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|Born||Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern
6 May 1871
|Died||31 March 1914
Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern (6 May 1871 – 31 March 1914) was a German author and poet from Munich. Morgenstern married Margareta Gosebruch von Liechtenstern on 7 March 1910. He worked for a while as a journalist in Berlin, but spent much of his life traveling through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, primarily in a vain attempt to recover his health. His travels, though they failed to restore him to health, allowed him to meet many of the foremost literary and philosophical figures of his time in central Europe.
Morgenstern's poetry, much of which was inspired by English literary nonsense, is immensely popular, even though he enjoyed very little success during his lifetime. He made fun of scholasticism, e.g. literary criticism in "Drei Hasen", grammar in "Der Werwolf", narrow-mindedness in "Der Gaul", and symbolism in "Der Wasseresel". In "Scholastikerprobleme" he discussed how many angels could sit on a needle. Still many Germans know some of his poems and quotations by heart, e.g. the following line from "The Impossible Fact" ("Die unmögliche Tatsache", 1910):
- Weil, so schließt er messerscharf / Nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.
- "For, he reasons pointedly / That which must not, can not be."
Embedded in his humorous poetry is a subtle metaphysical streak, as e.g. in "Vice Versa", (1905):
Ein Hase sitzt auf einer Wiese,
"A rabbit in his meadow lair
Morgenstern was a member of the General Anthroposophical Society. Dr. Rudolf Steiner called him 'a true representative of Anthroposophy'.
Morgenstern died in 1914 of tuberculosis, which he had contracted from his mother, who died in 1881.
Morgenstern's best known works are the Galgenlieder (Gallows Songs, 1905), eight of which were used in a song cycle by Jan Koetsier for soprano and tuba, five in a song cycle by Siegfried Strohbach for male choir a cappella. This volume of humorous verses was followed by Palmström in 1910. Published posthumously were the important companion volumes Palma Kunkel in 1916, Der Gingganz in 1919, and Alle Galgenlieder in 1932. In German these works have gone through dozens of different editions and reprints and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. English translations include:
- The Gallows Songs. Christian Morgenstern's Galgenlieder, translated by Max Knight (University of California Press, 1964).
- Gallows Songs, translated by W.D. Snodgrass and Lore Segal (Michigan Press, 1967).
- Songs from the Gallows: Galgenlieder, translated by Walter Arndt (Yale University Press, 1993).
- Lullabies, Lyrics and Gallows Songs, translated by Anthea Bell with illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger (North South Books, 1995).
A number of these poems were translated into English by Jerome Lettvin with explanations of Morgensterns wordplay methods and their relationship to Lewis Carroll's methods. These were published in a journal called The Fat Abbot in the Fall Winter 1962 edition, along with an essay illuminating subtle characteristics of the originals.
To get this research undertook
ONTOLOGY RECAPITULATES PHILOLOGY
One night, a werewolf, having dined,
Once there was a picket fence
When Anthony addressed the fishes
The Moonsheep cropped the Furthest Clearing,
Σ Ξ MAN MET A Π MAN
After many "if"s and "but"s,
When I sit, I sitting, tend
Zwei Trichter wandeln durch die Nacht.
Through darkest night two funnels go;
Christian Morgenstern was also an acclaimed translator, rendering into German various prominent works from Norwegian and French, including the dramas and poems of Henrik Ibsen, Knut Hamsun, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and August Strindberg.
Morgenstern's poems have been set to music by composers such as Erik Bergman (four Galgenlieder, Das große Lalula, Tapetenblume, Igel und Agel, Unter Zeiten), Hanns Eisler, Sofia Gubaidulina, Paul Graener, Friedrich Gulda, Paul Hindemith, Robert Kahn, Yrjö Kilpinen, Matyas Seiber (Two Madrigals and Three Morgenstern Lieder for soprano and clarinet), Rudi Spring (Galgenliederbuch nach Gedichten von Christian Morgenstern op. 19), Siegfried Strohbach (5 Galgenlieder) and Graham Waterhouse (Gruselett, Der Werwolf).
Essays, reviews and aphorisms
In his early years Christian Morgenstern wrote a considerable number of essays and reviews for various German periodicals. They have been collected together and published in Volume 6 (Kritische Schriften, 1987) of the German collected works of Morgenstern. His philosophical and mythical works were largely influenced by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the Austrian educationalist Rudolf Steiner (the originator of anthroposophy and the Waldorf school movement), and the Russian writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy.
Perhaps Morgenstern's most philosophical volume is a collection of aphorisms published posthumously in 1918 entitled Stufen: Eine Entwickelung in Aphorismen und Tagebuch-Notizen (Stages: A Development in Aphorisms and Diary Notes). It has given rise to a number of celebrated quotations. These include:
- "Home isn't where our house is, but wherever we are understood."
- "I shall excavate the strata of my soul."
- "I’m a man of limits: forever physically, emotionally, morally and artistically on the brink of plunging into the abyss. Yet I manage to keep my balance and possess presence of mind."
- "I bear no treasures within me. I only possess the power to transform much of what I touch into something of value. I have no depths, save my incessant desire for the depths." (Translated by David W. Wood)
A complete edition of the works of Christian Morgenstern in German in nine volumes is currently being prepared by Verlag Urachhaus (Stuttgart) under the direction of Professor Reinhardt Habel. Volumes 1 and 2 comprise Morgenstern's lyrical writings and poems; volume 3: humoristic writings, including the complete Gallows Songs; volume 4: epic and theatrical writings; volume 5: collected aphorisms; volume 6: critical essays and reviews; volumes 7-9: complete correspondence. The volume titles in German are:
- Volume 1: Lyrik 1887–1905, ed. Martin Kiessig, 1988.
- Volume 2: Lyrik 1906–1914, ed. Martin Kiessig, 1992.
- Volume 3: Humoristische Lyrik, ed. Maurice Cureau, 1990.
- Volume 4: Episches und Dramatisches, eds. Reinhardt Habel and Ernst Kretschmer, 2001.
- Volume 5: Aphorismen, ed. Reinhardt Habel, 1987.
- Volume 6: Kritische Schriften, ed. Helmut Gumtau, 1987.
- Volume 7: Briefwechsel 1878–1903, ed. Katharina Breitner, 2005.
- Volume 8: Briefwechsel 1905–1908 (in preparation)
- Volume 9: Briefwechsel 1909–1914 (in preparation)
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