Gottfried Benn Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Gottfried Benn was born on May 2, 1886, the son of a Protestant minister. He studied philosophy and theology at the University of Marburg and later studied medicine at the University of Berlin. He completed his medical degree in 1910 and was awarded first prize for his thesis on the etiology of epilepsy in puberty. Benn worked as a pathologist and serologist in Berlin, where he became friends with several expressionist poets, the most important of whom was Else Lasker-Schüler. Benn also set up medical practice in Berlin, and his first volume of poetry, Morgue und andere Gedichte (morgue and other poems), clearly shows the influence of his scientific and medical training: The cold and unforgiving objectivity and precision of medical and surgical technique inform these poems, with their shocking portrayal of brutality and morbidity.

In 1914, Benn traveled briefly to the United States. Upon his return, he was drafted into the military medical corps, serving as an officer in Belgium before returning to Berlin in 1917. These years, contrary to what one might expect, were extremely productive for Benn as a writer, and he later noted that during the following years, on the whole relatively uneventful for him, he constantly drew for inspiration on his experiences in Belgium.

In 1933, Benn filled the position of which Heinrich Mann had been relieved, section president of the Prussian Academy. Later, Benn became director for the Department of...

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