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Orbis Litterarum 1984, 39, 230-265

The Rhetoric of Lament: A Reassessment of

Nikolaus Lenau
Richard Dove, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth

Lenau is generally taken at his word as a sincere romantic Welt-

schmerzler. This article reveals the extent to which he, in fact, still
operated within the old rhetorical tradition. It is shown how coldly
and deliberately he set out to affect his audience, for instance,
and how knowingly he exploited the eighteenth-century conven-
tion of Erhabenheit to his own ends. The rhetorical interpretations
of letters, lyric poems and epics uncover a new common denomina-
tor in Lenaus oeuvre and provide a new critical approach to
supplement biographical, Marxist and Existentialist readings of
the poet.

Lenau-criticism is bedevilled by the question of whether the poets Welt-

schmerz is sincere or not. Although it is some time since his madness was
seen as an ultimate proof of the sincerity of his suffering - on the principle
post hoc ergo propter hoc - the assumption that the poetry is, in some sense,
genuine self-expression persists.2 At the other extreme, there have always
been those eager to demonstrate that Lenaus suffering was a public relations
exercise unthinkable without the precedent of Byron - but the view that it
was a pure, unadulterated pose still depends on the same vufgarromantisch
c~nvention.~ So too do the attempts to mediate between the two positions:
Schmidt, for instance, reaches the ingenious, but equally unreliable, conclu-
sion that the intensity of his depression transcended the pose of Weltschmerz,
for it had the marks of a pathological affli~tion.~
Of course there can be no doubt about the depth of Nikolaus Niembschs
real-life emotions, as an anecdote about his reaction to the death of a niece
makes clear:
Mit vorgeschlagenen Handen warf er sich uber die Leiche hin, so heftig weinend
und schluchzend ... wie die alte Magd in ihrem langen Leben noch keinen Mann
je hatte weinen sehen, ja gar nicht gedacht hatte, daD einer weinen konnte . . . 5

But life is not art, however much it tended to become so during the romantic
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 23 1

period and in spite of Lenaus own misleading declaration daB ich die Sphare
der Poesie und die Sphlre des wirklichen Lebens nicht auseinanderhalte ...
(SWB II,427).6 I should like, therefore, to take a more neutral and pragmatic
line in this article, to bypass the problem of Lenaus personality as much as
is possible in the circumstances by proposing that his achievement is as
interesting rhetorically as it is psychologically - perhaps rather more inter-

Let us look more closely, to start with, at several sincere passages in the
letters. Having, in 1832, assured a correspondent of the sorrow he felt at
their parting - Ich musste j a schon tot sein, wenn diese Trauer lange gedauert
hatte - he added: Mir war damals zumute, als wurde ich aus dem Paradies
- dem durch meine eigene Schuld verwirkten - gestoI3en auf ewig (SWB

11,122 f.). Both the hyperbole and the metaphor (which would not have
disgraced the author of Cain) sound strangely out of place when one considers
that Lenau is addressing Sophie Schwab, a woman with both feet very firmly
on the ground whom he had only known for a matter of months: the least
one can say is that the rhetoric is in excess of the occasion. The same surely
goes for a passage in a slightly earlier letter to Kerner which even Sengle -
whose essay has otherwise been instrumental in paving the way for a rhet-
orical study of Lenau - is inclined to see as evidence of genuine Weltschmer~:~
0 Kerner! Kerner! ich bin kein Asket; aber ich mochte gerne im Grabe liegen.
Helfen Sie mir von dieser Schwermut, die sich nicht wegscherzen, nicht wegpre-
digen, nicht wegfluchen IaDt! Mir wird oft so schwer, als ob ich einen Toten in
mir herumtruge. Helfen Sie mir, mein Freund! (SWB 11,104)

What is striking here is the Horatian numerus oratorius (cf.SWB 11,134), the
carefully controlled litany of exclamations, the ternary period nicht weg,
the extreme exaggeratio about carrying a dead man around inside. The dead
metaphor of Schwermut is exploited for all it is worth until no doubt
remains that one is faced with an outstanding practitioner - the very agonistes
- of the (fashionable) state in question. Such an impression is confirmed by

the rest of the letter: the admission that he is practising ascetic control over
his appetites because it is mannlicher, the reference to withered leaves as
diese sauselnden Elegien des Herbstes (my italics) and the comparison he
makes between his melancholy (but, by implication, austerely aristocratic)
self and the blithe, oblivious (but, by implication, vulgar) birds up above on
232 Richard Dove

the roof (0gleichgiiltigesGesindel der Natur!) all contribute to what seems

a heroic self-stylization that has little, or nothing, to do with life as it is
actually lived. Lenau was always on stage: to expect genuineness from him
is, as Wilde would say, to confuse sincerity with style.
By the same token, it would take a good man to determine exactly how
much is reality and how much rhetoric in the later protestation to Sophie
von Lowenthal: Mein Leben ohne dich ist ein fortwahrendes stilles Bluten
meines Herzens (SWB 11,419); but it is undoubtedly the sheer recklessness
of the hyperbole which arrests the uncommitted reader. The same is true, a
jortiori, of a love-letter like the following which, under the microscope, turns
out to be almost a single string of hyperboles:
Nie war mir eine Reise so lastig wie diese. Ich fahre durch schone Gegenden
ohne den geringsten Anteil. 0 du liebes, flaches, staubiges Penzing mit deiner
vertieften Schmiedgasse! Du bist mir lieber als alle Alpen der Welt. Die Liebe
zu meiner Sophie hat mich sogar der Natur entfremdet, wenn ich sie allein
genieBen SOH. War ich hingegen einmal mit dir in einem Walde ganz ungestort,
ich wiirde die Natur verstehen und lieben wie nie zuvor. Ich bin sehr, sehr
einsam. Ich gehe meinen nachsten Tagen mit der dumpfesten Verstimmung
entgegen. Die Welt liegt entseelt vor meinen Augen. 0 Sophie! mein ganzes
Wesen neigt sich zu dir hin und kann nie mehr in eine andre Lage gebracht
werden. Jeder mein Tropfen Blut bewegt sich nur in deinem Andenken, in
schmerzlicher Sehnsucht nach dir. (SWB 11,464f.)

As a later hyperbole - that his love for Sophie is the greatest die je einem
Weibe zuteil geworden (SWB 11,532) - also suggests Lenau could not control
the urge to exaggerate for effect. What he could control - as his otherwise
odd, or at least oxymoronic, praise for the besonnene Begeisterung (SWB
II,68) in Braunthals poetry suggests - was the form the exaggeration took
and, thus, the audiences response. Emotional inordinacy became, in the
process, a captivating pattern of rhetoric: instead of lament, there is a rhetoric
of lament.

Before going further, it is important to emphasize the extent to which Lenau
was caught in the cross-fire of a transitional age. In public, he played along
with contemporary demands for spontaneity and sincerity,* and there are
signs that he may, in any case, have swallowed such demands uncritically in
his youth - he spoke, for instance, in 1819, of die Echtheit meiner Worte
(SWB 11,13). Hence he could call his poems Ausbriiche einer chronischen
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 233

Krankheit (SWB 11,234; my italics) or ask: Sind meine Gedichte nicht aus
meinem Herzen gewachsen? (SWB 11,719). A similar denial of deliberation
shines through his comment on the love-letters to Sophie - So uniiberlegt
sind mir dabei die Worte aus dem Herzen aufs Papier geflogen, wie ein Vogel
aus dem Nest fliegt (SWB 11,534) - and the denial sounds all the more
convincing for being couched in the unsophisticated jargon dear to the late-
romantic nature-cult of the day.9 But in private he often seems a quite
different man, far less original, far truer to the rhetorical Lehrmeister of his
youth, far more a survivor of the eighteenth century than a proto-surrealist.O
The following obiter dicta are typical, and urge that one must reckon with
the same symbiosis of old and new that can be seen in other contemporaries
as different as Droste and Platen, to name but two:

Die Ausfiihrung ist das hochste. Schon Horaz rat in der ars poerica, lieber die
Iliade in Akte abzuteilen als etwas nie Dagewesenes zu sagen. Shakespeare
erfand sich keinen Stoff. Aber das blode Volk (!) merkt gar nicht, dal3 in der
Ausfuhrung selbst ... die hochste Erfindung liegt. (LuL, p. 213)
Ich danke dem Himmel, dal3 ich in meiner Jugend die alten Dichter, namentlich
Horaz, recht studiert und so den Wert der strengen Form kennen gelernt habe.
(LuL, p. 237)

The upshot is that Lenau was well aware how coldly calculating the artist
needed to be, for all his furor poeticus, if he was to achieve the required
effect. Even though he followed the fashion and called what are clearly
rhetorical effects poetic ones - as in the observation that Nicht blo13 das
Komische, auch das Pathetische und Tragische macht, von Marionetten
dargestellt, eine wahrhaft poetische Wirkung (LuL, p. 113) - his concern
with movere, the highest aim of rhetoric, remains unmistakable. It was, for
example, no blithe romantic spirit who declared (off the record): Ich will
mich bemuhen, das Gemut des Lesers allmahlig hinauf- oder herunterzustim-
men bis zur Empfanglichkeit fur das GraBliche (SWB 11,148) or who said
of Shelleys Cenci: Ich war ganz aul3er mir, als ich es gelesen hatte. So
hat kein Neuerer das echte (!), das tiefinneste Ungliick eines Menschen
auszusprechen verstanden (LuL, p. 103; my italics). And although he success-
fully hides his naked rhetorical ambitions behind a suitably picturesque and
poetic formulation in the remainder of the above utterance:

Aber unser Publikum wiirde diesen Schmerz gar nicht faBen. Es mag die
eigentliche, echte (!) Tragodie gar nicht, wo der Dichter mit tragischen Keulen-
schlagen die Kopfe trifft. (LuL, p. 103)
234 Richard Dove

the image of terrible tragic blows reminds one of nothing so much as

Sulzers standard definition of the effects of Erhabenheit (which is, of course,
like Pathos, a means to the end of movere, an integral part of the high or
tragic style):
Das blos Schone und Gute, in der Natur und in der Kunst, gefillt, ist angenehm
oder ergotzend; es macht einen sanften Eindruk, den wir ruhig genieBen: aber
das Erhabene wiirkt mit starken Schlagen, ist hinreiBend und ergreift das Gemut
unwiderstehlich. Diese Wiirkung thut es nicht blos in der ersten uberraschung,
sondern anhaltend; je langer man dabey verweilet und je naher man es betrach-
tet, ja nachdriicklicher empfindet man seine Wiirkung. Was eine liebliche Ge-
gend, gegen den erstaunlichen Anblik hoher Gebiirge ... das ist das Schone
gegen das Erhabene. (my italics)*

In another aphorism, this time on his idol Beethoven, Lenau uses another
metaphor that accentuates the irresistible effect of extreme emotionalism on
the audience:
Was der Laokoon fur den physischen Schmerz, das ist er fur den der Seele. Er
weiD uns seine Schlangen an das Gemiit zu legen, daB wir unter ihrem Druck
aufstohnen mochten ... (Lul, pp. 165f.)

And, as in the case of Shelley, it is illuminating that he chooses to play up

the artists deliberate expertise (Er weiB ...).

It is rewarding to look at a poem which is, by common consent, central to
the Lenau canon - the Doppelsonett Einsamkeit - in the light of such
rhetorical evidence, especially since its rhetorical dimension has been entirely
neglected in the two major interpretations to appear to date:
Hast du schon je dich ganz allein gefunden,
Lieblos und ohne Gott auf einer Heide,
Die Wunden schnoden MiDgeschicks verbunden
Mit stolzer Stille, zornig dumpfem Leide?

War jede frohe Hoffnung dir entschwunden,

Wie einem Jager an der Bergesscheide
Stirbt das Gebell von den verlornen Hunden,
Wies Voglein zieht, daB es den Winter meide?

Warst du auf einer Heide so allein,

So weiDt du auch, wies einen dann bezwingt,
DaD er umarmend stiirzt an einen Stein;
A Reussessment of Nikoluus Lenau 235

DaD er, von seiner Einsamkeit erschreckt,

Entsetzt empor vom starren Felsen springt
Und bang dem Winde nach die Arme streckt.

Der Wind ist fremd, du kannst ihn nicht umfassen,
Der Stein ist tot, du wirst beim kalten, derben
Umsonst um eine Trosteskunde werben,
So fiihlst du auch bei Rosen dich verlassen;

Bald siehst du sie, dein ungewahr, erblassen,

Beschaftigt nur mit ihrem eignen Sterben.
Geh weiter: iiberall griiDt dich Verderben
In der Geschopfe langen dunklen Gassen;

Siehst hier und dort sie aus den Hiitten schauen,

Dann schlagen sie vor dir die Fenster zu,
Die Hiitten stiirzen, und du fiihlst ein Grauen.

Lieblos und ohne Gott! der Weg ist schaurig,

Der Zugwind in den Gassen kalt; und du? -
Die ganze Welt ist zum Verzweifeln traurig. (SWB 11,289f.)

Rasch reads it as a non plus ultra in sincerity: Lenau is said to experience

die echte Verzweiflung dessen, der sich dem Nichts gegenubersieht and the
ending allegedly spricht die absolute Verzweiflung aus. GewiD ist hier jedes
Wort mit vollem und schwerem Ernst gemeint. Muller-Seidel, by contrast,
seems to expect it to be a construct built according to the classical principle
of Stetigkeit for he remarks several times on what he regards as involuntary
Stilbriiche and is particularly severe about the ending:
Die ganze Welt ist zum Verzweifeln traurig: ein solcher Vers ware in einem
Gedicht Bert Brechts gewil3 denkbar. Nicht die Redensartlichkeit stort, weil es
sie im Gedicht nicht geben darf. Storend wirkt die Umgebung des Redensartli-
chen: das nachlaDig Geformte in einer Gattung, deren Formanspruch auch
unser Gedicht nicht in Frage stellt. Der Stilbruch deutet hin auf ein Auseinander-
brechen des Gedichts, das miDlingt. Er deutet darauf hin, daD das Gedicht den
hoheren Standort nicht erreicht, der gefordert ist.14

The ending makes far better sense, however, if one bears in mind that the
only word in it (apart from ist) to appear earlier (ganz) occurred in, of
all places, the opening line: the utterance comes full circle, ending as it began
on a note of extravagant hyperbole. The impression of deliberate circular
argument is augmented by the fact that Lieblos und ohne Gott from the
first quatrain (the only recurrent feature) reasserts itself twenty-five lines later
236 Richard Dove

in the final tercet, but on a higher level because underlined by an exclamation-

mark which, as all rhetorical manuals tell one, is purely and simply in the
service of Afektsteigerung. Viewed in this perspective, the last line - separ-
ated from the rest both formally, by the only dash in the structure, and
semantically, on account of the movement from Heide to the wider sphere
of Welt - seems very much like a classic peroratio. Having, in the exordium,
argued in the quieter, more rational, tones of Ethos, the orator at last pulls
out all the emotional stops and provides his audience with the only sententia
in the twenty-eight lines which fills an entire line, perhaps in order that the
effect echo on in the memory as the effect of a peroratio should.16 Whether
this is so or not, the fact remains that the most distinctive feature of the
edifice as a whole is its pattern of hyperbole - from ganz allein via jede,
so allein, uberall to Die ganze Welt - and hyperbole is a device which
dient in der Rhetorik der pathetischen Weckung parteiischer Affekte, a
servant of movere.17 Many of the adjectives are, similarly, affective rather
than, in any realistic sense, descriptive. Read as poetic statement, froh
and kalt to qualify Hoffnung and Zugwind are banal if not worse ~

which may mean that Lenau was out to fabricate an immense overstatement
of the obvious, in an effort to move the reader as powerfully as possible.
True to form, the poet cunningly conceals his rhetorical intentions: although
the speaker repeatedly turns to address an apparent interlocutor and, to

that extent, assumes an audience whose emotions are to be worked upon -

the second poem narrows into soliloquy and thus upholds the romantic
fiction that a poem should be overheard rather than heard in a bald
rhetorical sense. Although it is the reader who is really erschreckt/Entsetzt
and who really fuhl[t] ein Grauen, he is only allowed to be moved, as it
were, vicariously.
Two other factors suggest that a rhetorical analysis of the pair of poems
is in order. First, the fact that the sonnet-cycle often tends sich an eine
groDe Horerschaft tendenzios oder rhetorisch zu wenden, and never more
so than in the Biedermeierzeit. Secondly, and perhaps more strikingly, the
fact that the utterance draws to a close with what can easily be interpreted
as a signpost pointing the way in which the reader, ideally, should respond:
der Weg ist schaurig.As one can see from the theoretical writings of Burke
and Schiller, Schauer is a concomitant of the Sublime (cf. Sengle i.615);
Sulzer saw it as the end-product of Pathos (Sulzer 111,661); and Lenau himself
connected it with moving a captive audience: denn in kurzem ... les [ich]
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 237

euch meinen Faust vor ... daS ihr schaudern sollt (SWB 11,262). Similar
subliminal hints to the reader occur in other poems: Ahasver, der ewige Jude
ends Die Weiber schauderten an seinem Schatten (SWB I,77) and Der
Blockhaus, even more blatantly: Und ich blickte mich um - und mul3te
schaudern (SWB 1,261). Indeed, the word occurs often in poems (e.g. SWB
1,53,112,134,158,166,449,463) and the juxtaposition of schaurig and Er-
schutterung (a German equivalent of movere) at the start of Traumgewalten
urges that the former is a pawn in Lenaus Affektenrhetorik:
Der Traum war so wild, der Traum war so schaurig,
So tief erschutternd, unendlich traurig. (SWB 1,292)

As long as the reader was deeply moved, it seems to have mattered little if
the means to this end were unbecomingly meretricious - which would explain
the Nachtstiick Die Marionetten (SWB I, 193-205) or that rather slight Schau-
ergeschichte Mischka (SWB 1,369-83) which lives for its moments of sublime
In der Freude Sturmeswogen
Von des Klanges dunkeln Machten ...
Horch, wie scherzend, horch, wie klagend
Und das Herz von hinnen tragend,
Mischkas Wundergeige waltet,
Durch und durch die Seele spaltet. (SWB 1,373)
Aus dem Saal ist jede Lust gewichen,
Dunkles Weh durch alle Herzen schlagt;
Und nicht wissend, was sie tief bewegt,
Hat die Braut sich weinend fortgeschlichen. (SWB 1,383; my italics)

Why did Lenau concentrate so exclusively on movere, on what the eighteenth
century would still have called the high style? The answer is, I think,
surprisingly straightforward: because he knew that this would be construed,
by the sub-sentimentalist culture of his day, as proof of his own high human
status. Longinus doctrine that the Sublime is the echo of a great soul - the
Riickkoppelungseflekt whereby a single-minded interest in sublime scenes in
nature would assure the audience of the authors inner sublimity - had
fascinated the late eighteenth centuryI9 and was still within earshot; where
Anton Klein warned that Ein edler Mann wird sich eben so wenig eines
niedertrachtigen Ausdrucks bedienen, als Niedertrachtigkeit begehen,20
238 Richard Dove

Lenau took much time and trouble to make his diction flawlessly noble,
remarking for instance of a poem of Karl Mayers: Nicht ganz edel schien
mir das Sitzenbleiben der Muse (SWB II,129),z1 and (in a more general
sense) his refusal to write prose was a refusal to stoop to the level of the
bourgeois Swabians he liked but could not help despising. It is not by chance
that his only surviving dramatic fragment should belong to a tragedy: the
ancient rhetoricians assigned the latter to the (higher) sphere of Pathos. And
it stands to reason, similarly, that he was thinking in rhetorical, rather than
psychological, terms when stating that his Essenz was mehr tragisch
(SWB II,56): there is ample evidence that Lenau only felt deeply elegiac
against the run of actual experience - Folgendes war das Kind einer melan-
cholischen Stunde (SWB JI,52), Hier noch ein melancholisches Herbstblatt
von mir, ist aber nichts als voriibergehende Stimmung (SWB 11,233) - to
say nothing of the fact that elegy, a favourite word of Lenaus, is itself
decidedly more elevated and aristocratic than common-or-garden sadness
(cf. esp.SWB 11,1030). Weltschmerz, under whatever name, is as old as the
hills: The Greeks knew melancholy, but left it for later generations to turn
it into a fetish. They held it a grave social solecism to air their private griefs
in public (Hentschel, p.2). Had it not been fashionable in his age, there is
every likelihood that he would have felt compelled to keep his suffering to
himself and to play up the lighter, more spring-loving, side of himself which
private utterances testify to but which the public persona considered, in the
most rhetorical sense of the word, undignified.zz
Einsamkeit proves the point, as a brief comparison with Gryphius own
sonnet Einsamkeit makes clear. Both stand in the locus terribilis traditionz3
and share many attributes. But the baroque poet is out to illustrate wie der
mensch in eitelkeit vergeh and speaks, as a result, for mankind as a
Lenaus poem is a Byronic variation on the theme: the isolation is splendid
isolation. Although, for politeness sake, the du is asked whether it has
ever had a similar experience, it becomes obvious by line nine (so allein)
that the state is outrageously unrivalled, indeed that it is a secret means of
asserting the speakers uniqueness: the poem turns on the convention of
mi~eratio.~As in Gryphius, the heath-setting is formulaic enough to be non-
existent; but Lenaus reasons seem to be rhetorical rather than religious: his
poem fulfils all the conditions which Burke wrote about in his Enquiry: All
general privations are great, because they are all terrible: Vacuity, Darkness,
Solitude and Silence.z6 In this sense, the later poem can be seen as a study
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 239

in the negative Sublime, an attempt to arouse sympathy rhetorically for one

mans unparalleled suffering.
That Lenaus suffering had to seem unparalleled is precisely the point: it
would have defeated his purpose to be sincere but to appear second-rate. As
one might expect in view of this strategy, there is an unmistakable, if a t times
subtle, upward mobility in his literary life. The heroes of the poems are
invariably edel; and that he, like Grabbe, planned an epic on Christ in his
declining years only emphasizes the fact (cf. Sengle iii.6840. Many obiter
dicta bear the brunt of his self-stylization too. When he made the famous
declaration that Ich will mich selber ans Kreuz schlagen, wenns nur ein
gutes Gedicht gibt (SWB 11,155), the illusion of such extreme Opferbereit-
schaft must not blind one to the fact that it was at most a cross that he was
prepared to die upon - the metaphorical death, far from demeaning him,
raises him to the rank of a Messiah, or at least to that of Goethes Tasso,
the probable source of this notion of poet as noble Opfertier (cf. SWB
11,947). In the same way, Lenau echoes such spiritual aristocrats as Werther
and Wallenstein (SWB II,538,324), calls himself ein unsteter Mensch auf
Erden when this is Gods designation for Cain in Genesis (SWB II,73) and
tacitly compares himself to John in the wilderness (SWB 11,211,218). Even
the apparently folksy comment on his Faust should not be taken at face
Auch ist sein Charakter ein wahrhaft schwabischer ... und ich mochte Fausts
Verschreibung einen erhabenen Schwabenstreich nennen (SWB 11,320)

Where the unsuspecting reader would surely stress Schwabenstreich, the

poet himself would undoubtedly have laid the emphasis on the preceding
What Lenau once wrote about Baader - that he thought nur in den
hochsten Regionen (LuL, p.217) - applied equally to himself.27More accu-
rately, he himself strenuously suppressed any less elevated thoughts, with
wide-reaching consequences for his art. A number of critics have commented
on Lenaus narrowness;28 but it must be said that such self-limitation was
deliberate, not necessarily the inevitable outcome of an absence of major
talent. It was for this reason that his exuberant - and therefore potentially
uncouth -descriptive powers (one thinks, in particular, of his first impressions
of America which surely rival Heines Reisebilder) had to be kept to the
letters. Efegantiu was all, as one can read between the lines of a remark about
240 Richard Dove

a seven-hour discussion with the man whom Lenau seemed to think of as a

kind of superego: Zanges Reden strengt an ... Und eine einzige Albernheit
gegen Baader ausgesprochen, hatte mich unglucklich gemacht (LuL, p. 181).
To forestall any such fatuity, everything suspect - and that includes all
jocularity, all jocundity even - had, it seems, to be ruthlessly edited out. On
one occasion this was quite literally true. When revising one of the Heidebil-
der, sixteen years after composition, Lenau was wounded by a VerstoD gegen
mannlichen Geschmack:

Mein Herz eine Wake zu nennen und obendrein eine verblutende, war von mir
weichlich und lappisch, und ich schame mich sechstausendmal beim Wiederlesen
dieser verungliickten Zeilen ...

The editio castigata in strengstem Sinn des Wortes which he vowed here-
upon to carry out on all his early poems was what his whole writing life was
about (SWB 11,996). Nothing lacking in robur - the ornatus appropriate to
the high style (Lausberg, Elemente p.60) - was willingly admitted to the
canon: in dismissing Heine and Schubert as unmanly in 1838 and 1839,
respectively - Er schreibt leicht und gefallig, aber nicht mannlich; seine
Prosa tanzt unaufhorlich dahin, das tut kein Mann (ML, p.193), Es ist
eine gewiDe Koketterie, eine unmannliche Weichlichkeit in [Schuberts Kom-
positionen] (LuL, p.106) - he was clearly dismissing his own lesser self.
Similarly, the reason he transferred his allegiance from Schubert to Beethoven
on reaching artistic maturity - Hillmars apercuz9 - was not because Beet-
hoven was the greater Weltschmerzler but because his work is so recognizably
in the stilus grandis, Schuberts only in the middle style which, in Lenaus
eyes, was a small step away from flat middle-classness.
In case there is still any doubt about the sincerity of Lenaus Weltschmerz
it is instructive to adduce several strange criticisms of others which - since
one never looks behind a door unless one has stood there oneself - imply
how little his fixed stance of haughty melancholic Munnlichkeit came natur-
ally. First there is the epistolary fragment of 1833 which augurs an inside
knowledge of the hypocrites cast of mind: Wenn Sie iiber eine Person in
Zweifel sind, ob sie Neigung fur Sie empfinde oder nur heuchle, so warten
Sie ab, bis solche Person erkranke. Der kranke Mensch ist zu trage und
bequem, eine Maske zu tragen. (SWB 11,257). Secondly, there is the com-
ment, made nine days later, on a monk in a projected painting by Emilie von
Reinbeck: Wenn es ihm ernst um seine Trauer, so wette ich drauf, daB er
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 24 1

lieber auf dem Hallstadter Kirchhof Iage, als im Kloster eine gemachliche
Melancholie zu verleben. (SWB 11,259). Thirdly, more surprisingly still,
there is the unprovoked attack on his close friend Kerner, who could, of
course, be seen as a weekend Weltschmerzler just as Lenau was an occupation-
al one: Ich sehe ihn ordentlich herumwandeln in Stuttgart mit seinen Schein-
klagen und maskierten Wonneseufzern. Er ist doch im Grunde eine sehr
behagliche Natur. (SWB 11,313). There seems, similarly, to have been more
than a little ( u n c o n s c i ~ u s ? )self-identification
~~ in his short satire Einern

Zu besiegen deine schwere

Bist du tanzen in die Lehre
Gangen zu Sankt Veit ... (SWB 1,479)

Such a compulsively condescending attitude to awkward all-too-human ordi-

nary experience is encountered ubiquitously in Lenaue3 Even nature - for
all his contemporary readers might have thought - was far from a democratic
experience for him. The patronizing (unpublished) verdict on a fellow-pas-
senger that he had a fine sense of nature fur seinen Stand - has been

commented on (Schmidt, p. 19). But such aristocratism cut deeper. Soon after
first arriving, he said that he admired Wiirttemberg but ich konnte mich
eines gewissen Eindruckes des Kleinlichen doch nicht erwehren (SWB II,8 1).
His reasons, surprisingly but symptomatically, turn out to be ones which
would not have looked out of place in Castigliones Courtier: he recalls the
NachlaDigkeit of the Hungarian peasantry, the Ungezwungenheit of the
vineyards in Tokay, the sheer good manners of the agriculture in his home-
land, delicately inviting nature to come with her gifts (eine ganz und gar
nicht heftige Einladung ... die Faust des Deutschen packt (!) die gute Frau
gleich an der Gurtel, und druckt und wurgt sie so gewaltig (!), daS ihr das
Blut bei Nas und Ohr hervorquillt). Some years later, he wrote in the same
vein: Die Natur hat auch ihr Dekorum, ein heiliges Dekorum. Der Mensch
wagt es nicht leicht, angesichts des Erhabenen kleinliche Gedanken auszukra-
men (SWB II,708), again transplanting upper-class social standards into the
inanimate. As the next section will show, Lenau exploited nature, as he
exploited so much else, in order to extract das Erhabene, an ultimately
literary value which, as Longinus said, showers the beholder with reflected
242 Richard Dove

In a letter written at twenty-five, Lenau confessed:
Ich glaubte ruhiger zu sein, als ich die Feder ergriff; doch einmal bis ins Mark
verletzte Seelen bleiben empfindlich auf immer; - eine fliichtige Erinnerung, und
die Brust ist in Aufruhr. Solche Seelen sind wie die Luft auf sehr hohen Bergen.
Man darf da, wie die Bergbewohner sagen, kein Steinchen hinabwerfen, sonst
steigt sogleich Nebel auf. So leicht erschiittert ist die Gebirgsluft! - (SWB II,59)

It looks, at first sight, like straight romantic emotionalism, reinforced by an

apt, untendentious comparison. But die Brust in Aufruhr is a neat pa-
raphrase of the effects of movere; so too is the Erschutterung attributed
to the air at the end.32 The state which he claims to feel himself is, ideally,
the state which the reader should be put into by the unprecedented power
of the emotion: a patent case of si vis meflere ... It is no coincidence, either,
that the comparison should be drawn from the world of mountains - they
are one of the accredited loci of the Sublime. The rhetorical, rather than real,
nature of Lenaus interest in mountains is brought out more sharply by a
letter of three years later, describing the moment (die allerschonste meines
Lebens) in which he stood on the edge of a precipice high up the Traunstein:
Trotzig hinabschauen in die Schrecken eines bodenlosen Abgrundes und den
Tod heraufgreifen sehen bis an meine Zehen und stehn bleiben und so lange
der furchtbar erhabenen Natur ins Antlitz sehen, bis es sich erheitert, gleichsam
erfreut iiber die Unbezwinglichkeit des Menschengeistes, bis es mir schon wird,
das Schreckliche ... (SWB II,78)

The assumption that the Sublime is terrible reminds one of Burke; but the
scene is not being relished for its own sake, only as a setting for Lenaus
self-discovery as sublime hero. For, in case anyone is tempted to read this
passage in proto-existentialist terms - it looks, on the face of it, as though
the poets Promethean defiance is meant to be representative of mankinds
as a whole (Menschengeist) - one must point out that one of the main
reasons this was among the most beautiful days of his life was that no tourist,
according to his guide, had ever reached den aussersten Rand from which
he stared defiantly down. The situation is essentially the same as that in
On a realistic level, the preoccupation with das Schreckliche can only
seem negative; on a rhetorical level this is no longer the case, for the Terrible
is part and parcel of Pathos, the aristocratic pleasure that frightens off more
pusillanimous souls. It was thus that Lenau could, on another occasion, turn
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 243

a passage from Horace - ille terrarum mihi praeter omnis/angulus ridet ...
(Carrnina II,6) - on its head, stating paradoxically of the terrible yet dig-
nified alpine scene around him that jener Winkel trauert mir vor allen und
ist mir darum der liebste and choosing an apparently perverse oxymoron
to describe the effect on him of a nocturnal storm in such heights - schauer-
lichen Entzuckens (SWB 11,383). It was thus, too, that he could afford to
dwell on his Freude am Ungluck, asserting with an irrational delight that
leaves the convention of voluptas dolendi far behind:
Ja, ja, ich hake mich fur eine fatale Abnormalitat der Menschennatur, und
darin mag es liegen, daD ich mir meinen Untergang mit einer Art wollustigen
Grauens denke. (SWB II,99)

In both cases, the oxymorons recall Burke on the effects of the Sublime:
... if the pain and horror are so modified as not to be actually noxious ... they
are capable of producing delight; not pleasure, but a sort of delightful horror.
(Burke, p. 136)

The Untergang, like the ever-present threat of a fall that accompanied his
mountainous escapades, was a means of ensuring a tragic - and thus noble
- image.

This observation makes better sense if one looks, for a moment, at Lenaus
obsession with Lucifer, or rather with the latters fall. Of course it goes
without saying that his life-long sympathy for the devil sprang, in part at
least, from a somewhat puerile desire to shock the unassuming Swabians.
Yet the fact that he valued Lucifer as a vehicle for tragedy - for the expression
of Pathos - emerges clearly in the otherwise very eccentric leap from one
sentence to the other in a passing remark to Lowenthal:
Der Teufel existiert, er ist eine Person, er ist der leibliche gefallene Engel und
hochst unglucklich. Ohne ihn ist keine Tragodie moglich. (ML, p. 187)

The concern with Abfall, both in Faust (SWB I,526), Die Albigenser (SWB
1,804) and in the often-quoted credo of 1839 that Die hochste Aufgabe aber
fur die Poesie ware Luzifer in der Auffassung der Gnostiker, wie er die Engel
zum Abfall verlockt, wie die gesamte Schopfung ein Abfall ist von Gott
(LuL, p.l14), can be seen in similar terms. Gnostic notions were certainly
fashionable in the eighteen-thirties; but Lenaus designs on them were unphi-
losophical enough to make, say, G. H. Schuberts hair stand on end. Lucifer
was, as Barbey dAurevilly said, the first aristocrat and his Abfall recalls
Schopenhauers words on the prerequisites for tragedy: the spectator is only
244 Richard Dove

tragisch erschuttert if the hero stands high enough in life to fall an awe-
inspiring distance: Den burgerlichen Personen fehlt es ... an Fallhohe.3
Spiritual pride and sublimity are sometimes hard to tell apart; and it was
surely the intoxicating proximity of hubris and Pathos, not just the urge to
the parodoxical, which was responsible for a remark like the following, on
Beethovens Teufelsquartett: Wenn das der Teufel gemacht hat, so bin ich
sein auf ewig. Es hat Stellen, bei denen mir fast das Herz zersprungen ware.
(SWB 11,404).
To return to nature, it is a surprise to find - especially in view of the many
articles which make of Lenau a romantic nature poetJ4 - how rarely his
Naturbilder are realistic. A case in point is the description of the Atlantic
after his arrival in America:
Die nachhaltigste und beste Wirkung dieser Seereise auf mein Gemiit ist ein
gewisser feierlicher Ernst, der sich durch den langen Anblick des Erhabenen in
mir befestigt hat. Das Meer ist mir zu Herzen gegangen. (SWB 11,204; my

For this description appears, for all the world, to be a translation of rhetorical
terminology into more ingenuous naturalistic terms: nachhaltig echoes
Sulzers anhaltend, Longinuss account of the effect of the Sublime and
Lausbergs classic definition of the effect of Pathos per se.35Either this is the
strangest of coincidences, or it suggests that the poet was out to experience
the Sublime he had once read about in text-books and discovered was
intimately linked with greatness of soul. The coldly deliberate way in which
Lenau justified his journey to America in earlier letters supports the latter
view. One day he wrote that Der ungeheure Vorrat schoner Naturszenen ist
in funf Jahren kaum erschopft (SWB 11,154), and shortly afterwards:
Namlich ich will meine Phantasie in die Schule - in die nordamerikanischen
Urwalder - schicken; den Niagara will ich rauschen horen und Niagaralieder
singen. Das gehort notwendig zu meiner Ausbildung. Meine Poesie lebt und
webt in der Natur, und in Amerika ist die Natur schoner, gewaltiger als in
Europa. Ein ungeheurer Vorrat der herrlichsten Bilder erwartet mich dort ...
Ich verspreche mir eine wunderbare Wirkung davon auf mein Gemiit. (SWB

The shift from Naturszenen to Bilder is illuminating: the poet appears

to be looking on nature as his baroque counterpart would have looked on
his Schatzkammer: as an arsenal of images to illustrate his abstract
He was too deeply entrenched in the pre-nineteenth-century poetic world to
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 245

be able to linger over the charms of the outside world, for their own sakes,
for any length of time: his mind thought, first and foremost, of the abstract-
ions which such images could only serve to make more ~ e n s u o u s . ~ ~
The poems which the American experience precipitated do little to alter
such an impression. Der Urwald opens, for instance, with four personified
abstractions in eight lines. The primeval forest itself seems largely a pretext
for the millennia1 struggle between life and death which Lenau is a t pains
to enact a struggle which culminates in that most baroque image Denn

endlich hat der Tod, der starke Zwinger,/Die Faust geballt, das Leben einge-
schlossen ... (SWB 1,255). The philosophical poet staring at the secret of
the world is a close cousin to the melancholic figures who stare out fixedly
on the world in the emblem books of previous centuries and in the poetry
of eighteenth-century figures like Friedrich von Matthisson. There is an ubi
sunt (Wo sind die Bluten ... Wo sind die Vogel) but such flowers pale beside
the Ahndungsblumen in the speakers own soul (1.44) and there is a similar
turn from external birds to die Vogel, meine Lieder (1.46). Even the tree
is only dragged in to provide a parallel for his own lot ( 1 1.47-8). There is
scarcely more involvement with nature than when Propertius confided his
grief to sola saxa. This impression is confirmed by the ending where the
speaker rides getrost der nachsten Nacht entgegen,/Und der geheimnisvollen
Todesnacht. ( 1 1.71-2). Again the Actual is devalued at the expense of the
Allegorical: the consolation of temporal rest is undercut by the gothic
horror of eternal rest in death. Throughout the performance, nature is no
more than a tissue of images stretched over an abstract skeleton. That such
nature is exotic only guarantees the readers attention. What we are left
with is an Icherzahlung whose uncompromisingly gefuhlsmaJig philosophy of
history is given an appropriate sounding-board in an undeniably sublime
setting3* so that Wirkung on the readers Gemut will be forthcoming.
Such a reading of the poem is not meant to minimize it, merely to suggest
that Lenaus spiritual and mechanical - affinities are to the past and not,

for example, to ~ u r r e a l i s m . ~ ~
It comes as a shock to discover how much of Lenaus poetic world is a
pretext for the - literary rather than real - experience of Sublimity. When,
for instance, he declares Der Himmel will noch immer kein rechtes Gewitter
aufspielen, um mir Beethoven zu ersetzen (SWB II,377), the storm and the
musician seem strangely interchangeable: what interested him was the state
of unparalleled Pathos into which either was capable of transporting him.
246 Richard Dove

That the phenomenon is not uncommon in the lives of Sublimity-addicts is

attested by the passion for the sublime of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter which
kept her ever on the alert for storms, the Kentish substitute for mountains
(Monk, p.212)! As a consequence, Lenau could, in all seriousness, call meine
btreicher Alpen, den Schneeberg und Traunstein, meine zwei alten poeti-
schen Schulmeister (SWB II,227), could be reported as saying that er selbst
habe in seiner Kunst von keinem Dichter so vie1 gelernt als von Beethoven
(LuL, p.78) and could confess to Sophie von Lowenthal, even more drastical-
ly: Von Beethoven, dem Meer, dem Hochgebirg und von Ihnen habe ich ja
das Beste und Meiste gelernt ... (SWB 11,781). Even more shockingly, this
cult of Sublimity is doubtless the reason why he repeatedly had recourse to
oceanic images to express his love for Sophie: Ich fahre auf hochster See
(SWB II,448), Wie jeder Kummer und jeder bittere Vorgang so bald ver-
schwindet in der UnermeBlichkeit unserer Liebe, ein biBchen Schaum im
Meere! (SWB 11,517), ich stehe an Ihrer groBen Seele als an einem tiefen
Meere (SWB 11,1054). It would hardly have pleased die Unwiderstehliche
- as Frau von Lowenthal was known in Viennese circles - to realize that she

was for her literary lion, at least as far as literature goes, merely another
surrogate for the Sublime and (an even crueller refinement) that her often-
apostrophized great soul was, above all, a reflection of his own. Yet the
same applies to Lenaus adulation of Karoline Unger (cf. SWB 11,727@,
Karl Marko (SWB 11,722) and, even more transparently perhaps, of Franz
von Baader:

Abends verlieD [ich] ihn mit jener ernsten und fruchtbaren Nachdenklichkeit,
die mich iibefiallt, wenn ich eine g r o k Musik gehort oder in einen Abgrund
geblickt oder mit einem groDen Menschen gesprochen habe. (SWB 11,657)

The operative word in the above admission is grol3 (it is all that the three
heterogeneous examples really have in common): it takes a great soul to
appreciate the grandeur in nature, human or otherwise.
Lenaus ultimate indifference to the outside world has important implica-
tions: his obsession with sublime states of soul is, I would argue, responsible
for the uncanny amorality of his world-view, as expressed in the works. If
the poems were what they seemed, Hof would certainly be correct to criticize
the embarrassingly bloodthirsty Husarenlieder for their proto-fascism (Hof,
p.172). But they are - like the alpine or sea scenes, like Beethoven, like his
love for Sophie or the violins and delirious dancing that feature so frequently
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 247

in his poems a correlative for his own ecstasy, for what, in Beethovens

Buste, he styled ein dionysisch Taumeln (SWB 1,393). This is, for instance,
why the Kanonengebrumm is robbed of its reality: Musiziert herum
(SWB 1,334). Lenau would have known, even without reading Burke, that
Excessive loudness alone is sufficient to overpower the soul ... The noise of
vast cataracts, raging storms, thunder, or artillery, awakes a great and aweful
sensation in the mind ... (Burke, p.82). The same can be said of Die Albigen-
ser: read realistically, the epic seems one long monstrous revelling in senseless
slaughter; read rhetorically, a pure indulgence in Pathos (cf. note 46).
It would be a mistake, for this reason, to try to interpret the vulture which
flies through Lenaus world, and which he singles out to address at length
in the elegy Aufmeinen ausgebalgten Geier, as a real phenomenon. It is a
jumping-off point for scenes from nature which Longinus himself would have
passed as sublime:
Es mag a n diesem Bild sich gern rnein Blick entziinden,
Sehnsiichtig traumen sich nach Hirnalayagriinden.
Den Ganges will ich dort abholen an der Quelle
Und ziehn rnit ihrn hinab, sein lauschender Geselle. (SWB 1,228f.)

The same is true in a much earlier poem, Die Marionetten:

Der Geier, sturzend sich in seinen Blick,
Kornrnt plotzlich auf das Larnm herabgestooen
Und reiBt es fort aus seinern Jugendgliick. (SWB 1,193)

The vulture is experienced as an elemental force, rather than for its own
sake. Indeed, tell-tale terms like stiirzen and plotzlich make it, to all
intents and purposes, interchangeable with the storm in the third of the
MuB ein groBer Schmerz in Zahren
Sich entlasten unaufhaltsam,
Stiirzen ihrn die grooen, schweren
Tropfen plotzlich und gewaltsam. (SWB 1,425)

It is my contention that such storms - and there are very many in Lenau ~

are also a good deal less real than they seem. On one level at least, they are
rhetorical storms, recreations of the poets own elevated emotionalism; and,
as though to prove the point, many share the suddenness which is integral
to the sublime swooping of the vulture (SWB 1,193), to the effect of his
sublime poems (Oder wenn dir meine Kleinen/Plotzlich oft zusammenschau-
248 Richard Dove

dern ... An Fraulein Charlotte von Bauer, SWB 1,134) or to his own sublime
Erschiitterung (Plotzlich treibt ein wildes Sehnen/Nach den Bergen mich, zu
ihrJFluchtverstreute Wonnetranen/Sturzen aus den Augen mir. Meine
Braut, SWB 1,19):
Plotzlich seh ich rasche Wogen
Aus der Tiefe springen ... (SWB 1,139)

Der Sturm ist laut und plotzlich aufgefahren ... (SWB 1,194)
Plotzlich erwachte der Sturm aus stiller Ruh,
Und im Walde hort ich die Antwortklage:
Krachend stiirzten d r a u k n die nacktgeschalten
Eichen nieder zu Boden ... (SWB 1,261)

Horch! Uberraschend saust es in den Baumen

Und ruft mich ab von meinen lieben Traumen,
Ich hore plotzlich ernste Stimme sprechen;

Die aufgeschreckte Seele lauscht dem Winde ... (SWB 1,286)

Nun plotzlich wankt die Distel hin und wieder,

Und heftig rauschend bricht der Regen nieder ... (SWB 1,287)

To leave no doubt that Lenau tended to use nature for unnatural ends, let
me cite two further celebrations of mountainous terrains, the first rendering
the effect of Beethovens Fidelio in a letter to his brother-in-law, the second
relating to the so-called Ofen in the Steiermark:
Beethovens Geist trieb auch Dich fort, wie ein Sturm auf den bewegten Wogen
des Gesanges, vorbei an wilden, erhabnen Felsenklippen, an nachtlichen Wal-
dern, an grausen Kerkergewolben immer schneller, stiirmischer fort, bis sich
der Strom ergo0 in ein lachendes Meer von unendlicher Liebe und Freude, Gott
im Himmel! ist das ein Geist! - (SWB 11,800

So Wildes hatt ich noch nie gesehen. Eine enge Schlucht, oder vielmehr ein RiD
klafft durch die Felsen hinunter wie eine tiefe, finstre, ewige Wunde. Unten in
schwindelnder Tiefe braust die Salzach. Der betrachtliche FluD drangt sich hier
so eng zusammen, daD er zu iiberschreiten ware. Dadurch wird er sehr tief und
ungestiim, wie wann sich ein ganzes Leben zusammendrangt in eine tiefe heftige
Leidenschaft. Ungeheure Felsen liegen umher, als einzelne Ausbruche, in denen
sich ein grollender Geist Luft macht, und so starr und stumm sie auch daliegen,
man spurt, wenn man sie betrachtet, noch etwas von der Erschiitterung, mit
welcher sie einst geschleudert wurden. In dieser Schlucht mochte ich eine Hiitte
bauen. Gegen diese Zerrissenheit ist das wildeste Lied Byrons ein Gesang der
Seligen. (SWB 11,298f.)
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 249

In both cases, nature is again no more than a correlative: in the first because
it is only called on at all to graphically body forth the Erhabenheit with which
Lenau associated Beethoven, in the second because interest centres, not on
the inanimate landscape, but on human passion (ewige Wunde, tiefe
heftige Leidenschaft, einzelne Ausbruche, Erschutterung). To invoke
the fashionable term Zerrissenheit in such a context is to disclose that things
are not what they seem: it is, indeed, hard, if one has read the many
apparently objective descriptions in which Lenau writes vicariously of his
own grandeur and passion (cf. SWB II,727ff?), to escape the conclusion that
he is secretly laying claim, in his final sentence, to a sublimity far and away
more extreme and unconditional than that of Byron, his nearest rival in the

For all this, it would be quite wrong to assume that Sublimity, and all it
stands for, consistently won the day in Lenaus works. However hard he
strove to suppress his lesser self and to promote an image of peerless nobility,
life would not lie down. Because he was unable to keep life and art apart
(SWB II,427), the claims of the ordinary man (who longed for the rather
undignified bliss of spring and who chose, with however much reservatio
mentalis, to live a near-idyllic existence in the bosom of ennobled bourgeois
families in Stuttgart and, more problematically, in Vienna) were at log-
gerheads with those of the self-styled aristocrat, not only in his existence but
also in his writing. One can see this in the nature-descriptions quoted at
the end of the previous section: after the storm of sublimity has spent itself,
in the first passage, there is an unexpected, and uncritically idyllic, peripetia;
the wish to build a hut in, of all places, a perilous ravine, in the second, is
a pointer to Lenaus plight - to be torn between the duty to appear sublime
and the desire for something more demeaningly homely. Critics have already
detected this tension: Hermand sees it as negative and attributes it to the
Das ma1 du siecle wirkt bei ihm wie eine Pose, der es an kiinstlerischer
Verbindlichkeit fehlt. Seine Gedichte pendeln daher zwischen biedermeierlicher
Geborgenheit und weltschmerzlerischer Unrast standig hin und her. Diesselbe
Zwischenstellung zeigt sich auch in seiner B i ~ g r a p h i e . ~ ~

Neumann views it more neutrally but confines it to the sphere of imagery,

the subject of his rather unhistorical article.41 The tension is, however, so
250 Richard Dove

constant in Lenau as to be characteristic; for reasons of space I shall only

discuss the lyrics in any detail, but it can equally be found in all the epics
and thus provides an unexpected source of unity underlying the outward
diversity of his oeuvre.42

Let us start with Verschiedene Deutung, which is clearly indebted to the
American experience although written three years later:
Sieh, wie des Niagara Wellen
Im Donnerfall zu Staub zerschellen,
Und wie sie, spriihend nun zerflogen,
Empfangen goldne Sonnenstrahlen
Und auf den Abgrund lieblich malen
Den farbenreichen Regenbogen.
0 Freund, auch wir sind triibe Wellen,
Und unser Ich, es muD zerschellen,
Nur staubend in die Luft zergangen,
Wird es das Irislicht empfangen.
Triib, farblos waren diese Fluten,
Solang sie noch im Strome wallten;
Sie muBten vielfach sich zerspalten,
DaB sie aufbliihn in Farbengluten.
Nun fliegt ein jeder Tropfen einsam,
Ein armes Ich, doch strahlen sie
Im hellen Himmelslicht gemeinsam
Des Bogens Farbenharmonie. (SWB 1,258)

Neumann is right to observe that the poem could be moved from the Niagara
to the Schaflhausen Falls without being, in any essential way, altered (Neu-
mann, p.487). But the abstraction of the piece derives, not from any
experimentation with images, but from a total indifference to reality. What
Lenau is exploring here - the original title was Individualist (cf. SWB 1,1003)
- is the Pathos of the individuals inevitable annihilation; the closest parallel
in his works is to be found in a letter to Sophie Schwab written nine months
before he set sail for the United States:
Wir sterben nicht ganz, aber, aber - unsere Individualitat? wie stehts mit der?
Als ich mit Ihnen nach Waiblingen an einem Teich voriiberfuhr und darin
einen Springbrunnen sah, dacht ich mir: das ist vielleicht das beste Bild des
Menschenlebens. Aus dem Meere der Gottheit steigt die Seele auf und fallt
A Reassessment of Nikoluus Lenau 25 1

wieder darein zuriick. Der Gedanke ist so traurig nicht; was meinen Sie? Sogar
etwas Reizendes, Heroisches liegt in dem ruhigen, gefaDten Gedanken des
Unterganges der Individualitat, wenigstens fur mich. Kann der Mensch ein
stolzeres, energischeres Wort sprechen als: Hier fand ich kein Cluck, dort find
ich keines ... (SWB I1,99)

In the letter Lenau is busy at his self-stylization: wenigstens fur mich

diplomatically intimates that his attitude (like his attitude towards his own
Untergang noted in the discussion of Lucifer) is exceptional; words like
heroisch, gefaDt and stolz point unmistakably towards the higher
registers of the genera dicendi. In the first poem, this sublime stance is
provided with an indisputably sublime prop from the natural world - Niagara
- and the most prominent pattern set up is zerschellen, zerflogen, zer-

schellen, zevgangen, a pattern of shatteringly extreme sublime emotional-

ism. But the second poem is very different in tone, far more conciliatory, not
unlike the end of the letter about Beethovens Fidelio. Instead of Pathos (in
rhetorical terms) there is Ethos. Which of the two did Lenau side with more?
It is impossible to say, and the very fact that he was compelled to find space
for both, and to segregate them scrupulously, almost schizophrenically, into
separate poems, makes the question meaningless. But it is intriguing that the
second - milder and hence less aristocratic - poem is enclosed by inverted-
commas. Could it be that the poet wished thereby to distance himself, to
suggest that the more uncompromising and austere interpretation was really
his own?
Whatever the answer, the fact remains that the tension rears its head
everywhere. In that other American poem Der Schiflsjunge it is again sy-
phoned off into separate sub-poems. The first is a locus classicus of what the
textbooks would have understood as erhaben:
... Da bricht das morsche Tau entzwei,
Woran er geschwebt, - ein banger Schrei -
Er sturzt hinunter ins Meer,
Und iiber ihn sturzen die Wellen her.

Umsonst, Matrosen, ist euer Bemiihn,

Den Jungling zu retten, er ist dahin!
Wie hungernde Bestien stiirzen die Wellen
Dem Opfer entgegen ... (SWB 1,145; my italics)

The second, again too long to quote in full here, is correspondingly idyllic,
a Full fathom five-like consolutio:
252 Richard Dove

... Sammeln sich um ihn die Seejungfrauen,

Froherstaunt, in der Korallenauen
Stillem, triibe dammerndem Verlies? (SWB I, 146)

In Der schwarze See the transition is less obvious but the change from Pathos
to Ethos is equally unmistakable, although here the latter makes way for the
former. The idyllic movement, which lasts fourteen lines, ends with the only
dash in the structure (surely a deliberate caesura?) and then the sixteen lines
of more powerful emotionalism begin:

Der Wind wacht auf ... (SWB 1,329)43

Wind or rain signals the change in emotional temperature in an exemplary

way in other poems, for instance in the sonnets Stimme des Windes and
Stimme des Regens where a gentle octave is, in each case, followed by an
access of sublimity that carries the readers heart away (SWB 1,286,287).
Even that most central cycle Schiljlieder conforms to type. The first, third
and fifth poems are idyllic, gently wistful - mild (SWB I,20), lieblich
(SWB 1,21), hold (SWB 1,21). Contained - and thus, perhaps, ultimately
neutralized - by these are two poems which are object-lessons in Pathos in
which nature once again functions as an analogue for the stormy, noble
human heart: mein tiefes Weh stands symptomatically in parallel with im
aufgewuhlten See.44As elsewhere in Lenau, one suspects that the outward
scene is little more than a pretext. Schmidt himself admits that It would be
difficult to say what the five poems in this cycle are about. About nature?
Or a girl? (Schmidt, p.51). To my mind, the real subject is the interplay
between gentle and vehement emotion which, in turn, act as ciphers for
homelinessand aristocratic isolation, the two irreconcilable poles between
which Lenaus life and art unhappily vacillated.
To give some idea of the obsessiveness of this tension, I should like to cite
just a few more examples at random. In An meine Rose the speaker dwells
on the flowers holdes Antlitz, Stets inniger umschmiegt by longing, until
the inevitable Stimmungsbrechung, the asseveration that he must for ever
hurry by all that he loves Von Sturmen fortgetrieben (SWB 1,7). In the
next poem, Reise-Empjindung, the narrator is drawn to a Hauschen enclo-
sed in a hortus conclusus, a place of innocence and eternal spring - yet is
again forced to move on at the end (SWB 1,9). In Nach Suden, a doubly
protected Dorfchen
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 253

... Rings umrauscht vom Waldesrande,

Mild von Segen rings umweht ...

is threatened by the rising storm of transience (SWB 1,lO). A longing for

togetherness, in the obligatory stillen Hain, is disrupted by a swift, indeed
sublime, rush of water and time in Das Mondlicht: Seh ich, wie hinab die
schnellen/Unaufhaltsam fliehn (SWB I, 13). Niichtliche Wanderung contains
the same antithesis between idyllic (engelmild, traut, sUl3, lieblich)
and sublime (finster, wild) and here - in a characteristic overcompensa-
tion the sublime is intensified because the idyll proves impracticable:

Stets finstrer wird der Wolkendrang,

Der Sturm im Walde briillt ... (SWB 1.15)

The same is true of Meine Braut where the idyllic opening (hold) is
displaced by a more manly alternative for longing, a storm of sublime
Plotzlich treibt ein wildes Sehnen
Nach den Bergen mich ...
Und der Sturm ist aufgewacht (SWB I,19)

The caravan, in In der Wuste, heads nach dem Land der Ruh, only to be
(predictably) thwarted by a Sturm (SWB 1,190. Wandel der Sehnsuchr
again turns on the standard axis: Aus der weiten, fremden Meereswiiste/
Nach der lieben, fernen Heimatkuste. And again, having lost his beloved
and, with her, his hope of Elysium, the speakers solution is heroic: to return
bang ... Wieder in das dumpfe Flutgebraus, to the wilde Meeren (SWB
1.24). If he cannot be completely happy, the Lenauian protagonist would
rather die in an unprecedented display of sublimity. An Fr. Kleyle moves,
similarly, from Hoffnung and a Hain to a wild Sturm (SWB 1,29f.).
And, in Der Zweger, a rising storm puts an end to the idyll described at the
start (SWB 1,550; indicatively the former turns out to be an echo of the
storm in the poets own breast:
Es braust in meines Herzens wildern Takt,
Vergiinglichkeit. dein lauter Katarakt! (SWB I,56)

Lenau was his own Niagara; he needed the American cataract only as a
socially acceptable objective correlative for his sublime Unaufhaltsamkeit
and UnermeBlichkeit (SWB I,56).
The same dialectic - as one can perhaps expect in view of the poets
254 Richard Dove

notorious subjectivity - is evident in the supposedly impersonal Rollengedich-

te. The initial idyll in Robert und der h a l i d e is, for example, shattered by a
Sturmesflug (1.47): the poem is one long-drawn-out altercation between
Hutte and Heide (SWB 1,647). Die Heideschenke, too, begins idyllically
but soon there is a rastlos wilde[r] Sturmeslauf of horses hooves (1 1.17!T),
then a real storm couched in an equine comparison (1 1.37fl); after the subject
has entered the inn, the boldness and power of the songs grows apace
(1 1.76ff,90ff),the violins get ever wilder (1.101) until the emotion becomes
so ecstatic that one could hardly tell it apart from the wild negative storm.
There is a moment of longing for the security and innocence of the moon
(1 1.125ff) but Pathos very definitely triumphs (SWB I,68-73). The young
recruit in Die Werbung is also caught on the horns of Lenaus dilemma:
although attracted by the sublimity of the martial music (emport den Hel-
denblut, wilder singen, Braust, Macht, freundetrunken), he never-
theless feels the call of the idyll, thinking of his mother and Hutte. As he
stands undecided, he is, however, overcome by the sheer power of the playing
(Machtig an zum starksten Brande) and das Bild der Heimat is swept
away Auf des BaDes Sturmgewittern. The recruiters taunt Bist wohl auch
kein Heldensohn! makes him deaf to his milder desires and he sturzt
boldly, and blindly, to join up (SWB 1,149-52).
If there is something metaphorically suicidal about Die Werbung, the
process is carried a stage further in Die drei Indianer where, against the
sublime background of Niagara, the three festentschloflen ... Sturzen jetzt
den Katarakt hinunter. There is, of course, an adequate excuse to hand for
such heroic suicide, in this case: the utter impotence of the Indians in the
face of White tyranny. But, in context, it is hard not to see the suicide as
just another, more extreme, expression of Pathos, following on from the
sublime scene itself (Machtig ziirnt der Himmel im Gewitter ... sturzen mit
emportem Grimme) and from the even more sublime defiance of the ageing
chief (Und er spricht aus tiefemportem Herzen:/Fluch den WeiDen ...)
(SWB 1,1080. After this non plus ultra in vehement emotionalism, the com-
panion piece Niagara is a decided anti-climax, sounding almost incongruously
subdued with its epithets su0 and (twice) sanft and with its mild trochaic
tetrameter. But, as before, the plane of Ethos is left as the river nears the
rapids and is seized by a wildes Ahnen. Rather like the recruits Bild der
Heimat, the rivers schones Bild is abruptly zertrummert - sublime
emotion overwhelms a calm, objective appraisal - and the waters plunge
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 255

down Wie von Sehnsucht hingeriDen/Nach dem groDen Untergang (SWB

1,258f.). Hinre$en, one notes, is a German version of movere: just as we are
moved poetically by the exotic scene, so we are moved metapoetically by this
powerful peroratio in which grol3 has an entirely affective function as, one
presumes, a pointer that such tragic destruction is far more heroic, more
noble, than the kind of Biederrneier Vollgliick in der Beschrankung which
was possible in the higher reaches.
This is not the whole story, however - as one can see from the Schiwieder.
The part of Lenau that pined for idylls would not be denied and, on occasions,
a compromise was reached which, if not unconscious, is delightfully disingen-
uous. Beethovens Buste, for instance, is an orgy of storminess which makes
the heart break its banks like a mountain torrent but ends, unexpectedly,
with the confident, almost pious, expectation of mild felicity in the hereafter:
Jetzo rauschen sie Versohnung
Nach der Menschheit Kampf und Leide ... (SWB 1,394)
As in the passage on Fidelio, an idyll is anticipated affer sublimity an idyll

which remains conveniently out of sight in the ecstatic moment so as not to

be demeaning. Wurnung und Wunsch arrives at an even more ingenious
solution. The first strophe warns against the consequences of Pathos:
Lebe nicht so schnell und sturmisch;
Sieh den holden Friihling prangen ...

The last is a fond wish for the impossible ~ for an idyllic (innig) life of
perpetual Pathos:
Konnt ich leben also innig,
Feurig, rasch und ungebunden,
Wie das Leben jenes Blitzes,
Der dort im Gebirg verschwunden! (SWB 1,132)

Wunsch is a still clearer example of Lenaus longing for situations in which

the sublime and the idyllic could be united, in which he could enjoy the latter
without feeling somehow sissy: he imagines building ein Huttlein traut in
the American Urwald and of weaving wreaths of wild(!) Lieder for his
beloved, of staring (with her at his side!) at the sublime Donnerfluten/Zum
Abgrund stiirzen, in short of having the best of both worlds (SWB 1,274f.).
Two more examples can suggest how central the contrast is in Lenaus
world: if it did not seem so compulsive, so uncontrollable, so much a precipi-
tate of problems in his actual life, one could almost compare it to Holderlins
256 Richard Dove

theory of Wechsel der Tone. As apparently impersonal a performance as

Klara Hebert opens with a sweet paean to spring; then the scene changes to
what is unequivocally a locus terribilis, the Polish princes dungeon (SWB
1,166), yet ultimately, on account of the young girls love, precisely this place
is idyllicized, as the narrator goes out of his way to emphasize:
Selbst die rauhen, oden Klippen
Halt die Freude jetzt umschlungen ... (SWB 1,191)

And even that most unlikely of mines, the long narrative poem Der ewige
Jude, produces a find. Although, of course, another of Lenaus blighted,
Byronic exceptional men (Nur Einem ist ... Die Welt stets einerlei und stets
zuwider), Ahasverus draws a surprisingly homely moral from a regular
domestic scene he happens to stumble upon:
Und ich empfand, als ich das Bild betrachtet:
Ein Hen, das Lieb und Sorge dicht umhegen,
1st glucklich; und ein Herz auf stolzen Wegen
Auf Irrfahrt grol3er Wunsche - herb verschmachtet. (SWB 1,219)

The dilemma is an emotional one - as the repeated reference to Herz

implies. One has a constant choice between (commonplace) happiness and
(aristocratic) outstandingness. On the level of life, no one in his right mind
would choose the latter if he knew the consequences; but in art, as Lenaus
late comment on Auerbach intimates, idylls have a horrible tendency to
prove too trivial for the self-consciously great soul:
Was aber die Dorfgeschichten betrifft, so hab ich mit deren Lesung begonnen,
doch immer noch nicht fertig werden konnen. Die Gegenstande dieser Idyllen
sind mir zu unerheblich ... (SWB 11,1004).

It was a dilemma, in any case, which was with Lenau from the beginning ~

the benighted stoic who errs about a la Byron in a storm in a landscape that
is wild and emport in the very early An Seneca longs, at the eleventh
hour, for his Heimatland and seeks den lieben Mond the starless sky
(SWB 1,444f.). It may not, indeed, be too far-fetched to see in the poets
favourite vierhebige gereimte V i e r ~ e i l e r -~which
~ are often pathetically
unequal to the dithyrambic content which was poured into them - as fulfilling
much the same function as the mothers embrace he was forever fantasizing
about. The dilemma also proves an unsuspected common denominator in
works as ostensibly dissimilar as the epic poems Faust, Helena, Don Juan,
Savonarola and Die A l b i g e n ~ e r . ~ ~
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 257

To conclude, I should like to try to justify this attempt at a rhetorical
interpretation of Lenau by showing how wrong a critic can go who denies,
or ignores, the rhetorical basis of his work. I shall take Wolfgang Martens
book as my example because it is one which, in other respects, fully deserves
its reputation: its blind spot seems to me to be that of much Lenau criticism.
Martens existentialist-influenced approach is part of a trend which, in the
wake of the Second World War, tended to see the Weltschmerzler as nihilists
avant la lettre.47 From an existentialist point of view, the only line to come
down from Lenaus abortive early tragedy, 0 IaDt ihn Menschenschmerz
empfinden! is a desperate attempt to salvage some value from the void:
Das perverse Verlangen Lenaus nach Schmerz und Erschutterung erklart sich
von hier aus am ehesten: Lenau - lebt aus dem Schmerz! Er klammert sich an
ihn als einen Wert. (Martens, p.1 12)48

From a rhetorical point of view, however, it is a - perhaps not entirely

healthy but certainly not perverse - desire to revel in that most haughty of
pleasures, Pathos; Martens own word Erschutterung is the best gloss -
m ~ v e r eThe
. ~ ~sublime component is similarly missed out in the sections on
Urwald (pp.40-3), Sturm und Gewitter (pp.49-53), Meer (pp.89-93)
and Wuste (pp.93-5). By the same token, Fausts longing for storms - 0
Sturm, o Sturm, wie sehn ich mich nach dir! - is considered seltsam
(Martens, p.52) and, in his sentence Es geht ihm [Faust] um das erschuttern-
de Erlebnis der Bedrohung durch Tod und Verhangnis (ibid.), Martens is
clearly emphasizing Tod und Verhangnis rather than the rhetorical experi-
ence of Erschutterung. True, he comes very close to the truth about Lenau
when arguing that Im Schmerz und Erschutterung genieDt das erlebende
Ich sich selbst und seine GroDe (Martens, p.53), but he does not link this
with Longinus point about the Sublime being the echo of a great soul: if
Lenau was a hero, he was not an existential hero but rather a throw-back to
an eighteenth-century ideal he would have read about at his Gymnasium. A
comment on the ocean makes it apparent that Martens does not recognize
that the Terrible was an integral part of the sublime Erlebnis:
Einen frommen ehrfiirchtigen Sinn fur die Erhabenheit des Meeres besitzt
Lenau nicht. Alles GroBe, Elementare in der Natur zeigt sich ihm nur von der
furchtbaren Seite. (Martens, p.91)
258 Richard Dove

Similarly, he takes another of the sublime props for which Lenau plundered
the storeroom of nature the Abgrund - as real rather than rhetorical

(Martens, p. 102); and his whole chapter Das Erlebnis der Grenze (pp.
99-1 26) presupposes a twentieth-century Grenzsituation not an epicurean
delight in extreme emotionalism.
Schmidt ends his study with a verdict that is certainly not too harsh:
Lenau was not a universal artist ... Only one specific category of inner experi-
ences challenged his creativity, and along only one narrow line of impulses did
his poetic genius grow: melancholy and despair ... Lenau, who lacked Heines
humor and mental levity, used the [four-line rhymed stanza] with the serious
fervor of a religious poet. But his religion knew of no hereafter, and his only
belief was in mans misery. (Schmidt, p.155)

But it needs to be stressed, at the risk of special pleading, that Lenaus

narrowness was essentially self-imposed the humour and levity of the letters

disappear in the published work so that he seems a great and tragic spirit,
an embodiment of gravitas, quite unlike the Heine who is dismissed as
der Satyr unter den Gottern (ML pp.193f.) - and that melancholy and
despair, translated into rhetorical terms, mean Pathos and are legitimate
preconditions of Sublimity. Doubtless we must still speak, with Errante, of
the tragedy of Lenau. But it was not really the tragedy of a man who was
(in a romantic sense) irremediably unhappy; rather of an artist whose need
for Pathos was so great that the art-form at which he excelled proved unable
to accommodate it. The tragedy of Lenau is that his violin dlngres meant
almost more to him than his thoroughly professional verse - that, in order
to approach the ultimate Pathos that mattered most to him, he had, as it
were, to drown:
Die hochsten und tiefsten Gefiihle kann man nicht mit Worten ausdriicken. Der
Geist muI3 wie ein Schiff weit vom oden, steinigen Ufer der Gedanken abstokn,
und sich den Wogen des sentimentalen Ozeans, der Musik, i i b e r l a ~ s e n . ~ ~


1. cf. V. Errante, Lenau. Geschichte eines Martyrers der Poesie, (Mengen 1948), p.
19 (Denn Wahnsinn und friihzeitiger Tod rachen mit tragischer, unbestrittener
(!) Beweiskraft die Wahrhaftigkeit (!) seiner Leidenszeit, die so oft durch die Kritik
verkannt und als bloBe literarische Pose gewertet worden ist.) but also M. Butler,
Nikolaus Lenau, German Men of Letters, vol. 5, (London 1969), p. 156.
2. W. Martens, Bild und Motiv im Weltschmerz, (ColognelGraz 1957), p. 156 (Lenaus
Verzweiflung ist existenziell, seine Angst nackte Existenzangst), H. Steinecke,
Nikolaus Lenau, Deutsche Dichter des 19. Jahrhunderts, ed. B. v. Wiese, (Berlin
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 259

1969), p. 357 (Aus ihr spricht Existenzangst), G. Neumann, Das Verganglich

Bild. Untersuchungen zu Lenaus lyrischem Verfahren, ZfdPh 86 (1967), 493
(nackte Angst), W. Rasch (see infra), H. Schmidt, Nikolaus Lenau, (New York
1971), p. 38 (The emotion underlying the poem must have been so genuine and
intense ...), G. W. Field, A Literary History of Germany. The Nineteenth Century
1830-1890, (London 1975), p. 70 (The Schilflieder remind us of Heines early
Romantic Lieder, except that Lenau is desperately sincere ...) and Butler, who
speaks of uncompromising honesty (Butler, p. 177), all provide variations on
the same sincere theme.
3. cf. the decidedly bitchy account in L. Reynaud, N . Lenau. PoPte Lyrique, (Paris
1904) esp. pp. 52-90 and, more recently, the Verrip in W. Hof, Pessimistisch-
nihilistische Stromungen in der deutschen Literatur vom Sturm und Drang bis zum
Jungen Deuischland, (Tubingen 1970), pp. 158-74.
4. Schmidt, p. 16. For a similar argument see C. Hentschel, The Byronic Teuton,
(London 1940), p. 8.
5. quoted by H. Bischoff, Nikolaus Lenaus Lyrik, 2 vols, (Brussels 1920-l), i. 465.
6 Lenaus works are referred to as follows: Samtliche Werke und Briefe, ed. W.
Dietze, 2 vols, (Frankfurt 1971) (=SWB 1,II); Lenau und die Familie Liiwenthal,
ed. E. Castle, (Leipzig 1906) (contains a collection of Lenauian aphorisms) ( =
LuL); Tagebuch von Max Lowenthal (18374), published in Bischoff, op. cit., vol.
2 (=ML)
7. F. Sengle, Biedermeierzeit, 3 vols, (Stuttgart 1971-80), iii. 640-90 (p. 656).
8. On sincerity as the Erwartungshorizont of Lenaus generation see W. Martens,
Uber Lenaus Publikum, Lenau-Almanach (l979), esp. pp. 196204.
9. Lenau plays along elsewhere with the same cult - using with approval the term
Naturlaut which Heine had brought up to condemn that consummately con-
sciious artist Platen in Die Biider von Lucca (LuL, p. 79) and diplomatically
couching his own ars poetica in contemporary terms in his sole book-review: he
criticizes the sterile Enumeration and the bloO verstandige[r] Parallelismus in
Keils poems just as earlier (SWB 11,134) he had criticized the rhetorical numerus
oratorius in Karl Mayers, although such conscious construction is a marked
feature of his own as Walter Weiss has pointed out (Nikolaus Lenau, Tausend
Jahre Osterreich, ed. W. Pollak, 3 vols, (Munich 19734), ii. 63), and goes on to
use such romantic slogans as Organischlebendiges, Symbol and innigeren
Verkehr (SWB 11,1093fQ
10. For the view that Lenau created correlatives for his inner life that, in their
haunting and, at times, surrealistic quality, point far into the future see Schmidt,
p. 34 and passim.
I I. The tension between the old and new in Droste is explored by G. Hantzschel,
Tradition and Originalitat, (Stuttgart/Berh/Cologne/Mainz 1968), in Platen in my
book The Individualitat ofAugust von Platen, (Frankfurt a.M./Berne 1983) and
in the age in general by Sengle, passim.
12. J. G. Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der schonen Kiinste, 2nd. edition, 4 vols, (Leipzig
17924), II,97.
13. W. Rasch, Nikolaus Lenaus Doppelsonett Einsamkeit, DVjS 25( l95l), 214,
14. W. Miiller-Seidel, Probleme der literarischen Wertung, 2nd. edition, (Stuttgart
1969), pp. 7@5 (p. 73).
260 Richard Dove

15. e.g. H. Lausberg, Elemente der Iiterarischen Rhetorik, 3rd. edition, (Munich 1967),
p. 145.
16. cf. H. Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik, 2 vols, (Munich 1960), i.142f.
and Longinus, Traiti du Sublime, Boileau, Oeuvres Compldes, ed. F. Escal, (Paris
1966), pp. 348f.
17. Lausberg, Elemente, p. 75.
18. G. Wilker-Huersch, Gehalt und Form im deutschen Sonett von Goethe bis Rilke,
Diss. Berne (1952), pp. 7f.
19. cf. S . H. Monk, The Sublime, (Ann Arbor 1960), pp. 17, 39.
20. quoted by F, Sengle, Vorschlage zur Reform der literarischen Formenlehre, 2nd
edition, (Stuttgart 1969), p. 31.
21. The remark is pure Longinus: cf. Traite du Sublime ch. XXXIV (ed. cit. pp. 397fi).
22. The empirical Niembsch was clearly very moved by spring throughout his writing
life: the ecstatic exclamations and ingenuous involvement of one outburst from
1831 (SWB II,69) bring Goethes Mailied to mind and little has changed thirteen
years later (SWB 11,1002; cf. also SWB II,72, 678, 684, 848, 966f., 999f.). If he
rigorously suppressed this side of himself in his official oeuvre, it must be because
he felt that the subject, or the treatment, was strictly non-U. The poems themselves
confirm this theory: Gedichte has a separate section Friihling (SWB 1,3848)
which, in quantitative terms, actually outnumbers its counterpart Herbst (SWB
I,49-54), although there are, of course, countless other autumn lyrics scattered
throughout the rest of the Collected Works; but the stance which Lenau adopts
towards the spring proves downright supercilious. To take only one example, Der
Lenz: the rhythm is unusually debonair and one could call the tone, for once,
entirely positive (there is no Stimmungsbrechung, for instance); but the manner
in which the carefree child - der Lenz, der schone Junge - is apostrophized is
gently but firmly condescending. Terms like Streiche, fink, Geschwatz,
keck and the diminutives Bachlein and Sohnlein imply a gracious, but
unmistakable, attitude of de haut en bas. Lenau may, in his heart of hearts, be in
complete sympathy with the youth, but the aristocratic mask must not be allowed
to slip, even if this means siding with the Strenge of winter (SWB 1,380. The
reason, then, why the spring poems seem gedacht rather than empfunden, in
contrast to the autumnal scenes (Martens, pp. 9,86; cf. also Schmidt, p. 42), is
rhetorical: whereas autumn offered excellent opportunities for the expression of
Pathos, they belong to the province of Ethos and are, thus, quite literally, beneath
the poets dignity.
23. cf. K. Garber, Der locus amoenus und der locus terribilis, (Cologne/Vienna 1974),
esp. pp. 226-98.
24. A. Gryphius, Werke in drei Bunden, ed. H. Palm, (Hildesheim 1961), iii. 133.
25. cf. K. Partl, Die Spiegelung romantischer Poetik in der biedermeierlichen Dich-
tungsstruktur Morikes und Platens, Zur Literatur der Restaurationsepoche, ed. J.
Hermand/M. Windfuhr, (Stuttgart 1970), pp. 548ff.
26. E. Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and
Beautiful, ed. J. T. Boulton, (London 1958), p. 71.
27. This dictum seems the logical (or rather emotional) conclusion of Blairs comment
in the Critical Dissertation that Ossian moves perpetually in the high region of
the grand and the pathetic (quoted by W. J. Hipple, The beautiful, the sublime,
and the picturesque in eighteenth-century British aesthetic theory, (Carbondale
A Reassessment ofNikolaus Lenau 26 1

1957), p. 129). Ossian made a considerable impact on the young Lenau (cf. SWB
11,149) and there is certainly scope for a study of Lenaus debts to the elevated
elegiacism of the fictive bard. Elisa Ranucci has already written a valuable essay
on Lenaus response to Klopstock, another crucial formative influence as far as
the high style is concerned (Lenau und Klopstock, I.: G. Klopstock, Werk und
Wirkung, ed. H.-G. Werner, (Berlin 1978), pp. 247-54).
28. cf. Hentschel, p. 44, Butler, p. 177 (His range, for all his ambition and occasional
brilliance, is surprisingly narrow) and Schmidt, p. 155.
29. E. Hillmar, Vertonungen von Nikolaus Lenaus Lyrik, Lenau-Almanach (1969/
7 9 , 5 1.
30. cf. J. Wain, Samuel Johnson, (London 1974), p. 116: Johnson was not necessarily
aware of producing a self-portrait ... since anyone who has mixed with authors
will know how often they are extraordinarily blind to self-reference which is
obvious to any bystander.
31. He sides, in a surprisingly simplistic manner, with mountains against valleys (cf.
esp. SWB 11,452, 659), with Gemsen against Unken (SWB 11,1008, 1015),
with heroic hyperboles against diminutives (cf. esp. SWB 11,328, 994, 1066), with
laconicism against garrulousness (cf. SWB II,83, 641, 995), with Munnlichkeit
against Weichheif (cf. SWB 11,104, 264, 996), with purity against dirt (cf. SWB
11,187, 373, 659, 684, 1088( - in short, with all imaginable aristocratic attitudes.
32. cf. G. Ueding, Eirlfiihrung in die Rhetorik, (Stuttgart 1976), p. 220 and also pp.
94, 146f., 233f.
33. A. Schopenhauer, Samtliche Werke, ed. P. Deussen, 16 vols, (Munich 191142),
ii. 498.
34. cf. R. Hofmann, Lenaus Naturerleben, Lenau-Almanach (1961/2), 15-22, H.
Schmidt, Natursymbole in Nikolaus Lenaus Gedichten, Lenau-Almanach (1963/
4), 46-72, id., Naturbilder in Nikolaus Lenaus Gedichten, Lenau-Almanach
(l965/6), 3 1 4 1 , H . G . Werner, Natur in Lenaus Gedichten, Lenau-Almanuch
(1976/8), 9 4 1 0 9 .
35. There is no direct evidence, as far as I know, that Lenau read Longinus; but he
was well schooled in the other main-line classical rhetoricians, and it would be
next to impossible that he never read about the Sublime which, after all, played
such a major role in late eighteenth-century aesthetic thinking. It is too often
forgotten that the eighteenth century - and even the early nineteenth (cf. M-L.
Linn, Studien zur deutschen Rhetorik und Stilistik im neunzehnten Jahrhundert,
(Marburg 1963), esp. pp. 29fQ - still thought naturally in rhetorical terms. Klop-
stocks theoretical essays are a case in point: although he does not use the labels
Pathos and Ethos, he distinguishes sharply between die hohere Poesie and die
angenehme Poesie, between Die erhabne Schreibart and die gemilderte, and
is much concerned with movere, par excellence in the declaration in Von der
heiligen Poesie: Die letzten und hochsten Wirkungen der Werke des Genie sind,
da13 sie die ganze Seele bewegen. Wir konnen hier einige Stufen (!) der starken
und der starkeren Empfindung hinaufsteigen. Das ist der Schauplatz des Erhabe-
nen. (F. G. Klopstock, Ausgewuhlte Werke, ed. K. A. Schleiden, (Munich 1962),
pp. 992, 1012, 1000). Even though the general tendency was to replace the genera
dicendi by less obviously rhetorical stylistic levels like erhaben and schon,
Anmut and Wiirde (cf. Sengle, Vorschlage n. 33), Sulzer, for one, still saw
Erhaben, Pathos and Bewundrung fairly and squarely in rhetorical terms (cf.
262 Richard Dove

Allgemeine Theorie II,97-114, III,661f., 1,396fY). The section Dichter (1,608-18)

plays off poets of Ethos like Anacreon against poets of Pathos like the Homer of
the Iliad; and, interestingly from the point of view of Lenau, he seems - for all
his ostentatious even-dealing - secretly to side with the Sublime because it is
more noble: Der Sanger der Achilles wird vornehmlich von g r o k n Gegenstanden
geriihrt. Er sieht alles in Beziehung auf starke, mannliche Tugend, weil er selbst
einen hohen Geist hat. (I,61 I). In spite of Klaus Dockhorns indefatigable efforts,
over several decades, to sensitize us to the survival of the Affektenlehre in the
romantic period (cf. esp. Macht und Wirkung der Rhetorik, (Bad Homburg/Berlin/
Zurich 1968), pp. 125-8), the following summary of the situation in Germanistik
is, sadly, still valid: Die fortdauernde Giiltigkeit dieser Affektenlehre bis hin zur
Romantik ... ist bei weitem noch nicht genugend beachtet worden. (G. Ueding,
Schillers Rhetorik. Idealis tische Wirkungsasthetik und rhetorische Tradition, (Tubin-
gen 1971), p. 53).
36. For an account of baroque Schatzkammer see M. Windfuhr, Die barocke Bildlich-
keit und ihre Kritiker, (Stuttgart 1966).
37. For the standard rhetorical view on images see Sulzer, 1,405ff. It must be borne
in mind that Sinnbild, for Lenau, meant allegory not symbol (e.g. SWB
11,186); and the ease with which he slipped, even at the end of his life, from
concrete to abstract (... Vie1 Wasser rauschte indessen im FluD hinunter, und
vieles ging den Strom des Lebens hinab und kehrt nicht wider, SWB 11,1003)
suggests the extent to which he was still in the thrall of the old Einkleidungstheorie.
38. cf. Burke, p. 66 who asserts that the Sublime comes upon us in the gloomy forest,
and in the howling wilderness. The idea of vastness as a sufficient cause of the
Sublime is, of course, a commonplace i treatises on the subject (cf. Monk, op. cit.
and the essay on das Erhabene in German literature in K. Vietor, Geist und
Form, (Berne 1952)).
39. Ivar Ivask blazed a trail in the early sixties by showing just how baroque a poet
Lenau is in important respects (cf. Das grope Erbe, Aufsatze zur osterreichischen
Lileratur, (Graz/Vienna 1962) and the essay Nikolaus Lenau, Wort in der Zeit
(1964), Heft 5 , 35-41); his arguments are now accepted, not only by the doyen of
Biedermeier studies (cf. Sengle iii.644n), but also by a Marxist critic like Antal
Madl who has, as certain of the chapter-titles of his recent book clearly show (e.g.
Von Nikolaus Lenau zu odon von Horvath, Lenau und die Folgen), a vested
interest in bringing out the more progressive, forward-looking elements in Lenau
(Auf Lenaus Spuren, (Vienna/Budapest 1982), p. 51).
40. J. Hermand, Die literarische Formenwelt des Biedermeiers. (Giessen 1958), p. 27.
41. Neumann takes his bearings by Mallarm6 (cf. Neumann, pp. 498 n.32, 500 and
n.35 and esp. pp. 508ff. where it is claimed that the sphinxhafte Starre und
Entwicklungslosigkeit of Lenaus images bezeichnet ein letztes Innehalten vor
jener Auflosung alles im herkommlichen Sinne Bildlichen, die die im engeren Sinne
moderne Lyrik seit Mallarme pragt) and a crisis is read ex post facto into a poet
who was as conventional, as regards imagery, as his contemporaries. It is creating
a problem to speak of die Zwitterstellung des lenauschen Bildes zwischen Abbild
und Sinnbild (p. 489): for one thing, the distinction was meaningless in the
Biedermeierzeit; for another, the conflict which Neumann detects is, as I shall
show below, one which has nothing to do with technicalities of Formgebung.
42. A rhetorical approach - although it does not tell one any more about his conceptu-
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 263

al preoccupations - reveals hidden common ground between many of Lenaus

works and thus provides another Teilwahrheit to set beside the Marxist line (J.
Turoczi-Trostler, Lenau, (Berlin 1961) et. al.), the existentialist line (Rasch, Mar-
tens et. al.) and the more sceptical line which only sees continuity in constant
change (cf. esp. Butler, p. 157) The rest of his life and work is basically a
series of desperate oscillations between sensuality and asceticism, monotheism and
pantheism, determinism and nihilism ...).
43. Neumann, p. 490 remarks on the change of mood at this point, but attempts to
explain it, true to his thesis, on poetological grounds.
44 The pathetisch potential of aufgewiihlt is suggested by this paraphrase of Vives
humanistic warning against Pathos: Vives warnt vor den hochsten Affektgraden,
deres Heftigkeit die Seele erschuttere und Vernunft wie Urteilsfahigkeit aufhebe -
einer durch schrecklichen Sturm bewirkten Bewegung des Meeres gleich, bei der
die ganze See von Grund auf ... aujgewuhlt werde (E. Rotermund, AJekt und
Artistik, (Munich 1972), p. 15; my italics). For explorations of the Verselbstandi-
gung des movere in the wake of the rediscovery of Longinus see J. Goth,
Nietzsche unddie Rhetorik, (Tubingen 1970), p. 38 andpassim, H. F. Plett, Rhetorik
der Affekte. Englische Wirkungsasthetik im Zeitalter der Renaissance, (Tubingen
1975), p. 46 and passim.
45. Weiss, p. 63. Maybe Lenaus idyllic stanzas have more t o d o with his astuteness
in the realm of public relations: he would doubtless have recognized that per-
formances like Platens pseudo-Pindaric Festgesunge were non-starters commer-
cially and it is a fact that his elegische Lieder were perfectly in tune with the
times (cf. A. M. Sontgerath, Das Weiterleben des 18. Jahrhunderts in der Lyrik der
Beidermeierzeit, Diss. (Tiibingen 1953), p. 51). On the other hand, the mild sapphic
won out over the more heroic alcaic ode-form in the juvenilia when there was no
public pressure. It would seem likely that - in spite of his Herculean overcompensa-
tions (cf. his movement away from Schubert towards the more sublime Beet-
hoven, already mentioned, or away from Mozart, der Bobzer (ein kleiner Berg
bei Stuttgart) where Beethoven was der Cimborosso (quoted by Turoczi-
Trostler, p. 63) or away from Mendelssohn, again in the direction of Beethovian
Puthos (SWB 11,673f.)) - Lenaus innermost private instincts were, and remained,
essentially unheroic. He was, so to speak, a Holty who publically felt honour-
bound to appear like Klopstock.
46. The tension between an aristocratic world-view and one which, although more
healthy, is less dignified infests the entire action of Faust: although the hero is
committed to the high road, climbing arrogantly, in the opening scene, above
the misguided piety of those who kneel in the Kirchlein in the valley below, he
is begged a t the outset to abandon his ungerechtes Trauern and to enjoy the
jaunty pleasures of spring (SWB 1,515) and this is only the first of such tempta-
tions: the monk exhorts 0kehre heim zur glaubigen Gerneinde and argues that
something in Faust is calling out unbewuDt dir selbst for such demeaning
community (SWB 1,525); in the pact scene, Faust is again tempted to take the
childish path of belief and is only converted when Mephistopheles shames him
back into his manly stance (SWB 1,529); Lenaus hero has no intention (in spite
of Isenburgs further advice) of allowing des Herzens tiefe RiDe,/Die durch und
durch hinab zur Holle klaffen to be healed (SWB 1,539): they are correlatives of
sublime emotionalism and in turning his back on lowland idyllicism he (and
264 Richard Dove

through him Lenau) is selling himself to Pathos. The same is true of the ending
where Faust goes out exultantly to his death Zu laben mich am Sturmgebraus
(SWB 1,628). Israel S. Stamm, who tries to make philosophical sense of a line like
Mir war das Meer des Schmerzens hohe Schule (SWB I,607), and of the poem
as a whole (Lenaus Faust GR 26(1951), 5-12) overlooks the rhetorical basis of
Lenaus art: hohe Schule and the adverb in the line that follows (Hier mag er
wurdig aufzuflammen lernen) indicate the poets real goal, the assertion of a
sublime stance vis u vis mere reality. Kurt, in the fragmentary epic Helenajs a
pale echo of Faust, insisting that too much comfort is beneath ones dignity and
that ones place is up in the mountains not down among the diminutives (SWB
1,639). In Don Juan the heros ideal is to pass through Den Zauberkreis, den
unermeBlich weiten of feminine charms im Sturme des Genuks, words which
suggest a sublime enjoyment of the idyllic (SWB 1,893). The familiar natural
landscape of the Sublime is drawn on repeatedly, as if to emphasize the high
pathetisch plane on which the action moves - Meer, Abgrund (SWB I,909),
Die hohe See der Wonne (SWB 1,913), Vesuv (SWB 1,914, 918) - and Juan
gets himself killed, in effect, because life cannot be a continual state of sublimity
without practical consequences (SWB 1,938). But he has the same countervailing
longing for idylls as other Lenau characters: an unbroken heile Welt is summoned
up, teeming with adjectives like SUB,lau, lieblich and zart in the speech
Wie tief der Wald den friihen Lenz empfindet (SWB 1,921). Again in Savonarola,
the preachers words pour down on the people like a Pindaric torrent (SWB 1,656,
658), products of his groBes Herz (SWB 1,658). He is, indeed, an orator in the
stilus vehemens: Mariano, his antagonist, is a feiner Redemeister who knows
his Cicero and turns a pretty Exordium (SWB 1,666f.) but has no sense of true
movere, (Erschuttert ... die Seele nie SWB I,674), unlike the hero who carries
away all with the terrible sublimity of his words (SWB 1,716; cf. also SWB 1,682,
706, 737,769). But, again, there is a pronounced idyllic urge in the poem - several
extended spring scenes for instance (SWB I,649ff, 665, 717, 725ff, 754f.). The
attraction of the theme was, perhaps, that it legitimized such an idyllic urge which
- without the Christian context - could easily have seemed too unmannlich:
the preachers vision moves beyond the stormy present towards das Land der
Sehnsucht (SWB 1,676), towards des Friedens Morgenrot, den heimatlichen
Himmel (SWB 1,679); like Lenau in Beethovens Biiste and elsewhere, Savonarola
dreams serenely at the last of an idyll beyond sublimity, of der Friihling Gottes
(SWB 1,769). To see the epic as an ideologische Sackgasse (Turoczi-Trostler, p.
171), a gereimte Apologie (Steinecke, p. 349) or a straight failure (A. Madl,
Politische Dichtung in Osterreich (183G1848). (Budapest 1969), p. 100) is to
overlook the extent to which it too is rooted in the poets characteristic imaginative
world. Even Lenaus most problematic completed epic, Die Albigenser, starts from
the same premise as Faust: the section Fruhling laments that man has alienated
himself from - idyllic - nature (SWB 1,780). Pierre von Castelnau is, like Faust,
austerely outside the world of the joyous troubadour he meets - yet is overcome
by sudden longing for the lieblich cosmos, the suBe Lebenslust, the latters
song evokes (SWB 1,787). The necklace on which the various unconnected episodes
are threaded is the key-word Sturm (cf. SWB 1,791, 800, 802, 823, 826, 858,
865), rhetorical storms masquerading as the storms of history. What seems to
matter most is the sublime uproar which one of the several Lenauian look-alikes,
A Reassessment of Nikolaus Lenau 265

Theodor, feels after coming in momentarily from the lonely cold to teach the
ignorant family circle the folly of its ways - Und alle faDt um ihn ein banger
SchauerJWie er ins Feuer starrt, vom Frost geriittelt,/Vom Aufruhr in der Seele
wild geschiittelt (SWB 1,850). If this is so, the external action (like so many of
the poets nature scenes) is incidental in a way which Marxist critics, who see
the epic as his supreme creation, could not possibly accept (cf. Madl, Politische
Dichtung, pp. 102-7). In any case, one is left with the impression that Lenau
worked himself into a position, in Die AIbigenser as in Savonarolu, from which
he could indulge his desire for sublimity, but also for spring-like idylls. There are
a number of literal idylls (SWB 1.817, 828, 870f.), but also the hope of a new
spiritual spring (SWB 1,822); in Savonarola Lenau hid behind the notion of the
Christian afterlife; here, in an even more heroic context, he equates the irresistible
triumph of spring with that of Freedom (SWB 1,877) and such sentiments are
echoed, on a more philosophical level, in the famous SchluJgesung where Hegel
is used as a pretext for fond fancies very much Lenaus own (SWB 1,887ff).
Naturally such readings d o not exhaust the epics; but they urge that there was
more continuity in the poets explorations than is widely supposed.
47. The various representitives of this existentialist movement in Lenau-studies are
listed, and criticized individually, by Giinther Hantzschel in his Forschungsbericht
Nikolaus Lenau, Zur Literatur der Restaurationsepoche pp. 73ff.
48. Similar arguments were frequent at the time: cf. Rasch, p. 230 who says that strict
form is, for Lenau, der letzte Halt beim Einbruch des Nichts but also W. Weiss,
Enttauschter Pantheismus, (Dornbirn 1962), p. 125, who says that form was, for
Platen too, a letzter Halt vor dem aufgahnende Nichts.
49. The desire to revel in Pathos is responsible also for the - otherwise absurd -
paradox which challenges one at the start of some lines of Platens:
Das grol3te Leiden ist
Nur das, nicht mehr im Stand zu sein, zu leiden;
So lau, so flach, so flatterhaft zu sein,
Das nichts erschiittert mehr den Grund der Seele ... (August Graf von Platen,
Samtliche Werke, ed. M. Koch/E. Petzet, 12 vols, Leipzig n.d., ix. 165). A study
seeking to account for the prominent role of Pathos in Biedermeier writers like
Lenau, Platen and Grabbe has yet to be written; but Sengle has already pointed
usefully to their place in the Klopstock-Tradition (cf. Sengle iii.685).
50. Quoted by Errante, p. 83.

Richard Dove. Born 1954. PhD. Lecturer in German, University College of Wales,
Aberystwyth. Book-publication: The Individualitat of August von Platen, Frankfurt
a.M./Bern 1983.