Friedrich Schiller Poetry Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476

In his essay “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” written soon after he began collaborating with Goethe, Friedrich Schiller outlined and clarified the characteristics of two kinds of poetic art, attempting to defend his own creative approach in the careful justification of “sentimental” literature. In contrast to the naïve poet, whose...

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In his essay “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” written soon after he began collaborating with Goethe, Friedrich Schiller outlined and clarified the characteristics of two kinds of poetic art, attempting to defend his own creative approach in the careful justification of “sentimental” literature. In contrast to the naïve poet, whose work is an expression of nature, Schiller’s modern lyricist is a reflective creator who seeks to regain in his poetry a natural state that has been lost. The naïve poet moves the reader through an artistic presentation of sensual reality, while the sentimental poet achieves his effect in the successful development of ideas. Throughout Schiller’s literary career, the conceptual tension between “naïve” and “sentimental,” couched variously in the polarities of nature and culture, real and ideal, ancient and modern, and substance and form, remained the key to his poetic endeavor. Each new poem represented a concerted effort to create through art a harmonious resolution of the perpetual conflict between these fundamental aspects of man’s existence.

Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782

The poetry of Schiller’s youth is especially interesting for its clear illumination of the broad spectrum of eighteenth century literary forces that molded his attitudes. In the Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782, which was published to counteract what Schiller saw as the smarmy bent of other Swabian collections of the time, there are poems that reflect such diverse influences as the pathos of Friedrich Klopstock’s odes, the Anacreontic tendencies of the early Enlightenment, Gottfried August Bürger’s massive realism, Albrecht von Haller’s philosophical lyrics, the political tendentiousness of Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, Christoph Wieland’s Rococo style, and the purposeful tastelessness of Sturm und Drang. Although personal encounters provided immediate stimuli for some of the works, the calculated refinement of perceptions through the process of reflection sets the philosophical tone of Schiller’s verse from the outset.

The naïve/sentimental dichotomy is visible in two characteristic forms in Schiller’s early poetry. “Der Eroberer” (“The Conqueror”) exemplifies Schiller’s juxtaposition of political and divine order in the concept of the “noble criminal,” an almost mythical figure who goes beyond the limits of conventional morality. The conquering tyrant emerges as the adversary of God and the destroyer of moral order. In the Laura odes, however, which are central to the lyrics of Schiller’s youth, the focus of poetic tension is the tortuous conflict between love’s physical and spiritual dimensions. By 1780, in direct response to the writings of Adam Ferguson and under the mediated influence of Francis Hutcheson and the philosopher, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Schiller had developed a personal metaphysics in which love is the binding force that holds the world together. The Laura odes and poems such as “Der Triumph der Liebe” (“The Triumph of Love”) constitute the major literary treatments of those ideas.

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