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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

FROM  BAHR  TO  DEHMEL                         Il$

Manche Nacht, and Die stille Stadt are the most famous. Aus banger
Brust is such a night-piece, but the thrill of this *Ehemannsgedicht is
in the unashamed image of copulation. Much quoted is the L<?//-
wort of the original edition: 'Erst mnn der Geist vonjedem Zweck
genesen \ undnicbts mehrwissen will als seine Triebe, \ dann offenbartsich
ibm das weise Wesen \ verliebter Torheit und der grossen Liebe*; this
agrees with Nietzsche's command that we should clasp our pas-
sions to our bosoms as our highest aim. All this sexualism of
Dehmel hardly seems compatible with a gentleman's respect for
ladies, which does exist in Germany, even when as in Eduard von
Keyserling's Baltic novels there may be one woman for respect
and another for passion.

The drama of DehmePs second marriage provides the matter of
the curious connubial epic Zwei Menschen (1903). Dehmel regarded
it as a cycle of ballads, but ballads stripped of antique flummery,
and modern because the experience transmutes the physical thrill
of sex to spirituality; he wrote to Frau Isi in an early stage of their
acquaintance: 'Ich babe die "Form der neuen 'Balladegefunden^ die keines
antiquarischen Mummenscban^es bedarf^ und eine Form, die es erlaubt, in
tausend Variationen ein gan^es Seelenleben und Menschenscbicksal vor^u-
fuhren* The classification of the poem as a ILoman^enroman is satis-
fying: it is a novel made up of linked lyric snatches - a JLoman^ero
loosely in Heine's sense (not in the Spanish sense of a ballad col-
lection). FERDINAND AVENARius1 (1856-1920) had made much of
his idea of a lyric epic, but his "Lebe (1893) is not a novel; nearer
to Dehmel's innovation is Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the
House. But what a difference in spirit! The English poet does not
shirk the physical implications of marriage, but the very idea of
his poem is to glorify wedded love as spiritual communion and
social decency. Dehmel's poem on the other hand is a defiant
challenge to accepted notions of decency. The animality of love is
stressed, and there are renderings of physical passion made quiver-
ingly perceptible by the rise and fall of the rhythm. The violence
is sometimes appalling. The story itself is admittedly ridiculous:
the architect Lux at some duodecimo German court or other pur-
loins papers and has a love-affair with Lea, the wife of the ruling
prince. She kills her blind baby. The wife of Lux dies; Lea says:

1 He founded (1887) and edited Der Kunstwart, one of the most important
literary journals of the period. His volumes of verse are Wandern und Werden
(1881) and Stimmen und'Bilder (1898).