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German Literature:
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Mid-century Poets

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810-1876), born at Detmold, was from childhood a scribbler of verse, original and translated. He was engaged in commercial pursuits until the success of his first volume of poems in 1838 induced him to devote his time to literature. He edited various periodicals, and, after 1845, took part in politics, from which he had previously held aloof. Giving up his royal pension, he joined the democratic party and aided it effectively by numerous spirited songs. But he was soon obliged to seek refuge in Switzerland, where he published a collection of poems translated from English. He was about to emigrate to America, when the Revolution of 1848 broke out and allowed him to return to Düsseldorf.

In the political strife of the succeeding years he was active for liberty in spite of trials and imprisonment until 1851, when he went to London. He continued his translations from English into German. In 1868 he was allowed to return to his native land. New songs were composed for the new war with France, among them "Germania" and the "Trompete von Gravelotte" (The Trumpet of Gravelotte). Freiligrath was a cosmopolitan poet and cannot be claimed by any poetic school. His poem, "The Lion's Ride," describes grandly a lion's fierce attack on a giraffe, which carried the king of beasts in its flight. Many others of his poems are equally original in subject and treatment. From Iceland to South Africa, he laid the whole world under tribute, and yet he was intensely patriotic. Germans regard him as a political poet-martyr, "the inspired singer of the Revolution." One of his famous Revolutionary poems is the "Ca ira." His early poems, by their mastery of rhyme and melody, have attracted most attention, but his love lyrics and his spirited songs of freedom are his noblest monument. He is a splendid colorist, and has been called "the Rubens of German poetry."

Emanuel von Geibel (1815-1884) was a highly cultivated and earnestly religious poet. In 1838 he went to Greece as tutor in the family of the Russian ambassador. With his friend, Ernest Curtius, he traveled over the land and wrote a volume of "Classical Studies." He assisted in editing a large collection of poetry from the French, Spanish, and Portuguese. His original poems were "Voices of the Time" (1841), "King Sigurd's Bridal Journey" (1843), and "Twelve Sonnets" (1846). In 1852 he was made professor of aesthetics in the University of Munich, but resigned in 1857 and returned to his native Lübeck, where he died. Geibel's poetry is characterized by rich fancy, melodious versification, and beauty of diction.

Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt (1819-1892) is best known by his "Songs of Mirza Schaffy," long supposed to be really translations from the Persian. He was born in Hanover and bred to business, but devoted all his leisure to study, and at the age of twenty-one was able to go to the University of Göttingen. He studied later at Munich and Berlin, and, going to Russia as a tutor, plunged into the Slavonic literature. His excellent translations of Russian poets were considered equal to the originals. While teaching at Tiflis, he studied Tartar and Persian under a real Mirza Schaffy, a Tartar philosopher, who had obtained Persian culture. On his return to Germany Bodenstedt published a romantic picture of his travels in "A Thousand and One Days in the East" (1850) . Here Mirza Schaffy, idealized, occupies a prominent place, but the poetry was Bodenstedt's own, adapted to the character of the Eastern sage. The poems were soon published separately and were enthusiastically received. They treat of wine and love, of the pleasures of life and the charms of maidens, in joyful, melodious verses. In a later volume called "The Posthumous Works of Mirza Schaffy" (1874) the poet gave a more serious tone to his philosophy. Bodenstedt was professor in the University of Munich, and director of a theater in Saxony. After a visit to the United States in 1879 he wrote an account of his travels to the Pacific, and an interesting autobiography.

South Germany, although the home of the Minnesingers in the Middle Ages, has been less rich in poets than North Germany in modern times. Perhaps the most distinguished Austrian poet of recent date is Robert Hamerling (1830-1889). He was born at Kirchberg, became a chorister, and was educated at Vienna. A volume of poems, published in his twenty-first year, gave promise of his ability. He was engaged in teaching at Trieste until 1866, when he retired on account of ill-health, and was allowed a pension. His farne rests chiefly on his epic poem, "Ahasuerus in Rome" (1866), which exhibits the failing power of paganism in the time of Nero. Another work of note is "The King of Lèon" (1868), written in hexameters. "Aspasia" is a graphic picture of Athenian life in the time of Pericles, but the erudition interferes with the poetry. A few dramas, satires, and minor poems flowed from the author's pen. Toward the close of his life he wrote an autobiography.

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