04 May 2012

To those who we have not yet wikipedia 'ed

Christian Morgenstern (1871 - 1914) is a poet who I've as yet only read and heard accidentally, when his work has chanced my way. It appears that the poems can be split into the mischievously humorous and the ethereal, Christian mystical. Discount store shopping last night had given me enough of reality; I didn't want to push it by continuing with the epic realism of the David Foster Wallace novel I've got on the go. Instead, I went for the slim 1940 original (German) edition of Morgenstern's collected poems, whose title translates as Time and Timelessness.

The first Morgenstern I ever heard was ' The Architect ' in English translation, in 1999, during the London Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar, taught with gusto by Brien Masters, in the dress trousers with strong middle crease & the smart striped shirts he wore, with even the top button still done up. ('An architect who saw this thing / Stood there, one summer's evening / ….. / And built his castle's in the air.')

Anthroposophists like Morgenstern, partly cause they like conventional metres – Morgenstern's steady iambi – and end rhyme: far easier to get a class of 30 kids -  (teaching being the obvious vocation for an anthropop) - reciting Morgenstern or Wordsworth, then to get them declaiming Don Paterson en choral mass.

So no surprises that my next Morgensterny encounter was also at a anthroposophic institution, this time the Institute for Steiner-Waldorf Education in the Ruhr conurbation. In this poem 'Falling leaves' the mood had shifted from the moral quippery of 'The Architect' to an extollation of stoicism, which, after the 9th recitation in the theatre class wore thin:

   …. / strips clean the final branches. / You but, who with heavy heart / Who'd like to wail to wake the dead / Stay strong, stay strong and silent! '

My first emotions with the 1940 edition were of enjoyable incongruity. The poems are backed by a short note from Margareta Morgenstern in which she explains that while some of the pieces published are taken from previous collections, the majority are published for the first time. Here in the middle of a still strong totalitarian state, Nazi Germany, people were going out to buy poems of romance & whimsy. The fraktur type face is also a welcome distraction to those who aren't used to reading it at normal speed. While you're deciphering whether a B, W or S is meant, you're forced to slow down, allowing a-modern images to float by you. Not anti-modern, or pre-modern, but rather in determined ignorance of modernity. Like these ones in the poem Autumn Evening (p.22 of the 1940 edition):

' The stove snuffles like a dog in a dream.
    The breeze passes like a mood from the room . .

That breeze that's come from distant stars
    That's eavesdropped by my soul with love. '
And after a few poems like these, equally memorable     or forgettable depending on your attitude to a-modern whimsy, you stumble upon this what follows (p. 18 of the 1940 edition); it gives you the creeps, & somehow, with hindsight, you thought you saw it coming:

' To Germany
As seen from Norway

There you sleep far from my sight  . .
While I lie sleepless in the night
Yet dream up still to the clear stars
That which does make my soul delight.

You great wolf, for whom I rhyme,
You highest good of the love I give,
Whichever way my thoughts are turning
I'll remain your flesh and blood.

And if I should, with heart and head
into eternity dissolve
noone in that air, those pains
will understand me like you did. '

Well, why not. In a poem written c. 1912, why shouldn't Morgenstern make such nationalistic statements? Perhaps M. can remain in the ranks of the unsullied dead, one who we've had as yet no reason to wikipedia.

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