Although there were two or three attempts to enlist Whitman for the national-socialist ideology by turning him into a "Germanic bard," he stressed democracy and internationalism too often to be useful to the ideology of the Third Reich. Lersch was part of a group of poets who were Whitman devotees in their early years and who found that some of the rhetoric they had learned from Whitman was applicable in the Nazi context. Some of Whitman's imagery of blood, soil, and even women came fairly close to the Nazis' rhetoric of the German character, the German homeland, the German earth, and the German mother.
The Nazis thus preempted the possibility of a wide use of Whitman's poetry for the anti-Nazi struggle waged by German exiles, and they also prevented a true Whitman renaissance after World War II.
Although several new volumes of Whitman's works appeared after , including a number of new translations, Whitman's reception since World War II has hardly equaled the enthusiasm of the years between and But even the GDR, a country professing a "messianic" ideology, did not attempt to use the powerful appeal of Whitman's rhetoric. The excellent translation by the GDR author Erich Arendt, who had come know Whitman during his exile in Latin America, is hardly reminiscent of the passion of the earlier translations.
Rather, Whitman seems to have been important as a point of convergence between the interests of mostly young GDR readers and the official cultural policies of the state. Because of the interest shown in Whitman by revolutionaries such as Freiligrath, or the first Soviet commissar of culture, Anatoly Lunacharsky, or especially their own Johannes R.
Becher, the soundness and usefulness of Whitman's poetry were guaranteed in the GDR, where it always remained available in cheap, attractive editions. The GDR audience, on the other hand, fascinated by America and American literature, was interested in Whitman as the representative of a foreign culture to which they had little access physically, intellectually, or artistically.
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In the first complete German edition of Specimen Days , translated by a GDR translator, was expertly edited by Eva Manske, a specialist in American literature from Leipzig, whose open-minded and inspiring afterword already anticipated the later developments in that country. Although the German-speaking literary world has acknowledged Whitman to be a classic author and even though he has become the subject of academic inquiry at German, Austrian, and Swiss universities, Whitman's poetry continues to provoke important reactions on the part of creative writers themselves.
Lyrical replies to Whitman have always been a measure of his continuing vitality, and German poets have talked back to him frequently and energetically see selections 9— Christian Morgenstern — , a poet, translator, and journalist, had a number of uses for Whitman's poetry. Here I include a second "Whitman poem" which, in a much more earnest fashion, explores Whitman's internationalist theme, always a favorite among Germans.
Morgenstern, with his extreme dislike of the German bourgeois life-style, obviously saw Whitman's globalist poetry and his lyrical America as antidotes to the stuffiness of German life. In he went to Berlin, where he became acquainted with Georg Heym, one of the most significant German expressionist poets.
In he moved to Marburg and graduated with a doctorate in law two years later. He lived as a businessman in Frankfurt until , when he was forced to emigrate to the United States. He died in New York in During Drey's short literary career, he contributed to the important expressionist journals Der Sturm and Die Aktion. His poem "Walt Whitman" demonstrates the expressionists' exaggerated adoration of Whitman as a human being, a poet, and a God-like giant.
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The poem not only reflects expressionist enthusiasm for Whitman but is at the same time a measure of the alienation of these poets. Quite obviously, Whitman is the receptacle of the projections designed to compensate for their imagined and real deficits as poets and human beings. Their characterizations of Whitman with terms such as "Titan" or, in the poem by Carl Albert Lange, "Giant" suggest the degree to which the human individual is dwarfed by modern technology and industrial society.
The violent emotions they ascribe to Whitman, as exaggerated as comic book characterizations, are indicative of the impossibility of expressing subjectivity in a mechanized and controlled society. The two poems by Swiss writers Gustav Gamper — and Hans Reinhart — appeared next to each other in a Swiss literary journal in , along with Gamper's woodcut of Whitman. These poems are more constrained and devout, exuding a feeling of religiosity, but otherwise they are very similar to the exaggerated diction of the expressionists. Gamper, a native of Trogen, Switzerland, was a poet, musician, and painter.
Whitman was the great experience of his life, a model to follow throughout his career. Reinhart, a friend of Gamper's, was born in Winterthur, Switzerland. Descended from a wealthy family, he studied in Germany, Switzerland, and France and traveled widely.
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He was influenced by anthroposophy after a trip to India in and devoted his career to poetry, drama, and prose, as well as to local cultural activities in his hometown. He also translated individual poems by Whitman.
The pale blue dot – Der blaue Punkt im All
The poem by Carl Albert Lange — seems to be from the same expressionist school as Drey's, although Lange is not usually included with the expressionist movement. He was born in Hamburg as a son of a music teacher. In he was called to military duty and was a Russian POW from to ; these years in Siberia led him to literature. For the most part, he wrote poetry and prose, but he also translated from several languages.
Although his work was repeatedly recognized by several prominent German critics and writers, Lange never established himself as a major twentieth-century voice in German poetry. Not all Germans, however, were uncritical admirers of Whitman. Already one year before the appearance of Lange's poem, in , Kurt Tucholsky, one of the great German satirists, wrote a parody of "Salut au Monde!
Tucholsky frequently used "Ignaz Wrobel" as a pseudonym.
The "Walt Wrobel" in the poem is Tucholsky turned into Whitman—or the other way around. Whitman's spiritualized epistemological optimism is shown to be unfounded; the wealth of all appearances could not possibly be grasped by the five senses. Paradoxically, the senses mediate mainly one thing—pain. Whitman's global panorama is here replaced by ridiculous local observations from the author's everyday life. At the very best, it is slightly humorous—something Whitman's poem is certainly not.
In spite of this parody's implicit biting criticism, Tucholsky, like other writers critical of Whitman's optimism, nonetheless admired the American as a great poet. On a poetry manuscript by the young German poet Walter Bauer, he commented, "I am much more interested in your intellectual parents than in your professional aspirations. Just so there are no misunderstandings: this does not change anything, not in the least, about the value of poems. Their rhymelessness is almost a matter of course. The sonnet by Johannes R.
Becher — was probably written in the early s when he was in Soviet exile. In his youth and early manhood, Becher was a devout Whitmanite; later he programmatically declared his conversion from Whitman to Marx and Lenin. Yet, like many other Marxists, he continued to admire Whitman, even though the sonnet form of the poem included here suggests that the nature of this admiration had changed. Becher, first minister of culture in the GDR, was an influential, although self-serving, cultural politician, whose interest in Whitman helped to insure the poet's "survival" in the GDR.
Gabriele Eckart born in is one of the most gifted lyricists in contemporary German literature.
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At the time she wrote the poem included here, she was still in high school. Her "search for metres," in the course of which she encountered Whitman, already points to the original poetry she would write in the future. By the mids, Eckart had become a dissident writer and eventually removed to the United States. The poem by Wellbrock born in , a Berlin-based writer of poems, short stories, and radio plays, is explicitly critical of Whitman and Whitman's rhetoric, yet it testifies to the power of Whitman's voice and the necessity for every poet to come to terms with it.
Wellbrock himself speaks of his "ambivalent" attitude toward Whitman, whose expansiveness and freedom he admires but whose rhetoric and glorification of strength and body offend him. The poem is a clever montage of Whitman quotations that have become famous in Germany; Wellbrock carefully refutes each one. No German poet has "talked back" in a more radical fashion to Whitman than Wellbrock. It remains unclear whether it is Whitman's belief in progress that is targeted here or whether the poem attempts to show that our plastic era does not do justice to our cultural-humanist legacy, the Bible, or Whitman; both interpretations seem possible.
Sahl, born in Dresden in , was one of the most prominent German exiles in the literary field. Since he has worked as a cultural correspondent for several German-language dailies. He is also a prominent translator of American dramatists among them Williams, Miller, and Wilder. The poem is the sophisticated product of a truly bicultural mind and deserves an important place in German-American literature.
He became a bookseller, worked as a nurse's assistant, then studied medicine in Leipzig, where he specialized in internal medicine. This part-time poet's direct address to Whitman confronts the frequent attempts to pronounce Whitman dead. Yet, to this poet writing in the "mid-age" years of tranquility and "maturity," Whitman is still as provocative as ever. Kluge writes that "for somebody who was forced to live in a walled-in country, it can be a revelation to see the upright posture of a human being: self-determined instead of other-directedness, sensuality instead of prudishness, love of truth rather than hypocrisy.
To me, Walt Whitman was a great help. In a country where walls have come down, Whitman's German reception will no doubt develop in new and unsuspected ways as a result of the radical changes in East-Central Europe. Whereas the changes in Eastern and East-Central Europe have muted Marxist voices and thus also Marxist respondents to Whitman, a new kind of response is struck by Rolf Schwendter pseudonym of Rudolf Schesswendtner , born in in Vienna.
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A professor of sociology at the University of Kassel in Germany, Schwendter's academic interests include subcultures, future studies, and research into social and cultural deviancy. His poem "You I Sing, Socialism" was written for the festival of the Austrian Communist press in Vienna and targets both conservative and Marxist orthodoxies from a libertarian, independently leftist point of view.
For the first time, Whitman's pluralist aesthetics have been appreciated by a leftist recipient. While it lacks Whitman's lyrical vision, Schwendter's poem is a programmatic and sophisticated piece of work, and it synthesizes the tradition of German responses to Whitman, while it opens up new modes of creative political interpretations of his poetry.
The answer is, a poet! A new American poet! His admirers say, the first, the only poet America has as yet produced. The only American poet of specific character.