Wolf Biermann Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Most of Wolf Biermann’s published work consists of poems and songs. This fact reflects his conviction that poetry, especially song, provides the most appropriate and effective means of conveying the intensely personal and political content of his work. Biermann’s other writings reinforce this strong political emphasis. These writings include several collections of essays, university lectures on the writing of poetry and songs, children’s books, and a play. The play Der Dra-Dra: Die grosse Drachentöterschau in acht Akten mit Musik (1970; the dra-dra: the great dragon-killer show in eight acts with music), is an adaptation of the fairy-tale comedy Drakon (1943; The Dragon, 1963) by the Russian playwright Yevgeny Schwartz and concerns the fate of a city-state ruled by a dragon. In Biermann’s hands, it becomes a political parable about the specter of Stalinism in Eastern Europe. In addition, Biermann has translated numerous poems and songs by other poets into German, most notably the long Yiddish poem on the fate of the Jews of Eastern Europe by the Polish-Jewish writer Yitzak Katzenelson, Grosser Gesang vom ausgerotteten jüdischen Volk (1994; great song of the exterminated Jewish people).


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Wolf Biermann is perhaps the best-known living German-language poet. The success of his books–The Wire Harp became a best-selling book of German poetry in the postwar era—and the popularity of his more than twenty recordings provide ample evidence of this.

Several factors have contributed to Biermann’s renown. There is, first, the political controversy which has surrounded him since he first fell into disfavor with cultural authorities in East Germany in the early 1960’s. While his problems with the party bureaucracy led very quickly to an absolute publication and performance ban in the East, his identification with opposition forces in East Germany served to increase his notoriety, particularly in the West. It is ironic that, although Biermann’s work was never to reach a large audience in the socialist East—depending as it did upon the circulation of underground manuscripts and tapes—his poetry and recordings were widely distributed and discussed in capitalist West Germany. Not surprisingly, Biermann’s outspoken and often uncomfortable political views kept him in the public eye during much of his thirteen years of western “exile” and continued to do so after the two Germanys reunited in 1990.

Another factor has played an even more central role in Biermann’s popularity as a poet. He is a people’s poet in every sense of the word, a fact reflected in the everyday language, themes, and imagery of his poetry. His...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Arnold, Heinz Ludwig, ed. Wolf Biermann. 2d ed. Munich: Edition Text und Kritik, 1980. A collection of essays by leading scholars that examine Biermann’s poetry both before and after his expulsion from East Germany. In German.

Flores, John. “Wolf Biermann.” In Poetry in East Germany: Adjustments, Visions, and Provocations, 1945-1970. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971. An introduction to Biermann and his early poetry in English; includes several translations of Biermann’s poems and songs.

Rosellini, Jay. Wolf Biermann. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1992. One of the most comprehensive studies of Biermann’s work. Includes a detailed account of Biermann’s life and its relation to his poetry up to the end of 1991.

Rothschild, Thomas, ed. Wolf Biermann: Liedermacher und Sozialist. Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany: Rowohlt, 1976. A collection of essays and articles that provides an excellent introduction to the poet’s poetry and songs up to the time of his expatriation from East Germany. In German.

Shreve, John. Nur wer sich ändert, bleibt sich treu: Wolf Biermann im Westen. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. A scholarly study of Biermann’s poetry during his western “exile” from 1977 until 1989. The author makes a strong case for continuity of focus in Biermann’s poetry during a difficult period of transition to life in West Germany. In German.