A glance at Eduard Mörike’s 225 poems reveals his remarkable versatility as a poet. The influence of Greek and Roman poetry is evident in his sonnets, odes, and idylls, and in his frequent use of iambic hexameter. The Germanic influence is evident in the rhymed quatrains and simple folksongs. However, Mörike was not limited by any form: Some of his poems are just two verses long; others run for pages. In most cases, he uses rhyme, meter, and stanza structures only as artistically necessary. Many of his poems are in free verse. His writing is direct, often conversational in tone. The five “Peregrina” poems are one of only two groups of poems. (The other group, “Pictures from Bebenhausen,” has been only partially translated.) Otherwise, each poem stands for itself. Mörike let a friend decide on their order of appearance when his poems were published.
Nothing in Mörike’s poetry indicates that he lived in a time of political unrest; nothing indicates that he was a clergyman. Some of his contemporaries criticized him for not mentioning political or historical events, but ironically, it is his refusal to be governed by current events that has made his poetry timeless. Mörike focused on personal issues, everyday life, and the inner peace he experienced in the presence of friends or when beholding a “Beautiful Beech Tree” or an object, as in “On a Lamp.” He could capture the moment and infuse it with meaning. Much of his poetry, though, has an undercurrent of dissonance, a dissonance Hugo Wolf transferred well to his musical settings of fifty-seven Mörike poems in the 1880’s. Mörike shows that even “At Midnight,” one is constantly reminded of the affairs of the day. He was aware of conflicting beliefs, changes brought with the passage of time, and the omnipresence of death.
Mörike wrote his five “Peregrina” poems between 1824 and 1828 and included versions of four of them in Nolten the Painter. These early poemssome rhymed, some unrhymed, some in regular stanzas, and some in free versederive from Mörike’s intense love for and then loss of the migrant or peregrine Meyer. The male poetic persona experiences heartbreak because he still loves Peregrina, indeed will always love her, yet feels he had to send her away because of his desire to remain in respectable society.
Mörike portrays a dangerous struggle between emotion and reason, between sexual attraction and societal norms. The temptation is great. In the first poem, the speaker tells Peregrina of her powerful effect on him: “To set us both on fire with wild beguiling:/ Death in the cup of sin you hand me, smiling.” The wedding scene in the second poem is far removed from any Christian context. The bride is dressed in explicitly sexual...
(The entire section is 1147 words.)