(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Stefan George was probably the strongest defender in Germany of the art for art’s sake thesis, and his sense of the aesthetic was strong enough to lead him to write his first poems in an invented language, a lingua romana similar to Spanish. He disregarded the German rule of grammar that calls for capitalization of all nouns. The resulting loss in reading speed was a most desired effect for the author because he wanted his readers to note that individual words were artistic instruments that may evoke as many, or more, emotions as the colors of a painter’s palette. For many years, he printed his books privately, and they were not offered to the public until 1899.

In 1890, George published his first series of poems. With the title of the first poem, “Initiation,” he indicates his awareness of his radical departure from the literary mainstream and of his poetry’s limited appeal to an audience used to naturalism: “The river calls! Defiant reeds unfurl/ Their slender banners to the languid breeze/ And check the coaxing ripples as they swirl/ To mossy shores in tender galaxies.”

The author surrounded himself with a small treasured circle of devoted friends. Most of his works carry dedications; that of his next work, Pilgrimages, was written for the Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, although that friendship, as the poem anticipates, never matured: “Then I journeyed forth/ And became a stranger,/ And I sought for some one/ To share my mournfulness,/ And there was no one.”

In Hymns and Pilgrimages, George illuminates the conflict between his poetic ideals and the baseness of everyday life. For his next work he used earlier historical periods and Asia as times and places for escape from the unpleasant realities of the present. Algabal, written in Paris in 1892, is his personal interpretation of a Roman emperor who moves in a world of time-removed serenity and passionate feelings. George’s sense of remoteness, however, never excluded his knowledge of the “mystical body of Christ” inherited from his Catholic childhood in a small town in the German Rhineland: “For I, the one, comprise the multitude.”

The Books of Eclogues and Eulogies, of Legends and Lays, and of the Hanging Gardens indicates a turn toward tranquillity; the wanderer once in desperate search for beauty finds it in his own backyard.

Struck with amazement, as though we were entering a regionFrostbound when last we had seen it, yet now full of flowers,We, who felt old and sorrowful, gazed at each other,And our reflections were fused in the river below us.

The Year of the Soul, probably George’s best-known book, indicates that the author no longer needed to search for remote backgrounds; an old park is sufficient for the description of images symbolizing the principles of nature and love. Beginning with autumn, the...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Antosik, Stanley J. The Question of Elites: An Essay on the Cultural Elitism of Nietzsche, George, and Hesse. Las Vegas, Nev.: Peter Lang, 1978. An intelligent reappraisal of a dominant aspect of early twentieth century literature.

Bennett, Edwin Keppel. Stefan George. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954. An interpretive study that appeared as part of a series on modern European literature and thought. Neither partisan nor judgmental, the appraisal is discriminating and concisely presented. Includes a bibliography.

George, Stefan. The Works of Stefan George. Translated by Olga Marx and Ernst Morwitz. 1949. Rev. ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974. An enlarged and newly edited version of the original English translations of George’s works. Offers many changes within poems, as well as additional translations intended to give a representative survey of George’s earliest poems.

Metzger, Michael M., and Erika A. Metzger. Stefan George. New York: Twayne, 1972. A general introduction to the poet, presenting both a biographical sketch and an interpretation of his principal works.

Norton, Robert E. Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. Biography focusing on the last three decades of George’s life, when he was the center of a group of historians, philosophers, poets, and others who believed they represented the “real” but “secret” Germany and opposed the bourgeois social values of the Weimar Republic.

Rieckmann, Jens, ed. A Companion to the Works of Stefan George. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2005. Collection of essays, including discussions of George’s poetics, early works, concepts of love and gay rights, and the essay “George, Nietzsche, and Nazism.”

Strathausen, Carsten. The Look of Things: Poetry and Vision Around 1900. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Analyzes the relationship of philosophy and visual media to the poetry of George, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Argues that the three German-language poets used language as a way to compete aesthetically with photography and film.

Underwood, Von Edward. A History That Includes the Self: Essays on the Poetry of Stefan George, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. New York: Garland, 1988. A collection of comparative and interpretive essays. Includes a bibliography.