August Stramm Essay - Critical Essays

Stramm, August


August Stramm 1874-1915

German dramatist and poet.

The following entry presents information on the life and works of Stramm from 1916 to 1985.

Although he was relatively unknown in European literary circles during most of his lifetime, Stramm is now considered a leader of the avant-garde in German literature of his era. From the time his work began appearing in Der Sturm in 1913, to the end of his life on a World War I battlefield in 1915, Stramm became known for an unconventional and experimental use of language in drama and poetry that placed his works at the vanguard of the German expressionist movement.

Biographical Information

Born July 29, 1874, Stramm's role as a radical poet and dramatist in early twentieth-century European literature was hardly foreshadowed by his unremarkable, middle-class upbringing. His father, a railway official, strongly encouraged him to pursue a career in the German Postal Administration, while his mother would have preferred he become a priest. By age twenty, Stramm had begun a promising career in the German postal service, and by 1909, he had earned a Ph.D. from the University of Halle and had achieved a significant degree of success in his professional field. In 1902, Stramm began to write his first play. Throughout the next decade, he continued to write drama and poetry but faced regular rejection from publishers. In 1913, however, he met Herwarth Walden, editor of the expressionist magazine Der Sturm. Walden championed Stramm's unique literary voice and promoted his work through frequent publication in Der Sturm and by introducing him to other writers and artists who were pursuing modernist techniques and literary theories. The same year, when he was nearly forty, Stramm was made a captain in the Prussian Army. His World War I experiences became a significant influence on both theme and structure in his poetry, and many of his best-known works were written while he was serving active duty on the frontlines of the war. After surviving more than seventy battles, Stramm was killed during an attack in Russia on September 1, 1915.

Major Works

Although Stramm's literary career began as a playwright, he is perhaps best known in the twenty-first century for his poems, which were published in two collections: Du: Liebesgedichte (Thou: Love Poems, 1915), and Tropfblut (Drip-Blood, 1919). Although he was involved in the early stages of planning for the publication of his first volume of poems, he died before the book was in print. Characterized by his streamlined, minimalist approach to language, these poems are expressions of his exploration of love's many faces, and yet, as critic Karin von Abrams has pointed out, only the subtitle of the volume strongly indicates that love is to be considered the “governing theme” of the collection. The poems contained in Drip-Blood exemplify Stramm's evolving style of focusing on individual words and personifying abstract concepts through the manipulation of syntax and the use of such structural elements as one-word lines. These later works exerted a “frequently staccato” effect, writes critic Jeremy Adler.

Stramm saw a number of his poems published in the literary magazine Der Sturm, but he did not live to see either the publication of his volumes of poetry or the performance of any of his plays, several of which, including Die Haidebraut (The Bride of the Moor, 1914) and Sancta Susanna, (1914) were in print before his death. Der Sturm editor Walden oversaw the posthumous publication of the poems and several more plays.

Critical Reception

Stramm received very little critical attention during his lifetime. He was known to a relatively small circle of literary peers and, until after his death, his works appeared only in the literary journal Der Sturm, which was itself a vehicle for experimental works not yet received into the cultural mainstream. During the eighteen months he was associated with Der Sturm, however, Stramm's works appeared in the journal more often than those of any other writer in the magazine's history. In the months following his death, as Walden published and promoted Stramm's works, his contemporaries began to consider Stramm a poet and dramatist whose unique voice, though silenced through the violence of war, would become influential in the emerging expressionist movement in Germany. In his very precise use of language, nothing was written that did not need to be written, and when existing words were not accurate enough for Stramm, he invented new ones. Following his death, his unconventional approach to creative expression was recognized by an English-speaking literary peer, Edward J. O'Brien, who wrote in the American journal Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, “Stramm gave poetry a new method. … His gift to imaginative literature was just beginning to be perceived.” Although his literary output was limited, later critics concur that Stramm—a postal service bureaucrat who was married with children, who pursued gentle hobbies as an amateur painter and cellist, and who was dismayed and yet fascinated by the horrors of war—forged a significant, though unlikely, role as a literary figure whose works influenced the Dada movement in western Europe and anticipated the techniques of modern poetry.

Principal Works

Du: Liebesgedichte [Thou: Love Poems] 1915

“Die Menschheit” 1916

Tropfblut [Drip-Blood] 1919

Twenty-two Poems [translated by Patrick Bridgwater] 1969

Die Haidebraut [The Bride of the Moor] (drama) 1914

Sancta Susanna (drama) 1914

Kräfte [Forces] (drama) 1915

Geschehen [Happening] (drama) 1916

Das Werk (collected works) 1963


J. M. Cohen (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: Cohen, J. M. “The Vision of Apocalypse.” In Poetry of This Age: 1908-1958, pp. 105-06. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1960.

[In the following excerpt from his discussion of German Expressionism, Cohen describes Stramm's poetic style as concentrated and direct.]

The prime aim of Expressionism was to write powerfully of matters within the experience of the majority. It was, in fact, an attempt to reverse the esoteric drift of Symbolism. For this it had to break more violently with the German poetic tradition than Rilke or George, who had merely assimilated French influences. The Expressionists found it necessary to sacrifice the whole stiff syntax of their language. August Stramm (1874-1915), the most extreme of them, evolved a concentrated style that recalls that of the Imagists who were working on more peaceful themes at the same time in Britain and America.

Stramm's simple intention is to communicate the sights, sounds and horror of war more directly than would be possible in a reasoned and punctuated statement. He chooses his words to act as missiles that will explode in the reader's mind, with the impact of a shell. In describing a trench-attack he attempts with raw immediacy to convey not a picture or a recollection but the actual sensations of the moment itself:

Aus allen Winkeln gellen Fürchte Wollen
Das Leben
Den keuschen Tod
Die Himmel fetzen
Blinde schlächtert wildum das Entsetzen.

[From all corners fears yell will shriek whips life before it pure death the heavens shred blindly terror slaughters wildly on all sides.]

Each word is used in isolation and, lacking punctuation, most lines can be read in more than one way. Stramm uses nouns as verbs, and sometimes verbs as nouns. The alliteration is crude, the line-breaks arbitrary. The attempt to convey excitement succeeds, but there is no statement.

Christoph Hering (essay date January 1961)

SOURCE: Hering, Christoph. “The Genesis of an Abstract Poem: A Note on August Stramm.” Modern Language Notes 76, no. 1 (January 1961): 43-8.

[In the following essay, Hering provides an analysis of Stramm's poem, “Werben,” that focuses on the techniques Stramm used to write abstract poetry.]

The reader of modern German poetry will all too often encounter impersonal and, as it seems, unrelated statements that are difficult to interpret. Most present day forms of poetic diction had already been used in Expressionism; August Stramm's poem “Werben,” for example, were it not for its title, would hardly suggest that it deals with Man's vain struggle in pleading...

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C. R. B. Perkins (essay date autumn 1976)

SOURCE: Perkins, C. R. B. “August Stramm: His Attempts to Revitalise the Language of Poetry.” New German Studies 4, no. 3 (autumn 1976): 141-55.

[In the following essay, Perkins discusses Stramm's experimental manipulation of poetic language through linguistic techniques such as conversion and syntactical deformation.]

August Stramm (1874-1915), a member of the Expressionist circle contributing to Herwarth Walden's journal Der Sturm, blossomed as an experimental poet only in the last two years of his life. His experiments in diction, metre and syntax were far in advance of any of his poetic contemporaries. Stramm had indeed been writing poetry, dramas and...

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Malcolm Jones (essay date November 1977)

SOURCE: Jones, Malcolm. “The Cult of August Stramm in Der Sturm.Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 12, no. 4 (November 1977): 257-69.

[In the following essay, Jones examines Stramm's influence on the development of the German literary journal, Der Sturm.]

Du großer Künstler und liebster Freund.
Du leuchtest ewig.

Kunst lebt den Künstler, der ihr stirbt. Sie trägt den Tragenden durch das Getragene. Darum soll man das Wunder feiern.1

Exceptional even for his pronouncements in Der Sturm, such tones of reverence and fervour from Herwarth Walden celebrate his friend and...

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Patrick Bridgwater (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Bridgwater, Patrick. “The Sources of Stramm's Originality.” In August Stramm: Kritische Essays und unveröffentlichtes Quellenmaterial aus dem Nachlaßdes Dichters, J. D. Adler and J. J. White, pp. 31-46. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1979.

[In the following essay, Bridgwater traces various literary and philosophical influences on the themes, structure, and style of Stramm's poetry.]

There are a few essential factors in Stramm's life which no account of the genesis of his poetry can afford to ignore. They include: his emotional personality and interest in painting and music; the nature of his main themes and experiences (love and war); his reading of Hans...

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Karin von Abrams (essay date October 1982)

SOURCE: Abrams, Karin von. “The ‘Du’ of August Stramm's Liebesgedichte.Forum for Modern Language Studies 18, no. 4 (October 1982): 299-312.

[In the following essay, Abrams offers a critical overview of Stramm's 1915 Du, focusing on alternatives to the standard interpretation of the volume as a collection of love poems.]

Ever since its first appearance in 1915, August Stramm's Du has been considered almost exclusively as a collection of love poems. This view is of course warranted not only by the collection's subtitle, “Liebesgedichte”, but also by evidence which the individual poems themselves supply. The clearly indicated thematic...

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Richard Sheppard (essay date December 1985)

SOURCE: Sheppard, Richard. “The Poetry of August Stramm: A Suitable Case for Deconstruction.” Journal of European Studies 15, no. 60 (December 1985): 261-94.

[In the following essay, Sheppard offers a deconstructivist analysis of the works of Stramm.]

Prone though it is to mystify its logical procedures and to justify that mystification by implicitly suggesting that anything less than unintelligibility is a surreptitious concession to Western logocentrism (cf. ref. 36 below), the contemporary cult of Deconstruction is teaching the literary-critic-in-the-street four very practical lessons: to become aware of and hence relativize the assumptions and rhetoric...

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Patrick Bridgwater (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: Bridgwater, Patrick. “August Stramm.” In The German Poets of the First World War, pp. 38-61. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

[In the following essay, Bridgwater offers a biographical and critical assessment of Stramm's war poems.]

August Stramm, a near-sighted dreamer with a sense of duty inherited from his soldier-father (decorated for bravery in the Franco-Prussian war), was born at Münster, Westphalia, in 1874. After a middling performance at school (he subsequently took a degree by part-time study), he entered the German post-office administration in 1893; hard work soon won him promotion. He completed his year's compulsory military service in...

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Further Reading


Adler, Jeremy. “The Arrangement of the Poems in Stramm's Du/Liebesgedichte.German Life & Letters 33, no. 2 (January, 1980): 124-34.

A discussion of the selection and arrangement of the works that appear in Stramm's Du/Liebesgedichte.

Adler, Jeremy. “‘Urtod’: An Interpretation.” In August Stramm: Kritische Essays und unver (ffentlichtes Quellenmaterial aus dem Nachla) des Dichters, J. D. Adler and J. J. White, pp. 84-98. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1979.

Adler offers a critical interpretation of Stramm's poem, “Urtod,” in which each line consists of just one word.


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