Study Guide

Joseph von Eichendorff

Joseph von Eichendorff Biography

Biography (Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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...

(The entire section is 707 words.)

Joseph von Eichendorff Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Romanticism has probably been the most enduring literary trend in German history, and without any doubt Joseph von Eichendorff (I-kuhn-dahrf) is one of the reasons that for a great number of Germans, Romanticism is still the most meaningful literature. Eichendorff, the “happy wanderer” who declares that everything is right in this world if only we will learn that even grief is part of something greater than ourselves, was born in 1788 in the well-sheltered castle of his parents at Lubowitz. He came from an old aristocratic family; one critic named him the “last knight of knights.” In his writings he identifies himself with the experiences of ordinary people and makes frequent use of folklore.

His happy childhood at the castle became the reservoir for all his Romantic outpourings until the very end. When the Napoleonic wars endangered the castle, his parents decided to send him to the faraway universities at Halle and Heidelberg. In Heidelberg his inclinations toward Romanticism were strengthened when he met the two writers Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, who achieved fame with their collection of purported old German folk songs, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1805; the boy’s magic horn). He also met Joseph Görres, a fellow Romanticist and the literary leader of German Catholicism. Eichendorff, an unwavering Catholic throughout his life, was influenced by Görres’s enthusiasm for revolution and became a member of the resistance movement...

(The entire section is 479 words.)