Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

The inversion of light and dark imagery raises important questions about the relation between Novalis’s vision and the Christian tradition that he invokes, as does the predominantly artistic mission the hymns outline. The mission of creative love, of transforming the world and giving it meaning rather than discovering an already...

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The inversion of light and dark imagery raises important questions about the relation between Novalis’s vision and the Christian tradition that he invokes, as does the predominantly artistic mission the hymns outline. The mission of creative love, of transforming the world and giving it meaning rather than discovering an already existing meaning, emphasizes the importance of the individual imagination in religion. Like other Romantics, Novalis identified the soul with imagination, and the religion he would propound must be internalized and transformed, as it is in the hymns. It must awaken the soul. Also like other romantics, Novalis believed that poets must create the religious texts of the new awakening.

The emphasis on darkness and night tempts one to place Novalis in a lineage of Christian mystics that would include Saint John of the Cross. The role of Sophie as the virgin messenger who opens the realm of the spirit to the poet suggests a comparison with Dante, who is led through the world of the afterlife by the grace of Beatrice, who died in her youth. Yet the romantic emphasis on creative individual imagination and the absence of the concept of sin from Novalis’s vision distinguish him from these more Catholic religious poets.

The last stanza of the fifth hymn contains one of the most problematic passages in the hymns. Novalis writes of the pure realm of the night, of the paradise of spiritual life, which he says is “Just a Single Night of Ecstasy—/ An eternal poem—/ And our sun of all suns/ Is the countenance of God.” Many commentators find this passage problematic or offensive, since it blends sensual and aesthetic pleasure with religious devotion in language that lovers might apply to an earthly paradise. Novalis’s highest paradise seems, to many commentators, not too high, and more an expression of perverse fantasy than of truly religious devotion and insight.

These questions point out the uniqueness and originality of the Hymns to the Night. In them, Novalis creates a magnificent romantic religious vision with a courage and height of inspiration few romantic writers were able to equal. His hymns resonate with passionate grief, love, and religious longing, and ultimately attain an aspiring faith in a compelling personal vision of the spiritual message and the life of Christianity. Novalis died young, at the age of twenty-nine, and the hymns stand as perhaps the purest expression of his youthful creative power and as a monument for his beloved, Sophie von Kühn.

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