Annette von Droste-Hülshoff was born January 10, 1797, on the Hülshoff estate near Münster, in the province of Westphalia. She was born into a long-established line of conservative Catholic nobility and remained very attached to her large family. A highly intelligent and sensitive girl, Droste-Hülshoff was well versed in five languages. In her early teens she began writing poetry in the style of Friedrich Schiller and Gottfried August Bürger. After two disappointing experiences with lovers, she grew depressed and stopped writing for a number of years. The death of her father in 1826 further burdened her spirit.
In 1834, Droste-Hülshoff left the protective circle of her family and their country estate, Rüschhaus, to live with her sister Jenny, who had married a widowed Swiss scholar. They moved to the Castle Meersburg on the shore of Lake Constance. At this time, Droste-Hülshoff met and fell madly in love with Levin Schücking, a man seventeen years younger than she, whose mother had been her close friend. This intense relationship rekindled her poetic muse, and she produced a number of fine poems. She managed to have her brother-in-law employ the young man in his library, and the two lovers spent their days walking and reading each other’s poetry. In April, 1842, however, Schücking left Meersburg and later returned with his young bride. Droste-Hülshoff was devastated by the loss of her lover and poetic confidant. In 1844, Schücking published a small volume of Droste-Hülshoff’s poetry, thereby establishing her reputation as a lyric genius. Her poems deal with a spiritualized vision of nature and with issues of religious faith and doubt.
Ill-fated in love, the poet never married. The disappointing affair with Levin Schücking had caused Droste-Hülshoff great emotional stress, and in 1843 she grew seriously ill from nervous exhaustion. A sickly individual with a tubercular condition as well as psychosomatic complaints, Droste-Hülshoff died of an embolism at the age of fifty-one in Meersburg.