Goethe insisted that it was the characteristic of all art that it was not nature; and the demand that art should be 'natural' is made only by those who have failed to recognize that essential distinction. As long as the divergencies of art from nature do not obtrude themselves -- for they are present in all art -- they are tacitly accepted and overlooked. But the artist who, like George, makes it clear that he is fully aware of the distinction and is working in accordance with this awareness, creates a stumbling block which makes his acceptance by the general public difficult and exposes him to resentment and often ridicule. This was the situation in which George found himself during the greater part of his creative life as a poet in regard to all but a small and discriminating body of readers.


V

In the growing uncertainty and questioning of values in the second half of the nineteenth century art became a moral problem which found expression in the writings of various investigators into the nature of society, notably in the works of Tolstoi. In Germany the dramatist and critic Paul Ernst found it necessary to assign to art an ethical function as a means of educating 'das Volk' before he could with a quietened conscience devote himself to literature as a profession. Ten years later in the early writings of Thomas Mann the dubiety of art became one of the main themes. For Stefan George however no such problem arose. But the unquestioned acceptance of aestheticism with him is made possible by the assimilation to it of two essentially ethical ideas, the ideas of dedication ( Weihe) and discipline ( Zucht). These are the controlling forces to which all the poetry of George is subject; and they manifestly imply a sense of responsibility in the practice of his art, which may be implicit in many poets but is rarely so explicitly revealed as in George. The first poem in the early Hymnen is entitled Weihe. Thus the theme is announced from the beginning, and in some of the other early poems its importance is illustrated by references to another element, Leidenschaft (passion), which, since it is inimical to the poet's absolute dedication to his art is represented as an invasion of the sanctuary of poetry by the emotions of ordinary life. The expression of Zucht in the world of art is crystallized in the idea of form, that is to say in the unremitting effort of the poet to achieve perfection of form. With Paul Ernst the idea of form is screwed up into a sort of moral compulsion and converted into an operative element in

-31-

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Stefan George
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Introduction 9
  • I 11
  • II 18
  • III 20
  • IV 26
  • V 31
  • VI 45
  • VII 56
  • Appendix 59
  • Biographical Dates 62
  • Select Bibliography 63
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