Modern German Poetry, 1910-1960

Excerpt

This book is an anthology of modern German poems in English verse translation. The period involved is the half-century between 1910 and 1960; and the accent is on Expressionism. Since Expressionism initiated modern style in German poetry, most of this introduction is devoted to a discussion of it. And since the accent is on Expressionism, certain poets had to be omitted. Most of the poets omitted fall into four categories, which overlap at points: (1) those Naturalists, Impressionists and Symbolists whose work is either anchored in nineteenth century conventions, or not directly modern in style or outlook (e.g., Liliencron, Dehmel, George); (2) those poets whose work appeared well into this century but who were not affected by modernist techniques (e.g., Schröder, Borchardt, Carossa); (3) those poets who anticipated Expressionism in certain poems, but whose style or outlook is not central to it (e.g., Mombert, Dauthendey); and (4) poets of those bizarre, demi-prophetic, quasi-religious or otherwise quixotic groups which may be typical of the epoch but do not invariably claim attention as sources either of its best or even of its more charactered writing (e.g., Pannwitz, zur Linde, Derleth). There is, however, one other category of poets omitted: those, like Elisabeth Langgässer or Nelly Sachs, whose work resisted translation or could only be turned into versions which gave that impression. We hope that readers will have the charity to find this category not too large.

The word Expressionist is sometimes loosely applied to style in painting and poetry other and older than that which began to take shape in Germany around 1910. This is in part due to the fact that Expressionism was one of the slogans popularized by the revolution which affected all the arts soon after the beginning of this century, and which made it possible and desirable to revaluate certain antecedents. With this revaluation it was found that some of the work of older poets and artists (not to mention 'primitives') was not merely failed mimesis, art which failed to represent or to imitate observable realities, or art which was untrue to Classical principles. On the contrary, it was art which had distinct laws of its own, art . . .

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