German poetry

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lmpower
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German poetry

Post by lmpower » Tue Jan 09, 2007 1:15 pm

I have just acquired The Penguin Book of German Verse and read it through. I had never been exposed to the poets before Goethe until now. I was surprised at how many German poets there were in the seventeenth century. I had assumed that Germany was a cultural wasteland at that time because of the thirty years war. The greatest of these, Andreas Gryphius, writes powerful lines about the horrors of the war. German poetry tends to be known to us largely through music. Reading the poetry of Paul Gerhardt, I recognized the two most beautiful choruses of Bach's St. Matthew passion. Of course the lieder composers relied mostly on German poets. I have long been puzzled as to why Friedrich Ruckert is given short shrift by critics. This professor of oriental languages is credited with having technical mastery and introducing oriental meters into German verse. If Ruckert is considered to be such a minor poet, why did his verses inspire some of the greatest music of Schumann, Brahms and Mahler. I wonder if my opinion of Ruckert is enhanced by its association with such great music. The ideas and feelings expressed in his poems place him among the top German poets in my opinion. I would like for someone more expert in German to acknowledge Ruckert as a great poet or explain to me why he is not one of the best in the German language.

jbuck919
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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 09, 2007 2:31 pm

All I can contribute is a general notion that the literary figures who inspired the great composers were not necessarily themselves the greatest masters. In fact, poetic greatness often thwarts musical interpretation, and it is remarkable how much Schubert and Schumann were able to squeeze out of Goethe and Heine, who are generally acknowledged as the truly world class German poets of their time.

For other insight into German poetry, see Walter Kaufmann's anthology (originals with his own translations). My copy is still in storage so the exact title escapes me, but I'm sure you can find it under Kaufmann at the library and I wouldn't be surprised it it's still in print.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

lmpower
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Post by lmpower » Wed Jan 10, 2007 12:41 pm

John, you may be referring to Twenty-five German Poets by Walter Kaufmann. I wasn't aware of this book and appreciate the suggestion. It seems to be out of print, but I think I get it through the library. I just read that the poets most often set to music are Goethe, Heine and Ruckert.

lmpower
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Post by lmpower » Tue Jan 23, 2007 12:57 pm

Thanks to John, I have just finished reading "Twenty-Five German Poets" translated and compiled by Walter Kaufman. His introductions to each poet were brilliant as expected. His selection was somewhat idiosyncratic. He completely omits Ruckert, includes one poem by Eichendorff and thirteen poems by Nietzsche. I would think Nietzsche was more like Emerson and Thoreau, philosophers who happened to write some poetry. Kaufmann only anthologizes 25 poets as compared to 67 in the Penguin book. He omits the Middle Ages and starts with the seventeenth century. I found the book to be a worthwhile read and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

jbuck919
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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 23, 2007 2:23 pm

lmpower wrote:Thanks to John, I have just finished reading "Twenty-Five German Poets" translated and compiled by Walter Kaufman. His introductions to each poet were brilliant as expected. His selection was somewhat idiosyncratic. He completely omits Ruckert, includes one poem by Eichendorff and thirteen poems by Nietzsche. I would think Nietzsche was more like Emerson and Thoreau, philosophers who happened to write some poetry. Kaufmann only anthologizes 25 poets as compared to 67 in the Penguin book. He omits the Middle Ages and starts with the seventeenth century. I found the book to be a worthwhile read and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Generally speaking, only his academic rivals who covet the title consider anyone other than Kaufmann to be the greatest Nietzsche scholar of all time. The price we might pay for that (it is hard for me to judge) might be a certain, shall we say, over-estimation. This collection was one of many of Kaufmann's interesting dabbles outside his specialty that did nothing to advance his career.

Kaufmann's selection has its idiosyncracies (he would have admitted that himself), and it may exclude poets others think should be there, but it is also fairly generous by including at least a representtive work of a number of poets who have fallen out of favor (Schiller, for instance). Many students of comparative literature (and I am merely reporting this, lacking the standing to endorse or deny it) would say that Goethe, Heine, and Rilke are the only world-class poets Germany has produced, irrespective of importance to music. (One might add that three is quite a respectable number in world historical terms.)

Glad you enjoyed the volume.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by burnitdown » Tue Jan 23, 2007 8:16 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Generally speaking, only his academic rivals who covet the title consider anyone other than Kaufmann to be the greatest Nietzsche scholar of all time.
Don't you mean translator, not scholar?

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 23, 2007 8:49 pm

burnitdown wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Generally speaking, only his academic rivals who covet the title consider anyone other than Kaufmann to be the greatest Nietzsche scholar of all time.
Don't you mean translator, not scholar?
I meant exactly what I said.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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