacs burned the Gendarme Code of Herr Kamptz. There too in that castle was held the greatest contest of minstrels where among other poets Heinrich von Ofterdingen sang in the dangerous contest with Klingsohr of Hungary, an account of which has been preserved in the Manesse collection. He who was vanquished was to lose his head, and the Landgrave ofThuringia was to be the judge. The Wartburg rises as with mysterious signification over the cradle of the hero, and the beginning of the novel shows him in the paternal home of Eisenach.
The parents are still sleeping, the hanging clock beats monotonously, the wind blows against the rattling windows; now and then the room is lighted by the rays of the moon. The youth lays restlessly on the couch, thinking of the stranger and of his tales.
“It was not the treasure,” he said to himself, “which awoke in me such unutterable desire; all covetousness is far from me; but I long to see the Blue Flower. It haunts me all the time, and I can think and fancy of nothing else.”
Heinrich von Ofterdingen begins with such words, and the Blue Flower sheds it light and breathes its perfume through the whole romance. It is marvelous and full of meaning that the most imaginary characters of this book seem to us as real as if we had known them long ago.
Old memories awaken. The Muse of Novalis was a slender snow-white maid with serious blue eyes, golden hyacinthine locks and smiling lips … and I imagine it was the same damsel – the Muse of Novalis – who made me aware of him.