August 2, 2014
Stefan Anton George (Germany)1868-1933
Stefan George was born on July 12, 1868 in Bingen, German in the Prussian Rhine Provence, now the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
As a young man, George attended the Gymnasium in Darmstadt before traveling to England, Switzerland, and France. In Paris he studied philosophy and art history, regularly attending the Tuesday soirées of French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and becoming involved with other members of the so-called Symbolist movement.
Upon his return to Germany, the young poet divided his time between Berlin, Munich, and Heildelberg, founding his own literary group, the George-Kreis, among whose members included Friedrich Dundolf, Karl Wolfskehl, Ludwig Klages and George Simmel. The journal of the group, founded by George, was Blätter für die Kunst, was published from 1892 to 1919, arguing for a revitalization of German literary language.
George argued for a new aesthetic of German poetry, avoiding what he described as impure rhymes and metrical irregularities. Vowels and consonants were arranged with precision to achieve harmony. His argument against the debasement of the German language also advocated against materialism and naturalism, and the group often shared cultural interests that included mysticism and moralized political themes within their work.
As a homosexual, George exhorted his younger friends to live a celibate life as he, himself, did. He befriended the self-described “Bohemian Countess” of Schwabing, Fanny zu Reventlow, who, although admiring of George and his circle, she sometimes satirized him and his circle for their melodramatic actions and views.
In 1914, at the start of World War I, George wrote the highly pessimistic poem Der Krieg (The War) which foretold, in part, the disaster of the war surrounding him.
George’s sense of aloofness and superiority, his love of power, and lofty sense of humanism also attracted the conservative elements of German society. By 1933, the year of his death, George was celebrated in the National Socialist circles, and Joseph Goebbels offered him the presidency of a new Academy for the arts. As admirers of the George-Kreis celebrated his 65th birthday, however, the poem himself refused to participate in events, traveling to Locarno, Switzerland, where he died. His body was interred before a delegation of National Socialist government officials could attend the ceremony.
George’s collected works are represented in 18 volumes as Gesantausgabe, 1927-34, which also includes five volumes of his translations and one of his prose sketches. Among his notable books of poetry were Hymnen (1890), Pilgerfahrten (1891), Algabal (1892, love poetry devoted to a gifted adolescent, Maximilian Kronberger, whom George had befriended), Das Jahr der Seele (1897), Der Teppich des Lebens (1899), Der siebente Ring (1907), Der Stern des Bundes (1914), and Das neue Reich (1928).
George dedicated his work of 1922, Geheimes Deutschland (Secret Germany) to Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg—a friend also of George’s poetic follower, Karl Wolfskehl—who took part in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Outside his own circle, George’s major influence was upon the music of the Second Viennese School of composers, particularly those, like Arnold Schoenberg, involved with Expressionism. Anton Webern used George’s verse in his early choral work Entflieht auf leichtern Kähnen.