An early essay by Strich, a 1916 essay on German Baroque poetry, “Der lyrische Stil des 17. Jahrhunderts,” exemplifies this unity. This long essay is a detailed, example-rich analysis of how German poets created a national style from the imported alexandrine. It was by the naturalizing of a Romance-originated poetic style that German poets began to participate on equal footing in a European-wide style, “the Baroque.”
In 1916, of course, Germany was at war with the rest of Europe, by the end of which Germany’s standing among the nations had undergone catastrophic decline. It must have been at this point that Strich embarked on what became his vocation, namely, the promoting of world literature as a form of national and international understanding. Thus, Goethe und die Weltliteratur had its genesis twenty years earlier, after the First World War. In a review of Goethe und die Weltliteratur in Publications of the English Goethe Society in 1948, L.A. Willoughby wrote that “English readers will feel a proprietary interest in this book, for its germs were planted in 1924 when Professor Strich delivered a series of lectures on this subject before the University of London.”
|"Es ist der Geist, der sich den Körper baut"|
|"Bewegtheit" (Carracci, The Lamentation, 1582)|
He contrasts this “Bewegtheit” with the “epische Ruhe, Gegenständlichkeit und Gebundenheit” of the poetry of the 16th century, as exemplified in the treatment of the death of Christ in a poem by Hans Sachs. (As in the painting at the left by Guido di Pietro, from 1420-23.) Paul Fleming, in contrast, transforms the event into an “epische[s] Geschehnis.” The principle of movement also characterizes the treatment of homely subjects, of ordinary life, because of the sense of the fleeting nature of all things, which produced a desire to capture an elusive moment. Thus, one reads of “Als Flavia einsmahls an einem groben Sack arbeitete,” or “Als sie bei trübem Sturmwetter ihre Wäsche bleichete.”
While Strich's formalist approach to describe the “travel” of a literary style from one national literature to another is compelling in its wealth of stylistic detail, he does not offer an explanation for what produced the change in spirit from Hans Sachs to Paul Fleming, from timelessness to time. Of the Thirty Years’ War he writes only that it produced no heroic poetry. In retrospect that war has taken on large contours in explaining the 17th-century “fracturing of the world.” Yet, while Germany and Central Europe were certainly devastated, the fracturing was not restricted to that region. The travel of ideas and intellectual advancement did not require a war to leave behind the old hierarchies behind. The experience of transience expressed in the poetry, “den jähen Wechsel aller Dinge,” also replicated the rapidity with which material changes were transforming Europe by the 17th century.
In my next posts I will discuss the material changes that were giving rise to the idea of the progress of a universal spirit uniting the nations into a common humanity.
Picture credits: Luminous Dark Cloud; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Die Zeit