George, Stefan (1868–1933)
From the 1890s onwards, George attempted to revive the German lyric tradition, which had long since dwindled into imitations of romantic poetry. His poetry is associated with the Jugendstil art movement, from 1895 to 1905, which valued a functional, linear ornamentation. He envisaged an alternative to the materialism of Wilhelmine society through his symbolist poetry which excluded everyday discourse, and through the “George-Circle” of his male disciples, with whom he published the Blätter für Kunst (1892–1919, Papers for Art), a journal of their work.
George’s collections of the 1890s, such as Hymnen (1890, Hymns), Pilgerfahrten (1891, Pilgrimages), and Der Teppich des Lebens (1899, The Carpet of Life), are a series of attempts to overcome the world suffering of the poet’s alienation from society and nature, in a style which rejected romantic subjectivity. His poetic heroes include the beautiful and hedonistic Roman emperor of the collection Algabal (1892), who tragically imposes his aestheticism on the world, destroyed by the mob which represents a vulgar reality. Also, in Die Bücher der Hirten—und Preisgedichte der Sagen und Sänge und der Hängenden Gärten (1895, The Books of Shepherds—and Prize Poetry of Speeches and Songs and the Hanging Gardens), a poet-king is split between his desires for political power and the power to create beauty. These figures represent George’s concern with the incongruity between aesthetic and social realities. He suggests a solution to this problem in Das Jahr der Seele (1897, The Year of the Soul), in which the poet addresses himself as a Christ figure who can redeem the world through “The lights that shine from your wounds;” he acknowledges the death of his “youth in all its freshness,” and rejects his feelings of social alienation, to embrace his role as a “seer” and “guide” for his disciples.
George’s poetry after the turn of the century attempted to inspire his disciples with a sense of beauty, and guidance in action. Perhaps the most significant event of his life was meeting Maximilian Kronberger, a physically beautiful, aspiring poet who died at the age of sixteen years. George immortalized him as “Maximin” in Der siebente Ring (1907, The Seventh Ring), as the Greek ideal of harmonious mind and body, and potential savior for modern society. Maximin remains an important figure throughout the rest of George’s poetry, symbolizing the younger generation of a possible Hellenic future in Der Stern des Bundes (1914, The Leagues of the Star). Yet the First World War destroyed George’s cultural optimism, and his career as a poet ended in 1920.