Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger was born in Copenhagen on November 14, 1779, to a Danish mother and a German father. The latter was an organist at first but later became the steward of the palace at Frederiksberg, then the summer residence of the Danish royal family. There can be little doubt that Oehlenschläger’s love for nature started in his childhood, a good part of which he spent in the beautiful parks and gardens of the royal palace.
As a young man, he vacillated between law and the theater. During this period, he met and came under the influence of the important Danish intellectuals of his time, whose lives revolved around the natural sciences, art, literature, religion, aesthetics, and the search for “truth.” Young Oehlenschläger grew to despise the materialism and the rationalist philistinism (or so his time perceived the spirit of the Enlightenment) that prevailed in his country.
In 1801, Oehlenschläger won second prize in a contest that posed the controversial question of whether it would be useful for Nordic arts if the old Nordic mythology were to be introduced and generally accepted in lieu of the Greek. As might be expected of a budding Romantic, he answered in the affirmative and thus set the tone for the main subject matter in his literary works. It was the philosopher Henrik Steffens who was crucial in introducing Oehlenschläger to the ideas of Romanticism. Steffens believed that sentiment and nature were vital elements in poetry, and he shared the contemporary Continental (and especially German) preference for imagination and intuition over reason and enlightenment. Oehlenschläger, who at the age of nineteen had read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers...
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