Stefan George Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Among the books written by Stefan George, only Tage und Taten (1903; Days and Deeds, 1951) contains writings other than poetry. The volume is a collection of miscellaneous small prose: sketches, letters, observations, aphorisms, and panegyrics. It was expanded to include the introductory essay from Maximin, ein Gedenkbuch (1906; memorial book for Maximin) for the eighteen-volume complete edition of George’s works, Gesamt-Ausgabe, published between 1927 and 1934. In addition to his original works, George published five volumes of translations and adaptations: Baudelaire, Die Blumen des Bösen (1901); Zeitgenössische Dichter (1905; of contemporary poets); Shakespeare, Sonnette, 1909; and Dante, Die göttliche Komödie, Übertragungen (1909). Zeitgenössische Dichter contains George’s translations of poetry by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Jens Peter Jacobsen, Albert Verwey, Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, and others. Editions of George’s correspondence with Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Friedrich Gundolf were published in 1938 and 1962, respectively.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Most of Stefan George’s works were consciously addressed to a carefully selected and limited readership, and until 1898, his lyric cycles were published only in private, limited editions. Poems that appeared in early issues of Blätter für die Kunst (leaves for art) were initially ignored in Germany because of the journal’s limited circulation, the general obscurity of its contributors, and the poets’ lack of connections with accepted literary circles. On the other hand, George’s early poems and translations were received very favorably by poets and critics in France and Belgium. In 1898, the first public edition of The Year of the Soul, still his most popular cycle of poems, brought George the beginnings of broader recognition. Subsequent collections won him increasing acclaim for his originality and artistic virtuosity, until in 1927 he became the first, if reluctant, recipient of the Frankfurt/Main Goethe Prize. By 1928, when his collected works appeared, George was recognized internationally as the most gifted of the German Symbolist poets and the most influential renewer of the German language since Friedrich Nietzsche.

George’s important contributions to modern German poetry resulted from his efforts to revitalize and elevate decaying artistic standards. His efforts in cultivating a new literary language took into account contemporary literary influences from other national literatures. While pursuing his goals, he actively encouraged other German poets, including Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Leopold von Andrian, and Karl Wolfskehl, to strive for a new idealism focused on truth, originality, and self-examination, rejecting the identification of poetry with the personality of the poet and his experiences that had long characterized the nineteenth century imitators of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

In 1933, when the Nazis endeavored to distort and exploit his artistic ideals, George refused their offers of money and honor, including the presidency of the German Academy of Poets. Nevertheless, after his death, misinterpretation of his ideas and attitudes regarding artistic and intellectual elitism established a link with Nazi ideology that reduced his literary stature and for many years deprived him of his rightful place in German literary history. Above all else, George was a poet of uncompromising artistic integrity, whose attempts to give German poetry a new direction of humanism and idealism were prompted by profoundly moral and ethical motives.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Bennett, Edwin K. Stefan George. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954. A succinct critical study of George’s works with a brief biographical background. Includes bibliography.

Goldsmith, Ulrich K. Stefan George. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970. Biographical essay with bibliographic references.

Klieneberger, H. R. George, Rilke, Hofmannsthal, and the Romantic Tradition. Stuttgart: H. D. Heinz, 1991. Provides an introduction to the Romantic tradition in poetry and brief critical interpretation of the major works of Stefan George. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Metzger, Michael M., and Erika A. Metzger. Stefan George. New York: Twayne, 1972. Biography of Stefan George includes a bibliography of his works.

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 very useful monograph on the comparative poetics of the four named. Bibliographical references, index.