Despite the depiction of incessant wanderings and frequent allusions to “die weite Welt” (the wide world) in the writings of Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, the poet himself actually had limited exposure to the world beyond the reaches of his native Upper Silesia in southeastern Germany. His journeys were primarily spiritual ones; even university days in Halle and Heidelberg, a student trip to Paris and Vienna, and eventual civil service posts in Breslau, Danzig, Berlin, and Königsberg did not take him to those distant, exotic, non-German-speaking lands, the Welschland, which his work often evokes. His birthplace, the Castle Lubowitz near Ratibor, remained at least the physical mecca to which he periodically returned until the deteriorating financial status of his aristocratic family forced the sale of all its properties in 1822.
By the age of ten, when Eichendorff first read the New Testament and was moved by the story of Christ’s Passion, he had already been introduced through the Polish and German folk songs and fairy tales of his native region to the second guiding force of his life, the power of poetry. The poet’s deep commitment to the Roman Catholic faith and his love for the music and beauty of words as well as his soon proven facility with them were to sustain him for his entire life, even when professional success as a governmental official was withheld from him and external pressures were overwhelming.
Eichendorff had ample discourse with gifted representatives of the Romantic movement, first in 1807, at the University of Heidelberg, where he heard the lectures of the philosopher Joseph von Görres and where he made the acquaintance of such leading literary figures as Clemens...
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