Günter Eich follows a well-established tradition when he assigns the birds an important place in his poetic idiom….
His use of this motif provides an interesting example of the way in which old topoi survive by adaptation to the concepts of successive generations of writers. Moreover, the treatment of the bird motif in Eich's work is very characteristic of this author and reveals salient features of his worldview and literary style. However, because, on the whole, Eich's images are highly symbolic in Goethe's sense, their full significance cannot be deduced from isolated instances. Only by studying the usage of a given metaphor in various contexts can its symbolic value be expressed in abstract terms.
In the case of the bird motif, such an inquiry can best take as its starting point the radio-play Sabeth, not only because it has a bird as its leading character and title figure, but also because this non-lyrical treatment of the topos contains some explicit remarks on the significance it has in this work. (p. 246)
The bird [in Sabeth] represents eternity, and eternity is, naturally, not subjected to the law of inexorable progression along a temporal dimension. The entire concept of time depends on a peculiarly human delusion, caused by the fact that man through his reflective attitude experiences himself as an individual who is born and dies, instead of as an integral part of a larger, timeless whole.
The idea of temporality thus appears as a translation of a dimension of eternity into finite terms consistent with man's individuation. In this dimension which transcends humanity's time-bound perception, eternal beings move with the same freedom as man does in space. Or, to put it differently, sub specie aeternitatis time and space merge into one "absolute" dimension, of which Sabeth is an embodiment. (p. 247)
In Eich's poems, too, birds are frequently introduced to symbolize eternity. In Der GroBe Lübbe-See the cranes indicate the metaphysical position through which the essence of the universe is comprehended…. The poem...
(The entire section is 890 words.)