Bürger's Ballad "Lenore": En Route to Dracula
David B. Dickens
As the year 1997, the centennial year of Dracula and simultaneously the sesquicentennial of Stoker's birth, approaches, we might make note of another anniversary as well. The year 1994 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Gottfried August Bürger. Some may react with indifference, but careful reading of Stoker's novel reveals sound reasons why we should consider Bürger and one of his most famous poems, the ballad "Lenore" of 1773, in conjunction with Dracula.
The next-to-last leg of Jonathan Harker's trip to meet Dracula is from Bistritz to the Borgo Pass where Harker is to change to the count's carriage. Warnings, fearful glances, and ominous adumbrations such as blessings, the sign of the cross, and the gift of a crucifix mark the time that he spends at his hotel in Bistritz and continue during the next day's long trip. Just before he leaves the carriage and his fellow passengers, one of them whispers to another, "Denn die Toten reiten schnell." 1 Not only does Stroker quote the original German: we further read that Harker recognizes "the line from Bürger 'Lenore'" at once, and even the driver of the coach "evidently heard the words, for he looked up with a gleaming smile" (14).
If such minor characters, two unidentified passengers and the coach driver, all recognize the line, and if it also registers immediately--and somewhat ominously--upon Harker himself, then surely there is reason for the reader to pause. Just who was Bürger? Is the reference to "Lenore" restricted to this passage alone? And if not, then what is the function of the poem within the larger context of the novel Dracula?
Gottfried August Bürger was a poet associated with German literature's "Storm and Stress" movement during the the last third of the eighteenth century. He was born in 1747 to a small-town cleric and his cantankerous wife who showed little interest in their son's upbringing or education. A certain provincialism clung to Bürger throughout his life despite frequent efforts to break out of it. Fortunately the boy came to the attention of a stern grandfather who saw things that the parents did not. Thus