Ingeborg Bachmann Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

In addition to her poetry, Ingeborg Bachmann published two radio plays, three volumes of short stories, and a novel. Much of her prose concerns the role of women in search of their own identity. Bachmann also collaborated with the composer Hans Werner Henze, writing the librettos for his operas Der Prinz von Homburg (pb. 1960; the prince of Homburg) and Der junge Lord (pb. 1965; The Young Milford, 1967). She was praised by critics as a librettist of great talent. Bachmann’s other publications include essays in which she discusses her poetic theory.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Ingeborg Bachmann attracted and fascinated readers and critics alike during her short life and has continued to do so since her untimely death in 1973. Bachmann’s work has been praised as great and pure poetry, and she has been compared with such towering figures of German poetry as Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Rainer Maria Rilke. At the same time, the critic Peter Demetz has charged that her verse is marred by a “gauche combination of high polish and utterly sentimental Kitsch,” and her metaphors have been labeled vague, justifying almost any interpretation.

It cannot be denied that Bachmann’s personality and her life, shrouded in mystery to this day, have attracted at least as much attention as her work. After her appearance in 1952 at a meeting of Gruppe 47 (group 47), an influential circle of postwar writers, followed in turn by a story about her in Der Spiegel, Germany’s mass-circulation newsmagazine (similar to Time magazine), Bachmann could never rid herself of her image as a beautiful blonde who had become, of all things, a writer—sensuous yet intellectual, a cosmopolite from a provincial town in Austria, succeeding in a world traditionally dominated by males. When, after her death, her colleagues Günter Grass, Uwe Johnson, and Max Frisch began writing about her, Bachmann, who had already become a legend of sorts, gained increasing recognition as a significant figure in postwar...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

The Value of Poetry

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Bachmann’s entire oeuvre can be interpreted as a transformation of inner conflict into art. In a speech of thanks to the donors of an award she received, Bachmann spoke in the following terms of the function of the poet:

We extend our possibilities in the interplay between the impossible and the possible. It is important for us to create this tension, we grow on it, we look toward a goal, which becomes more distant the closer we get.

In this speech, Bachmann expresses a certain ambivalence about the role of the poet. She vacillates between a firm belief in the eternal value of poetry and poetic language and a sense of its ultimate futility. In the end, the latter prevailed, and she virtually gave up poetry. The few poems that Bachmann wrote after 1956 and published in various magazines all revolve around her doubts about the validity of poetic language. The final poem of her collection Anrufung des grossen Bären, titled “Ihr Worte,” ends with two ambiguous lines that are indicative of her crisis: “Kein Sterbenswort, Ihr Worte!” (not one more death-prone word, you words!).

Ingeborg Bachmann has been called a poet-thinker. As such, she made heavy demands upon herself, and her work likewise demands much from her readers. Bachmann’s readiness to confront, using exemplary lyric language, the issues of Germany’s dark historical past as well as the universal problems of modern man has secured for her a permanent position among the great poets of German literature.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Achberger, Karen. Understanding Ingeborg Bachmann. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. The first biography of Bachmann in English offers interpretation of her poetry, radio plays, librettos, critical writings, and prose. Achberger is a leading critic and has published a number of articles on Bachmann.

Demetz, Peter. “Ingeborg Bachmann.” In Postwar German Literature: A Critical Introduction. New York: Pegasus, 1970. A brief introduction to Bachmann’s work.

Ezergailis, Inta. Woman Writers: The Divided Self. Bonn, Germany: H. Grundmann, 1982. Critical analysis of prose by Ingeborg Bachmann and other authors. Includes bibliographic references.

Gölz, Sabine I. The Split Scene of Reading. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1998. Criticism and interpretation of Ingeborg Bachmann and Franz Kafka’s writing with an emphasis on the influence of Jacques Derrida and Friedrich Nietzsche. Includes an extensive bibliography.

Gudrun, Brokoph-Mauch, and Annette Daigger, eds. Ingeborg Bachmann: Neue Richtungen in der Forschung? Ingbert, Germany: Röhrig, 1995. A collection of critical essays on Bachmann in German with a section of essays in English.

Lyon, James K. “The Poetry of Ingeborg Bachmann: A Primeval Impulse in the Modern Wasteland.” German Life and Letters 17 (April, 1964): 206-215. A critical analysis of selected poems by Bachmann.

Schoolfield, George C. “Ingeborg Bachmann.” In Essays on Contemporary Literature, edited by Brian Keith-Smith. London: Oswald Wolff, 1969. A critical study of Bachmann’s oeuvre.