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Joseph Freiherr Von Eichendorff: German Poet

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

EICHENDORFF, JOSEPH, FREIHERR VON (1788-1857), German poet and romance-writer, was born at Lubowitz, near Ratibor, in Silesia, on the 10th of March 1788. He studied law at Halle and Heidelberg from 1805 to 1808. After a visit to Paris he went to Vienna, where he resided until 1813, when he joined the Prussian army as a volunteer in the famous Lützow corps. When peace was concluded in 1815, he left the army, and in the following year he was appointed to a judicial office at Breslau. He subsequently held similar offices at Danzig, Königsberg and Berlin. Retiring from public service in 1844, he lived successively in Danzig, Vienna, Dresden and Berlin. He died at Neisse on the 26th of November 1857. Eichendorff was one of the most distinguished of the later members of the German romantic school. His genius was essentially lyrical. Thus he is most successful in his shorter romances and dramas, where constructive power is least called for. His first work, written in 1811, was a romance,Ahnung und Gegenwart (1815). This was followed at short intervals by several others, among which the foremost place is by general consent assigned to Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts (1826), which has often been reprinted. Of his dramas may be mentioned Ezzelin von Romano (1828); and Der letzte Held von Marienburg (1830), both tragedies; and a comedy, Die Freier (1833). He also translated several of Calderon’s religious dramas (Geistliche Schauspiele, 1846). It is, however, through his lyrics (Gedichte, first collected 1837) that Eichendorff is best known; he is the greatest lyric poet of the romantic movement. No one has given more beautiful expression than he to the poetry of a wandering life; often, again, his lyrics are exquisite word pictures interpreting the mystic meaning of the moods of nature, as in Nachts, or the old-time mystery which yet haunts the twilight forests and feudal castles of Germany, as in the dramatic lyric Waldesgespräch or Auf einer Burg. Their language is simple and musical, which makes them very suitable for singing, and they have been often set, notably by Schubert and Schumann.

In the later years of his life Eichendorff published several works on subjects in literary history and criticism such as Über die ethische und religiöse Bedeutung der neuen romantischen Poesie in Deutschland (1847), Der deutsche Roman des 18. Jahrhunderts in seinem Verhältniss zum Christenthum (1851), and Geschichte der poetischen Litteratur Deutschlands (1856), but the value of these works is impaired by the author’s reactionary standpoint. An edition of his collected works in six volumes, appeared at Leipzig in 1870.

Eichendorff’s Sämtliche Werke appeared in 6 vols., 1864 (reprinted 1869-1870); his Sämtliche poetische Werke in 4 vols. (1883). The latest edition is that edited by R. von Gottschall in 4 vols. (1901). A good selection edited by M. Kaoch will be found in vol. 145 of Kürschner’s Deutsche Nationalliteratur (1893). Eichendorff’s critical writings were collected in 1866 under the title Vermischte Schriften (5 vols.). Cp. H. von Eichendorff’s biographical introduction to the Sämtliche Werke; also H. Keiter, Joseph von Eichendorff (Cologne, 1887); H.A. Krüger, Der junge Eichendorff (Oppeln, 1898).