Germany Literature from 1750 to the Present Day Part 2
The poet thus ceases to be the professor who has studied the rules on poetry of the past or the gentleman who “anoints the rim of the vase with sweet licor” to pour out his precepts. Now delicate like Hölty, now rough and impulsive like Voss, now turbid and restless like Bürger, now soft at the bottom and incapable of inner balance like Stolberg under the mystical influence of Gallitzin, poets are emotional natures, dominated by their own emotions.
The individualism towards which the new spirituality aimed at last found in the Sturm und Drang its outlet, when the world of feeling ceased to be one of the elements of life, but became the primary generator of all the others, because life appeared first of all as nature, and in feeling man recognized nature operating in his indoor. The abstract ideologies, in which the Enlightenment had found its definitive formulas and its exhaustion, fell away; and concrete, immediate, pulsating life, with the chaos of its contradictions, with the contrast of its tendencies, came to the fore: the life of individuals with its deaf impulses, with the uncertainty of its goals, with the contrast of its tendencies clashing in vain against external reality. Rousseau’s “return to nature” which he had first pushed to rêveries solitary and to effusions of landscape poetry, it was now understood in a more substantial way, brought into the interior of man. And just as in the world of instincts, in the exaltation of passion a new morality was sought in contradiction with the rationalistic utilitarianism of the century, so too – exclusively – in the same world poetry was sought, which became a cry of the soul “, “voice of nature”. All the forms that the poet had wanted to prescribe lost all interest. Poetry springs from life with the elementary nature of the forces of nature; through the poet it is nature that creates: the poet does not have and cannot to have any law other than oneself: poetry is life that bursts into the word: the poet’s only law is his own “genius”.
Fratricides, parricides, infanticides, rape, incest, orgies of vulgarity, fury of despair: in the work of the new poets life takes on a whole paradoxical aspect of humanity in decay with vain attempts of renewal. The ideal is demanded of life in a storm, and the reality of life, seen from the perspective of the violent reaction it provokes, remains exasperatedly disfigured, brutalized. It was a historically eventful time for literature. Bourgeois society entered the world of poetry as mistress, prose and poetry mingled, every academicism was overwhelmed, poetry spoke – or intended to speak – the language of reality and life. But if it is true that poetry is life, it is also true that “a thing is life for it to be also poetry” is not enough. Shouts, screams, curses, blasphemies, language of the taverns brought before the muses and mixed with the frank effusions of sentiment: the poetry that was born was chaotic, shapeless, sometimes a mass of opaque and inert matter with sudden flashes of light, sometimes an intuition of poetry of great breath suffocated in triviality. The very life of the interpreters of the Sturm und Draug was overwhelmed: R. Lenz (1751-1792), the most brilliant of the group, went mad; HL Wagner (1747-1779) died very young; Maler Müller (1749-1825) ended up in a miserable and obscure bohemian existence in Rome.
According to EQUZHOU, the greatness of JG Herder (1744-1803) was to have saved humanity what was fruitful in this tumultuous and turbulent movement. From Hamann he had learned to conceive of knowledge as revelation and poetry, language itself, as an active presence in the human spirit. Now his instinctive historical sense enabled him to give the Sturm und Drang that ubi consistam that he had lacked. The abstract ideal of humanity, which rationalism had built, had fallen without the Stürmer und Dränger they had replaced it with a new ideal, sought in vain at the bottom of the most desperate experiences; Herder defined this new ideal: an ideal of humanity brought back to the truth of life, the cult of humanity in the concreteness of its history. Humanity is a continuous becoming, and every people and every age have their own spirit, their own civilization, their own poetry. The same God who is in nature is also in history (Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, 1874-87). From the “gray skies of abstraction” the human ideal thus descended again among men. The past ceased to press on the present and instead became the source of life. For one part, horizons opened up and widened indefinitely; on the other hand, the present retained all its autonomy in the face of the past, lived off its own needs, drew from the past only a nourishment for its own development. New worlds appeared. The new concept of humanity carried within it the new concept of the homeland. The same still naturalistic concept of poetry, which remained at the basis of the reaction of Sturm und Drang lost its distress in the new historical conception. Poetry was still always “voice of nature” through the mouth of the poet; but that “voice” was renewed over time perpetually with the renewal of peoples and individuals. In each individual, in each people he had a new accent; popular poetry (Stimmen der Völker in Liedern) and the poet’s cult poetry were different manifestations of the same spiritual process of creation. The modern age was also moving towards a new poetry of its own.