Essays in German and Comparative Literature

By Oskar Seidlin | Go to book overview

EICHENDORFF'S SYMBOLIC LANDSCAPE

It seems to me one of the most exciting and baffling characteristics of Eichendorff's art that, if I may use this paradox, his most profound insights are hidden on the surface. They travel, a strangely elusive contraband, in the full light of day, so that the last truths of his poetic vision, the whole web of his religious beliefs, his intellectual conceptions, his socio-ethical postulates transform themselves into the most deceptively simple folktunes, sung by his people with an ease and unconcern usually assigned in the secular psalter of a nation to that section which is headed "folk song, author unknown." Goethe's solemn warning with regard to the ultimate secret and mystery of life, his injunction "Tell it no one but the sages," was utterly lost on Eichendorff. He told it to every listening ear; and so it could happen that what in reality was an exploration and manifestation of truth, the poetic transmission of knowledge, was taken--or mistaken--as a bewitching play of lyrical mood and atmosphere.1 A comprehensive and integrated view of life thus turned in the public's hand into a picture book, lovely and self-contained, easy to peruse; and for the reader it was easy to absorb its sensuous refulgence without comprehending the meaning of design, color, and composition.

Since this is the situation, it may not be amiss to focus, when searching for some of the hidden secrets of Eichendorff's art, on the smooth surface, to start with one of his most popular songs, a favorite with every youngster--and every Männerchor. Here is its third stanza:

Da steht im Wald geschrieben
Ein stilles, ernstes Wort
Vom rechten Tun und Lieben,
Und was des Menschen Hort.
Ich habe treu gelesen
Die Worte schlicht und wahr,
Und durch mein ganzes Wesen
Ward's unaussprechlich klar
.2

____________________
1
Even so discerning and recent a critic as Otto F. Bollnow, Unruhe und Geborgenheit ( Stuttgart, 1953), p. 146, labels Eichendorff poetry as "im ausgeprägtesten Sinne Stimmungsdichtung." In his chapter on Eichendorff in Geist der Goethezeit, IV ( Leipzig, 1953), 232-246, Hermann A. Korff shows a curious indecision whether to see in Eichendorff a creator of symbols or a weaver of bewitching moods. After some interesting initial attempts at interpretation, Korff loses himself in the shopworn generalities about music, spell, mood pictures.
2
Eichendorffs Werke, ( Stuttgart: Cotta, 1953), 1, 36. Throughout this

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