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Translation of Schllier’s
Friedrich Schiller
On Matthisson’s Poems
Translated by John Sigerson

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Published in Friedrich Schiller Poet of Freedom Volume II

On Matthisson’s Poems
Translated by John Sigerson

Landscape painting, as is well known, was not exactly in high regard am
Friedrich Matthisson
Friedrich Matthisson (1761-1831) is probably best known for his poem Adelaide, which was set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1796. Schiller met Matthisson on February 2, 1794 in Ludwigsburg, and probably wrote this review shortly thereafter. From Schiller’s letters to Körner, it is clear that he considered Matthisson a second-rate poet, but one whose defects were a useful foil to elaborate on his theory of aesthetic composition.
ong the Greeks, and even our present-day artistic rigorists have yet to decide whether the landscape painter should even be accepted as a genuine artist. But the ancients’ works tell us nary a thing about a genre which has not as yet achieved much recognition: Landscape poetry—whose relation to epic, lyrical, and dramatic poetry parallels landscape painting’s relation to the portrayal of animals and human beings.

There is a world of difference between merely incorporating inanimate nature into a scene—thereby providing a backdrop for a particular action, and, where necessary, lending its colors to the representation of things animate, as is often done by historical painters and epic poets—and the diametrically opposite procedure employed by such artists as the landscape painter, who makes inanimate nature itself into the scene’s central figure, relegating man to a mere auxiliary role. We find countless examples of the first approach in Homer; and who can match the truth, individuality, and vitality with which that great portrayer of nature regales our senses in the backdrops of his dramatic tableaux? But it was reserved for the more modern poets (extending back to some of Pliny’s contemporaries) to produce landscape paintings and landscape poetry in which this aspect of nature, for itself, is made into the object of its own representation, thereby enriching art’s domain—which the ancients seem to have restricted to man and his semblances—through the addition of this new province.

What, then, might be the origin of this indifference evinced by the Greek artists toward a genre which we moderns hold in such universal esteem? Should we perhaps assume that the Greek—this connoisseur and passionate partisan of everything beautiful—was somehow insensible to the allures of inanimate nature? Or, must we not rather suspect, that he deliberately rejected this material, because he found it incompatible with his own conception of fine art?

We ought not be disconcerted to hear this question brought up in the instance of a poet whose great strength—perhaps greater than that of any other representative of this genre—lies in his rendering of natural landscapes, and who can indeed serve as a general example of what this department of poetry can do. Thus, before we deal with the poet himself, we must first focus our critical eye on the genre to which he has applied his powers.

Certainly anyone who still has the magical impression of Claude Lorrain’s paintbrush freshly in mind, will not be easily brought around to the view, that it was not a work of fine art, but merely of agreeable art, which sent him into such transports; and anyone who has just laid aside one of Matthisson’s tableaux, will indeed find it quite disconcerting to ask himself whether he had really been reading the work of a poet.

We leave it to others to vie for the landscape artist’s standing amongst the community of artists, and from this material we shall extract only that which immediately concerns the landscape poet. In the process, our inquiry shall reveal the principles according to which we are to determine the worth of his poems.

It is, as we know, never his theme, but rather the manner in which he treats it, which distinguishes the artist and poet; a household object or a moral lesson, if executed with taste, can be elevated into a free work of art with equal facility, while an unskilled hand can easily degrade the portrait of a human being into a crude parody. Thus, if we hesitate here to recognize paintings or poems whose only object is soulless natural things, as genuine works of art (i.e., works in which an ideal is possible), then it is because we doubt that these objects are susceptible of being treated as befits the character of fine art. What, then, is this character, with which we supposedly can not entirely reconcile landscape nature? It must be the same which distinguishes fine art from that which is merely agreeable. Now, it so happens that the character of freedom is common to both; and from this it follows, that if a merely agreeable work of art is also to be at the same time beautiful, it must also be clothed with the character of necessity.

If we understand poetry in general as the art “of putting us into specific emotional states by means of the free action of our productive powers of imagination” (a definition which certainly holds its own against the many others in circulation on this topic), we come up with two requirements which no poet may shirk, if he wishes to deserve the name. Firstly, he must permit the free play and self-activity of our own imaginative powers; and secondly, he must be no less certain of achieving his intended effect upon us, arousing within us a determinate emotion. These two requirements may initially seem mutually contradictory, since according to the first, our own imaginative powers must rule, and must obey none other than their own law; whereas according to the second, those powers must serve and obey the poet’s law. How, then, does the poet resolve this contradiction? By prescribing to our imagination, no other course but that which it would have had to take in full freedom and according to its own laws, such that the poem’s purpose is achieved through nature, thereby transforming external into internal necessity. And thus we discover, that both requirements not only mutually resolve one another, but that each in fact contains the other within itself, and that the highest degree of freedom is possible only through the highest degree of determinacy.

And here the poet is confronted with two great obstacles blocking his progress: As we know, the imagination, if left to roam freely, will simply follow the law of idea-association, which in turn is ultimately based on some purely accidental concatenation of perceptions—that is, on something entirely empirical. The poet must nevertheless know how to act to enrich that empirical associative activity, because he remains a poet only insofar as his purpose is achieved through the free self-activity of our own imaginative powers. In order to calculate his effect, within that activity he must discover some lawfulness, and he must be able to trace back from the empirical context of the mental image, to that which makes it necessary. Our mental images, however, are necessarily connected only insofar as they are based upon an objective connectedness among phenomena—and not upon some purely subjective, random interplay of thoughts. The poet must therefore strictly adhere to that objective connectedness among phenomena, and only after he has carefully cleansed his material of everything of purely accidental and subjective origin—only once he is certain he has attached himself to the pure object, and has subordinated himself to the law that governs the imaginations of all subjective individuals—only then can he be assured that everyone else’s imagination will in freedom follow the course he has prescribed for them.

But the poet’s only purpose in evoking a determinate imaginative interplay, is in order to have a determinate effect on the human heart. As difficult as it may be to determine the imagination’s interplay without thereby impinging upon its freedom, that first task is no less taxing than this second one, namely, to wield this imaginative play so as to determine the subjective individual’s emotional state. We know that, the same set of circumstances can move different people in entirely different ways, and even the same individual’s response will be different at different times. But irrespective of our emotions’ dependency upon accidental influences beyond the poet’s power to control, the poet must nevertheless determine what our emotional state is to be; he must therefore create the conditions out of which a determinate stirring of the soul will necessarily result. Now, there is nothing necessary about any particular person’s subjective character, save his species-character; therefore, the poet can only determine our emotions insofar as he elicits them from the species within us, and not from our specifically delineated selves. But in order to be certain, that he is indeed addressing the pure species within the individual, he himself must have already extinguished the individual within himself, and must have elevated himself to species-being. Only when he no longer experiences emotion as belonging to this or that specific person (in whom the notion of species would always remain limited), but rather as belonging to man as a universal, can he then be certain that the emotions of the entire human species will follow his own; indeed, he is just as entitled to strive for this effect, as he is to demand pure humanity from each human individual.

Two qualities are therefore indispensable in every work of art: a necessary relationship to its object (i.e., objective truth), and second, a necessary relationship between that object or its description, and the emotional faculties (i.e., subjective universality). Everything in a poem must be true nature, since the imaginative powers obey no other law, and tolerate no other compulsion, than that which the natural order prescribes; but also, nothing in a poem must be actual (historical) nature, since all actuality imposes some sort of restriction upon that universal natural truth. Every individual human being is less human, to the extent that he is a mere individual; every type of emotion ceases to be necessary and purely human, insofar as it remains peculiar to a particular person. Only by discarding what is accidental and by expressing unalloyed necessity, do we develop true greatness of style.

We can gather from these remarks, that the realm of truly fine art can extend only as far as we can discover necessity in the connectedness of phenomena. The area falling outside this region is governed by caprice and accident, and there is neither freedom nor determinacy; for, whenever the poet becomes unable to guide our own imaginative play by means of an internal necessity, either he must guide it externally, in which case it is no longer our action; or, he does not guide it at all, in which case it ceases to be his action; and yet, both must coexist side by side in a work of art, if we are to call it poetry.

This may account for why the wise ancients restricted both poetry and the plastic arts to the human domain, because only those phenomena appertaining to (internal and external) man seemed to contain this lawfulness. An intellect better informed than ours, might perhaps demonstrate a similar lawfulness with respect to other natural things; but in our own experience they do not demonstrate this, but instead merely open up infinite vistas for sheer arbitrariness. The realm of determinate forms does not extend beyond our animal body and our human heart; hence it is only within these, that an ideal can be set forth. For art (as distinct from science), there exists no higher object in the world of phenomena than man himself; art’s province extends no further. For fine art (as distinct from agreeable art), there exists no object inferior to man himself, because below him, we are forever barred from the realm of necessity.

If the principles we have set forth here are indeed the correct ones (a judgment which we leave to connoisseurs of art), then our initial suspicions seem confirmed, namely, that very little good is to be had from landscape representations, and it becomes rather questionable whether the annexation of this vast province can be regarded as a true extension of the boundaries of fine art. Within those natural environs wherein the landscape painter and landscape poet have taken up residence, we already see quite a marked slackening in the determinacy of forms and mixtures thereof; not only are the images more random here, let alone their aura of arbitrariness; in their interconnection as well, the role played by accidental features becomes quite troublesome for the poet. Thus, whenever he presents us with determinate images in a determinate order, it is he, and not we, who does the determining, since in this case no objective standard is available by which the viewer’s free fantasy can coincide with the artist’s own idea. And so, we end up receiving from the poet’s hands the law which we should have been giving ourselves, and the effect is not a purely poetic one, to say the least, because it is not the perfectly free self-activity of our imaginative powers. But if, on the other hand, the artist wishes to preserve that freedom, he can do so only by dispensing with determinacy altogether, in which case he renounces all true beauty.

Nevertheless, this region of nature is by no means forever lost to fine art, and indeed, the principles we have just set forth reserve a very honorable rank for the poet who goes there for his thematic material. First of all, we cannot deny that, for all its seeming arbitrariness of forms, this realm of phenomena is nevertheless governed by a great unity and lawfulness, which the wise artist, in his imitations of nature, can guide along the proper pathways. Moreover, it must be noted that, although a great deal of determinacy must be abandoned in this field of art (because the parts tend to become engulfed by the whole, and the effect is only achieved through composites), it is still possible for the composition as a whole to be ruled by a great overriding necessity—as we see, for example, in painting, in the softening of harsh outlines and the blending of one color into the next.

But landscape nature does not exhibit this strict necessity in all its constituent parts, and even after the most profound study, the artist and poet will always be left with a very large residue of arbitrariness, shackling him to a lower level of perfection. The high degree of necessity which alone can satisfy the genuine artist and poet, but which he does not find here, lies within human nature, and therefore he will not rest, until he has succeeded in coaxing his object into the realm of supreme beauty. To be sure, he will, as much as possible, elevate landscape-nature for its own sake, and as befits the situation, he will seek within it the characteristic of necessity and attempt to represent this; but all his efforts notwithstanding, by this route he will never be able to place it on an equal footing with human necessity, and therefore he will ultimately resort to a symbolic operation which transforms that characteristic into human necessity, in order that he may partake of all the latter’s inherent artistic advantages.

But how can he bring this about, without thereby forcing a break with nature’s truth and its distinguishing characteristics? All true artists and poets working in this genre, perform this operation successfully, though in most cases they are unable to clearly account for what they are doing. There exist two routes by which inanimate nature can come to symbolize human nature: either as a representation of emotions, or as a representationa of ideas.

Emotions, of course, are by their very nature impossible to represent directly; but they can be represented with respect to their form, and indeed there already exists a much beloved and effective type of art, which derives its thematic material from just such forms of emotion. This art is called music, and insofar as landscape poetry acts musically upon us, it is a representation of our emotional faculties, and thus an imitation of human nature. Indeed, we may regard every pictorial or poetic composition as a species of music, which to some extent can be subjected to the same laws. We demand that, the painter’s colors have tone and harmony, and even something resembling modulation. In every poem, we recognize a distinction between its unity of thought and its unity of emotion, between its musical attitude and its logical construction—in short, we demand that in addition to what it expresses through its content, the poem’s form must be an imitation and expression of emotions, and must affect as a piece of music does. From the landscape painter and the landscape poet, we demand this to an even greater degree, and more consciously so, since in their case we must somewhat lower the standards we customarily apply to works of fine art.

The overall effect of music (by which we mean music as fine, and not merely agreeable art), consists in its ability to accompany the internal movements of the soul, and to make them sensuous by means of analogous external movements. Now, since these internal movements (i.e., human nature) proceed according to strict laws of necessity, this necessity and determinacy also becomes transferred to the external movements through which they are expressed, and in this way it becomes clear to us how, through the mediation of this symbolic act, the common natural phenomena of sound and light can participate in the aesthetic dignity of human nature. Thus, once the composer and the landscape painter has fathomed the secret of the laws governing the internal movements of the human heart, and has studied the analogies which emerge between these movements and specific external phenomena, he becomes transformed from a mere portrayer of common nature, into a true painter of human souls. Quitting the realm of arbitrariness and entering the realm of necessity, he may then confidently take his rightful place, not alongside the plastic artist whose object is external man, but alongside the poet, whose object is that which lies within.

But there is also a second route by which landscape-nature can be brought within humanity’s purview, namely, by having it become an expression of ideas. By ideas, however, we definitely do not mean whatever is aroused as the result of accidental associations; such a practice is arbitrary and altogether unworthy of art. Rather, we mean those ideas which necessarily proceed from the lawful operations of our imaginative powers. Within active souls, awakened to the feeling of their own moral dignity, reason is by no means a passive observer in the interplay of the imagination; rather, it unceasingly strives to reconcile this accidental interplay with its own operations. If among these images, reason locates one which can be treated according to its own (practical) maxims, then that image will become a sensuous representation of reason’s own actions; nature’s mute text will become a living language of the mind, and the same book of phenomena will be read in entirely different ways by the inward and by the outward eye. And now, that lovely harmony of shapes, of tones, and of light, which delights man’s aesthetic sense, will in that same moment also satisfy his sense of morality. The unbroken continuity with which lines in space, or tones in time merge into one another, is a natural symbol of the soul’s inner harmony with itself, and of the ethical connectedness of feelings and actions; and within the beautiful attitude evinced by a pictorial or musical work of art, we see the reflection of an even more beautiful, morally attuned soul.

The composer and the landscape poet achieve this effect solely by means of the form of their representation, and they merely attune the mind to certain types of emotions and ideas; it is left to the listener or observer’s own imaginative powers, to discern a content therein. The poet, for his part, enjoys one additional advantage: He can underlay those emotions with a specific text, i.e., he can utilize content to selectively reinforce and guide those symbolic forms within the imagination. But let him not forget, in the meantime, that there are well-defined limits to his intervention here. He may hint at those ideas, and he may allude to those emotions, but he must never lay them out explicitly, lest he encroach upon the reader’s own imaginative powers. Any further specification here would inevitably be perceived by the reader as an irksome restriction, since what makes such aesthetic ideas so appealing is precisely the fact, that we look at their content as into a bottomless depth. Whatever actual and explicit content the poet does incorporate, will always remain finite; the potential content which he leaves us to fill in, is infinitely great.

Our purpose in ranging this far afield, was not to distance ourselves from our poet, but on the contrary, it was so that we may approach him more closely. In most of his tableaux, Mr. M. unites all three of the above-named requirements for the representation of landscape. His works have a pleasing vividness and truth about them; we are tantalized by their musical beauty, and we become fully engaged by the spirit which breathes through them.

Provided we confine ourselves to examining how he faithfully imitates nature in his landscape tableaux, we can only marvel at the artistry with which he is able to challenge our imaginative powers to summon up these scenes, and how he can rule over our imagination without thereby depriving it of its freedom. We find all individual parts of these works ordered according to a single law of necessity; nothing has been extraneously introduced, and in one most happy glance, he has captured the universal character of these natural shapes. This is the reason why our imagination finds it so uncommonly easy to follow him; we believe we are beholding nature itself, and it seems as if we are merely abandoning ourselves to recollections of scenes we have witnessed in the past. He is also perfectly acquainted with the devices for giving his scenes life and sensuousness, and has an excellent knowledge of both the advantages and natural limitations of his art. Namely, he knows that, in this type of composition, the poet is put at a certain disadvantage with respect to the painter, because whereas his own ability to produce a desired effect relies in large part upon the immediate and simultaneous impression of the whole, he can only construct that whole sequentially over time within the reader’s imagination. His business is to represent not what exists, but what occurs, and provided he knows how to put this advantage to good use, he will always limit himself to that portion of his thematic material which can be represented genetically. Landscape-nature is by definition an entirety of phenomena beheld simultaneously, and in this respect it is a more propitious medium for the painter; but it is also an entirety when taken in succession, because it is in continuous flux, and to that extent it gives the poet the advantage. Mr. M. has displayed much good judgment by attuning himself to this distinction. He always selects as his object a complex of phenomena existing in time rather than in space, and he favors nature in motion over nature which is fixed and at rest. Before our eyes he unfolds her eternally changing drama, and her various phenomena are made to flow into each other with the most appealing continuous harmony. What tremendous life and movement greet us, for example, in his lovely Moonshine Scene, page 85:

Der Vollmond schwebt im Osten,
     Am alten Geisterturm
Flimmt bläulich im bemoosten
     Gestein der Feuerwurm.
Der Linde schöner Sylphe
     Streift scheu in Lunens Glanz;
Im dunkeln Uferschilfe
     Webt leichter Irrwischtanz.

Die Kirchenfenster schimmern;
     In Silber wallt das Korn;
Bewegte Sternchen flimmern
     Auf Teich und Wiesenborn;
Im Lichte wehn die Ranken
     Der öden Felsenkluft.
Den Berg, wo Tannen wanken,
     Umschleiert wei;dser Duft.

Wie schön der Mond die Wellen
     Des Erlenbachs besäumt,
Der hier durch Binsenstellen,
     Dort unter Blumen schäumt,
Als lodernde Kaskade
     Des Dorfes Mühle treibt,
Und wild vom lauten Rade
     In Silberfunken stäubt. Etc.
The full moon is hovering in the East;
     On the old ghost-tower
Is the bluish flicker
     Of fireflies among the moss-grown walls.
The linden-tree, beauteous sylph,
     Shyly flits in LunaÕs light.
Among the rushes by the shadowy bank,
     Weaves the dancing will-Õo-the-wisp.

The church-windows are a-gleaming;
     The corn sways in the silvery light;
The stars flicker, as if alive,
     On pools and meadow-springs;
Moonlight-lit vines rustle
     In the desolate ravine;
The mountain-top, where pine-trees sway,
     Is veiled in white mist.

How beautifully the Moon fringes
     The waves on the alder-brook;
It foams, here through sedgy places,
     There among the flowers,
And, as a blazing cascade,
     Drives the village mill,
And wildly leaves the noisy wheel
     In sprays of silver sparks. Etc.

But also in those instances where he sets out to place the entire scene before us in a single moment, he knows how to use continuous connectedness in order to bring it easily and naturally within our grasp, as in the following tableau:

Die Sonne sinkt; ein purpurfarbner Duft
     Schwimmt um Savoyens dunkle Tannenhügel,
Der Alpen Schnee entglüht in hoher Luft,
     Geneva malt sich in der Fluten Spiegel.

The sun is setting; a purple-hued mist
     Floats around Savoy’s dark, pine- wreathe
The alpine snow flares up in the mountain air;
     Geneva is painted below in the watery mirror.

Even though we take these images into our
imagination successively, we find that they easily fuse into a single totality, because each image reinforces, and, as it were, makes necessary the image which follows. In the next strophe, we find it somewhat more difficult to make this synthesis, since continuity is less strictly observed:

In Gold verflie;dst der Berggehölze Saum;
     Die Wiesenflur, beschneit von Blütenflocken,
Haucht Wohlgerüche; Zephyr atmet kaum;
     Vom Jura schallt der Klang der Herdenglocken.

The tips of the mountain-forest melt into gold;
     The meadow, snowy with flower-flakes
Exhales sweet odors; Zephyr barely breathes;
     From the Jura one hears the herd-bells ringing.

Here a leap is required on our part, in order to bring ourselves from the gilded mountain-tops to the fragrant, flower-strewn meadow; and we become all the more sensible of this leap, in that we must bring another of our five senses into play. But now again, how we admire his success in the following strophe:

Der Fischer singt im Kahne, der gemach
     Im roten Widerschein zum Ufer gleitet,
Wo der bemoosten Eiche Schattendach
     Die netzumhagne Wohnung überbreitet.

The fisherman sings in his bark, which gently,
     In the red after-glow, glides to shore,
Where the mossy oaks’ shady roof
     Spreads above the net-draped cottage.

If nature herself offers him no motion, then the poet will borrow motion from his own imaginative powers, and will populate that tranquil world with spirits, flitting about in the nebulous mist, or dancing in the shimmering moonlight. Or, it is the figures of classical antiquity who awaken within his memory to infuse a desolate landscape with artificial life. Associations such as these do not come to him willy-nilly; they arise as if out of necessity, either from the landscape’s locale, or from the nature of the emotions which that landscape arouses within him. Such associations, of course, are merely a subjective parallel to the landscape itself, but that parallel is so broadly universal, that the poet may confidently venture to give them an objective significance.

Mr. M. is no less conversant with the musical effects that can be produced through the appropriate choice of harmonizing images, and through the artful employment of eurythmy in their ordering. Who, for example, can help but experience something analogous to the impression left by a beautiful sonata, when he hears the following little song found on page 91:


     Goldner Schein
     Deckt den Hain
Mild beleuchtet Zauberschimmer
Der umbüschten Waldburg Trümmer.

     Still und hehr
     Strahlt das Meer;
Heimwärts gleiten, sanft wie Schwäne,
Fern am Eiland Fischerkähne.

     Blinkt am Strand;
Röter schweben hier, dort blässer,
Wolkenbilder im Gewässer.

     Rauschend kränzt
Wankend Ried des Vorlands Hügel,
Wild umschwärmt vom Seegeflügel.

     Im Gebüsch
Winkt mit Gärten, Laub und Quelle
Die bemooste Klausnerzelle.

     Auf der Flut
     Stirbt die Glut,
Schon erbla;dst der Abendschimmer
An der hohen Waldburg Trümmer.

     Deckt den Hain,
Geisterlispel wehn im Tale
Um versunkne Heldenmale.

Evening Landscape

     Golden light
     Bedecks the grove.
An enchanting twilight gently illuminates
The castle’s o’ergrown ruins.

     Still and sublime,
     The ocean gleams;
Homeward there glide, gentle as swans,
Fisher-boats near the far-off isle.

     Silvery sand
     Glitters on shore;
Redder here, paler there,
Cloud-images float upon the waves.

     Fluttering, rustling,
     Crown’d with gold,
The reeds encircle the foreland-hillock,
Wildly swarming with sea-fowl.

     From the thicket,
There beckons, with garden, foliage, spring,
The hermit’s moss-grown shanty.

     On the water
     The glow dies out;
Already, the evening glimmer grows pale
Across the lofty castle’s ruins.

     Light of the full moon
     Bedecks the grove;
In the valley float lisping spirit-voices
‘Round fallen heroes’ crumbled monuments.

We do not mean to imply that this poem’s felicitous construction is the sole reason why it has such a musical effect on us. Its metrical euphony certainly does act to support and elevate that effect; but that is not its cause. Rather, it is the poem’s felicitous juxtaposition of images, and the lovely continuity as each is succeeded by the next; it is the poem’s modulation, and its beautiful manner, which permits it to become the expression of a determinate mode of emotion, and thus to become a portrait of the human soul.

A similar effect, though with an entirely different content, is also evoked by The Mountain-Wanderer on page 61, and The Alpine Journey on page 66—two compositions in which the most successful representation of nature is united with the most elaborated expression of emotion. We imagine we are listening to the musical composer as he tests the limits of his power over our emotions; and what better vehicle for this, than a ramble through the alps, where the great and the beautiful, the terrifying and the ridiculous, succeed each other with such surprising abruptness.

Lastly, we find among these landscape tableaux, many which move us because of a certain pervading spirit or mode of expressing ideas, as in the very first poem in the collection, Lake Geneva. In this poem’s magnificant prelude, the victory of the living over the lifeless, of form over amorphous mass, is quite successfully placed before our senses. The poet opens the beautiful scene with a rearward glance into an earlier time, when the expanse now before him was still a wasteland:

     Da wälzte, wo im Abendlichte dort
Geneva, deine Zinnen sich erheben,
Der Rhodan seine Wogen traurend fort
Von schauervoller Haine Nacht umgeben.

     Da hörte deine Paradiesesflur
Du stilles Tal voll blühender Gehege,
Die gro;dsen Harmonien der Wildnis nur
Orkan und Tiergeheul und Donnerschläge

     Als senkte sich sein zweifelhafter Schein
Auf eines Weltballs ausgebrannte Trümmer,
So go;ds der Mond auf diese Wüstenein
Voll trüber Nebeldämmrung seine

     Where, now, in the twilight,
Geneva, your rooftops rise skyward,
The Rhodan’s waves rolled mournfully on,
Wrapt in eerie forest-night.

     You paradisiacal region,
You hushed valley filled with verdant gardens,
Heard only the great harmonies of the wild:
Gale and howl of beast and thunderclaps,

     As if its dubious light were falling
Upon a planet’s charred ruins—
So did the moon pour its glimmering
Onto these desolate reaches, filled with turbid twilight-mist.

And now the magnificent landscape is revealed to him, and in it he recognizes the site of those poetic scenes which remind him of the author of Heloise:

     Oh, Clarence! Thy name, peacefully erected             on the river-shore
Will live on in the Book of Ages.
Oh, Meillerie! Full of rough-hewn majesty!
Your fame will rise up to the stars.

     To thy summits, where the eagle hovers
And angry storms fall from the clouds,
Will the stranger, quaking with a sweet shudder,
Often make his pilgrimage, his loved one
           leaning on his arm.

      O Clarens! friedlich am Gestad
Dein Name wird im Buch der Zeiten leben.
O Meillerie! voll rauher Majestät!
Dein Ruhm wird zu den Sternen sich erheben.

     Zu deinen Gipfeln, wo der Adler schwebt,
Und aus Gewölk erzürnte Ströme fallen,
Wird oft, von sü;dsen Schauern tief durchbebt,
An der Geliebten Arm der Fremdling

How spirited, how heartfelt and picturesque he is up to this point! But now, the poet attempts to outdo himself, and this becomes his undoing. The strophes which follow, quite beautiful in themselves, come from the coldly calculating poet—not from his overflowing emotions, utterly enthralled with the here-and-now. If the poet’s heart had been entirely with his object, he would have found it impossible to tear himself away and transport himself elsewhere—now to Mt. Aetna, now to the Tibur, now to the Gulf of Naples, etc.—and this, not with mere passing references, but with a lingering attendance. We certainly admire his magnificent brushstrokes, but they blind us, rather than refresh us; a straightforward representation would have had much greater effect. All these changes in scenery end up distracting the mind to such an extent, that when the poet finally does return us to his main theme, we have lost all interest in it. And instead of reviving that interest, he weakens it still further, with the rather abrupt falling-off at the poem’s conclusion, which is so obviously at odds with the impetus with which he initially vaulted aloft and managed to sustain himself over such a long span. This is the third time Mr. M. has revised this poem, and we fear that in doing so, he has made it all the more necessary to undertake a fourth. The many different emotional dispositions which he allowed to influence him in these alterations, have done violence to the spirit which initially dictated it, and in becoming too richly endowed, the poem has lost much of its true content, which lies in its very simplicity.

But though we characterize Mr. M. as an excellent poetic composer of landscape scenes, far be it from us, to limit him to that sphere of endeavor. Even in this small collection, his poetic genius shines forth with equal success in quite diverse fields. His has quite successfully ventured into into the genre which involves free inventions of the imagination, and he has perfectly captured the spirit which must in fact govern this sort of poetry. Here, his imaginative powers appear in their unshackled splendor; but they are also evident in how they they harmonize most beautifully with the idea to be expressed. In the song entitled The Fairyland, the poet derides his own wayward fantasies with a great deal of good humor; everything here is just as colorful, just as lush, just as overladen, just as grotesque as is required by the character of this unruly genre of poetry; and in the Song of the Elves, everything is just as light, just as nebulous, just as ethereal as it ought to be in this little moonshine-world. Carefree, blissful sensuousness breathes throughout the pleasing little Song of the Fauns, and the gnomes show much candor as they blurt out the secret of their (and their consorts’) profession (see page 141):

Des Tagscheins Blendung drückt,
Nur Finsternis beglückt!
Drum hausen wir so gern
Tief in des Erdballs Kern.
Dort oben wo der Äther flammt,
Ward alles, was von Adam stammt,
Zu Licht und Glut mit Recht verdammt.
We are oppressed by the day’s blinding light;
Only darkness makes us happy!
That’s why we like so much to live
Deep in the globe’s core.
Up above, where the ether burns,
Everything which issued from Adam
Was justly condemned to light and heat.

Mr. M. is a very successful painter of emotions—not merely indirectly, through how he treats landscape scenes, but also in an immediate sense; and we can already anticipate in advance, that the poet who knows how to interest us so deeply in the inanimate world, will not emerge empty-handed from the the world of the animate, where the material is so much richer. We can likewise determine in advance, the approximate range of emotions upon which a muse so devoted to nature’s beauty, will doubtless dwell. Our poet will seek humanity, not within the bustling world at large, not in contrived society, but rather in solitude, within his own heart, in the simple situations of man’s original state. Friendship, love, religious emotions, childhood recollections, the joys of rural life, and the like will be the content of his songs—simple themes, those most closely allied with landscape nature, and with a clearly defined relationship to it. His muse is characterized by a touch of melancholy and a certain contemplative Schwärmerei, to which all sensitive individuals are inclined in the presence of nature’s beauty and solitude. In the tumult of society, each new mental image is ever crowding in upon the previous one, and our diversified nature does not always work to our own advantage; all the more reason to let simple nature around us stand in confirmation of our emotions, which we make into nature’s intimate friends; and through those emotions’ eternal unity, we rediscover our own unity as well. Herein lies the reason for the narrow scope within which our poet revolves—his long, drawn-out echoing of every sense-impression, his frequent recourse to the same feeling-states. The emotions which flow from nature’s wellspring lack variation, and are rather sparse; whereas the elements which coalesce into more subtle nuances and synthesized mixtures in the course of the world’s tangled interplay, constitute an inexhaustible source of material for the painter of human souls. The simple emotions can easily become tiresome, because there is too little to work through; but we like to return to them ever and again, and we rejoice whenever we see those synthetic manners—which frequently are mere degenerations—restored to their original state of humanity. If the cultured individual is to benefit from this reversion to the Saturnine age and to nature’s simplicity, then that simplicity must appear as a work of freedom—not of necessity; it must be that nature, which culminates in the moral human being—not that which begins with his physical being. Therefore, if the poet wishes to draw us away from the crowd and into his own solitary world, his revulsion toward all artifice, and his love for nature, must arise from a need, not for relaxation, but for a heightening of tension, and from a yearning, not for peace, but for harmony. It is not because the moral world conflicts with the poet’s theoretical world, but rather, because the moral world conflicts with his own practical potential, that he must look around for a Tibur, and must seek refuge in the world of inanimate things.

This certainly requires, that the poet apply something more than the paltry skill of contrasting nature with artifice—a talent which frequently comprises the idyllic poet’s entire instrumentarium. The poet’s heart must be on intimate terms with the highest beauty, if, amid all the influences of the most refined culture, it is to keep that simplicity of emotions, which alone lends them dignity. Such a heart betrays its presence through the richness which it manages to conceal within even the most modest form; through the nobility which it imparts even to flights of fancy and mood; through the discipline with which it reins itself in, even in its most glorious triumphs; through the unspoiled innocence of its emotions. It betrays its presence through its irresistible and truly magical power, which draws us toward it, holds us fast, and, as we do homage to its dignity, in effect, obliges us to remember our own.

Mr. M. has laid claim to this title in a manner which should satisfy even the severest judge. Anyone who can compose a fantasia such as his Elysium (page 34), who is an initiate into the innermost secrets of the art of poetry, and a disciple of true beauty—is fully entitled to this distinction. Through his intimate intercourse with nature and with classical models, his spirit has been nourished, his taste purified, and his moral grace preserved; his poems are alive with a cheerful, genuine humanity, and the beautiful images of nature are flawlessly reflected in the becalmed clarity of his mind, as in a mirror-smooth pool of water. In every one of his works, we observe a discrimination, a sense of what is fitting, an internal rigor, an untiring quest for the maximum of beauty. He has already accomplished much, and we might hope, that he has yet to reach his limits. But now that he has tested his wings in more humble surroundings, it is up to him to soar higher; to place a profound meaning within the raiments of his imagination’s graceful forms and the music of his language; to people his landscapes with human figures, and to paint active humanity upon this attractive ground. A humble distrust in one’s own powers is always the mark of a true talent; but courage is also in order, and as beautiful as it is, when the conqueror of Python exchanges his fearsome bow for a lyre, so it is great to behold Achilles when, from amongst a group of Thessalonian maidens, the hero all at once straightens himself and stands upright.

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