Other Literary Forms
Andreas Gryphius was one of the most important European poets of the Baroque period, comparable in power and complexity to the English Metaphysical poets. This is all the more astonishing as there was little vernacular German poetry to serve as a model other than the theoretical exhortations of Martin Opitz in his Buch von der deutschen Poeterey (1624) and the samples given there. Like many of his contemporaries, Gryphius cut his poetic teeth on Latin verse composition in school; as early as 1632, he wrote Herodis furiae et Rachelis lacrymae (1634), an epic in Latin on the story of Herod, which he followed with another one in 1635 and Olivetum libri tres (1646), a verse epic on the sorrows of Christ on Mount Olive. His claim to fame, however, rests on his mastery of the sonnet form, which he began to display with his first German publication, the Lissaer Sonette (1637), a collection that also earned for him the title of poeta laureatus. His command of the ode, epigram, and other poetic forms is evident in his subsequent publications of 1639 and 1657, where he not only domesticates the classical models but also manages to bend them to a powerful expression of his own worldview.
The themes of his poems are those familiar throughout Western Europe at this time, ranging from the vanity of all things, the fleeting and problematic nature of time, and the dubious nature of worldly reality all the way to an expectation of permanence, peace, and constancy in another existence constituted by love, human and divine. What makes Gryphius special is his ability to convey within the traditional tropes and topoi the genuine anguish and personal feeling about human suffering and about the destruction which the Thirty Years’ War brought to Germany generally and his family in particular. His use of paradox, caesura, juxtaposition of thought, and metaphor is again commonplace. What sets him apart from others is the power of his language, the vivid metaphors, and above all the creativity he demonstrates in inventing a vocabulary quite his own, his famous Zentnerworte, words heavy with meaning and sound, frequently neologisms. Both scholars and general readers found Gryphius particularly congenial after the two world wars, when his worldview and theirs seemed to be most congruent.