Stefan George

Stefan George

Stefan George

Stefan George

Excerpt

Unlike his contemporaries Rilke and Thomas Mann, Stefan George has not excited great interest in the reading world out. side his native country. Few translations of his poetry have appeared in English and only occasional essays have attempted an assessment of his place in modern European poetry. Even in Germany he has not yet been given his definite place in the order of its poets. For his importance has been much disputed, and like Helena in the second part of Goethe Faust he appears as one greatly admired but also greatly blamed. The admiration and the blame have concerned themselves not merely with his poetry but with his personality, and the influence which his personality had upon his contemporaries. That his poetry is cold, mannered, too consciously willed, unmusical, is the charge brought against it by his detractors; whilst as a personality he has been charged with self-glorification, arrogance and the perversion of youth, now towards aestheticism, now towards Nazism.

A forceful and compelling personality may be an asset to a poet; it is not necessarily one. Considered in itself its drawback is that its greatest effectiveness can be felt only by those who come into immediate contact with it -- a limited number of persons; the wider public knows of it only in so far as it is revealed in his poetry or -- more debatably -- through rumours and reports, and these tend on the whole to arouse aversion rather than sympathy. Thus there was a George-legend, the reaction to which was vaguely hostile among the general public in Germany before there was any wide-spread acquaintance with the poet's actual works. Some excuse for this hostile attitude to George amongst the general public may be found in the deliberate exclusiveness of the appeal which the poet made. Some years passed and a number of volumes had been printed before the actual publication of his works took place in the ordinary way. The earlier volumes were addressed to and accessible only to an élite. Only slowly and with the passing of years did George acquire a 'public' and that a restricted one, so that it can be said that his works never penetrated into the consciousness -- far less the affection -- of a wide public, nor indeed did he ever wish them to do so.

In 1914 when Der Stern des Bundes became to some extent the breviary of the young intellectuals who set forth to war, they were taking with them a book which was originally intended for a circle of initiates. Some of Rilke's works, notably the Cornet and Die Geschichten vom lieben Gott, became popular; no work . . .

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