Ruminations on ruins: classical versus romantic.
Ruins evoke meditations. When the nineteen-year-old Goethe visited Dresden in 1768 and viewed the city from the tower of the Frauenkirche, he was stunned, as he reported in Dichtung und Wahrheit (9:324), by "den zerstorten und verodeten Zustand so mancher Strasse" following the besiegement of the city by Prussian troops in 1760. His guide, pointing to the ruins in every direction, observed simply: "Das hat der Feind getan." Arnold Toynbee had a similar epiphany on 19 March 1912, during a tour through Crete. Coming upon the ruins of a Venetian villa destroyed by the Turks, it suddenly occurred to him: "If the Venetian Empire had perished, the British Empire could not be immortal." Indeed, Western civilization itself was "not exempt from the jurisdiction of Death the Leveller" (Toynbee 9: 432n2)--a sentiment already present by analogy in a famous epigram attributed to the Venerable Bede:
Quamdiu stat Colisaeus, stat et Roma; quando cadet Colisaeus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus. (Kytzler 312) [As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome too shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome too shall fall; when Rome falls, the world will also fall.]
Following the conclusion of World War II, the East German poet laureate Johannes R. Becher, composing a national hymn for the new German Democratic Republic, proclaimed in the text's opening lines that his people, having overcome the past by rising from the ruins, must now turn to the future: "Auferstanden aus Ruinen / und der Zukunft zugewandt" (1949). At the same time in West Germany the future Nobel-Prize winner Heinrich Boll acknowledged his allegiance to a "literature of ruins" ("Bekenntnis zur Trummerliteratur," 1952; 32-35). In 2015 the depredations of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, through which countless monuments of pre-Islamic culture were destroyed, gave rise to international laments over the loss of a precious world-historical heritage.
What is it about ruins that incites such reflections? In a stimulating article on the aesthetics of ruins, Hartmut Bohme takes an astonishing statement of Stendhal's--that the Colosseum was lovelier in his day than it had been at the time of its greatest splendor--to suggest that ruins display "a precarious balance between preserved form and collapse, between nature and history, violence and peace, memory and present, grief and longing for release" as attained in no building or work of art that is still undamaged. An intact structure is both aesthetic and functional, but a ruin, having lost its purpose, has only aesthetic value: "Its very destruction opens the realm of beauty of the ruins" (Bohme 287).
Many of these sentiments were already present in Constantin-Francois de Volney's Les Ruines, ou Meditations sur les revolutions des empires (1791), which stemmed from his trip across the Ottoman Empire, Syria, and Egypt in 1784.1 The volume is introduced by an invocation to "ye solitary Ruins": "What rich and noble admonitions, what exquisite and pathetic lessons do you read to a heart, that is susceptible of exalted feelings!" (x). The first four chapters amount to general, theoretical, and speculative thoughts on the emotional impact and meaning of ruins. Every day along his route Volney came upon abandoned fields, deserted villages, and towns in ruins: "Frequently I met with antique monuments, wrecks of temples, palaces, and fortifications, pillars, aqueducts, and sepulchres. By these scenes, my reflections were carried back to past ages, and my mind was absorbed in serious and profound meditation" (2). Moved by the stark contrasts between past and present, "I sat down on the base of a broken column ... and sunk insensibly into a profound reverie" (5).
While the examples cited hitherto refer to ruins produced by the Seven Years' War, the Ottoman invasion of Greece, World War II, and various wars of empire in the Middle East, the foremost inspiration for many Western thinkers in this vein has been Rome, as Heckscher has thoroughly demonstrated. In the words of the twelfth-century Hildebert von Lavardin:
Par tibi, Roma, nihil, cum sis prope tota ruina: Quam magni fueris integra, fracta doces. (Kytzler 344) [Nothing is equal to you, Rome, even though you are almost a total ruin: How great you were when whole, you show even when shattered.]
Shortly after his arrival in Rome in 1764, the young Edward Gibbon wrote to his father: "I have already found such a fund of entertainement [sic] for a mind somewhat prepared for it by an acquaintance with the Romans, that I am really almost in a dream. Whatever ideas books may have given us of the greatness of that people, Their [sic] accounts of the most flourishing state of Rome fall infinitely short of the picture of its ruins." (2) It was less than a week later, he recalls in his Memoirs, "on the fifteenth October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted fryars [sic] were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind" (Gibbon 167). A century and a half later, the American historian Brooks Adams claimed that the idea for his grand survey of Western history, The Law of Civilization and Decay (1895), was inspired by his visit in 1889 to the Roman ruins at Baalbek in Syria, where it struck him "that the fall of Rome came about by a competition between slave and free labor and an inferiority in Roman industry" (Adams 89). Forty years later, Sigmund Freud, a dedicated and frequent visitor to Rome, chose it as his example to prove that a city is unsuited for comparison with a mental organism. The Ancient Rome of the Republican era, he wrote, has left little but ruins, later restorations, and the jumble of the metropolis that has grown up around it. The past is buried in the soil of the city or beneath its modern buildings: "Dies ist die Art der Erhaltung des Vergangenen, die uns an historischen Stadten wie Rom entgegentritt" (Freud 14). In the realm of the mind, on the other hand, the norm is "die Erhaltung des Primitiven neben dem daraus entstandenen Umgewandelten" (12). More recently, the decline and fall of Rome has been frequently, almost routinely, adduced in articles, books, and editorials as an analogy for the situation of the United States and other Western countries in the twenty-first century.
This preoccupation with Rome as an image in historical, psychological, and cultural contexts inevitably left its imprint on literature. Walter Rehm traced its development in his magisterial study of European Rome-poetry, and scores of examples from antiquity to the present are reproduced in Kytzler's anthology of Greek and Latin poems about Roma Aeterna. Other studies have followed the theme in French and English literature. (3) My interest here, in contrast is not to survey Rome poems in German, but rather to distinguish the use of ruins in the literature of German Classicism from that of German Romanticism.
On 7 November 1786, a week after his arrival in Rome, Goethe noted in his Italienische Reise that he found himself contemplating the ruins in an effort to become familiar with the plans of the city in its ancient and modern forms:
Gestehen wir jedoch, es ist ein saures und trauriges Geschaft, das alte Rom aus dem neuen herauszuklauben, aber man muss es denn doch tun und zuletzt eine unschatzbare Befriedigung hoffen. Man trifft Spuren einer Herrlichkeit und einer Zerstorung, die beide uber unsere Begriffe gehen. Was die Barbaren stehenliessen, haben die Baumeister des neuen Roms verwustet. (11: 130)
His cicerone, the painter Wilhelm Tischbein, taught him in particular to appreciate the stones of Rome, which he had studied thoroughly with his artist's eye and the artist's appreciation of sensory things. (11:138).
It is these same stones that the poet addressed two years later in the opening distichs of his Romische Elegien (published 1795; Goethe 1: 157-73): "Saget, Steine, mir an, o sprecht, ihr hohen Palaste!" In this first elegy, before he has encountered the love that makes Rome come alive for him, he wanders about the city like the typical eighteenth-century Bildungsreisender. "Noch betracht' ich Kirch' und Palast, Ruinen und Saulen, / Wie ein bedachtiger Mann schicklich die Reise benutzt." But as soon as he is inflamed by love, the ruins begin to speak to him (Elegy 5): "Froh empfind' ich mich nun auf klassischem Boden begeistert, Vor- und Mitwelt spricht lauter und reizender mir." Now he can appreciate ancient Augustan Rome as revealed through its ruins. As he waits impatiently for sunset so that he can visit his beloved, he writes (Elegy 15):
Hohe Sonne, du weilst, und du beschauest dein Rom! Grosseres sahest du nichts und wirst nichts Grosseres sehen, Wie es dein Priester Horaz in der Entzuckung versprach. (4)
While ruins do not constitute the central image of Goethe's twenty elegies, the success of their reception by scandalized contemporaries made it almost de rigueur for poets aspiring to success in the age of Classicism to produce a poem about Rome and its ruins. Even Schiller, who never actually visited Rome, paid his aesthetic dues with his poem "An die Freunde" (1803), which begins with the acknowledgment that other times have been lovelier than the present, as proven again by the ancient stones, which speak to us from the past in which they have been buried (Schiller 1: 419-21).
Konnte die Geschichte davon schweigen, Tausend Steine wurden redend zeugen, Die man aus dem Schoss der Erde grabt.
Other regions are blessed with a more favorable natural setting than Schiller's Germany, and the world's economic markets are centered elsewhere, notably on England's Thames River. Even beggars live more splendidly in Rome, "Denn er sieht das ewig einzge Rom!" But, he continues, "Rom in allem seinem Glanze / 1st ein Grab nur der Vergangenheit." Even though other times and places may have experienced greater events, history always repeats itself, but products of the imagination remain forever young:
Alles wiederholt sich nur im Leben, Ewig jung ist nur die Phantasie, Was sich nie und nirgends hat begeben, Das allein veraltet nie!
It is Schiller's consolation, then, though he has never experienced Rome, to have created through his poetic and dramatic imagination images that, unlike the stones of Rome, will never grow old.
Many other poets made their way to the Eternal City. Indeed, in 1805 no fewer than three German poets were exploring Rome and writing poems about their experiences. (5) Ludwig I of Bavaria was long fascinated by Goethe's Romische Elegien and on one of his visits to Weimar pestered the poet for details about the autobiographical circumstances underlying his Roman poems, which clearly provided the model for the twelve brief elegies that Ludwig wrote during his Bildungsreise to Italy in 1805 as a teenaged prince: "Erinnerungen aus Italien im Jahr 1805" (Ludwig 1:39-50). These snapshots of his travels in Italy record a cultural experience. All future rulers should go to Rome, he opines (Elegy VII), to discover a fundamental law--that everything is transitory:
Nach Rom gehe die kunftig zu herrschen berufene Jugend, Damit fruher bereits werde von solcher erkannt: Dass wie das Kleinste, das Grosste, dass alles auf Erden vergehet; Trost wird leichter in Rom fur den verlorenen Thron.
The elegiac theme that unifies all twelve poems is the not particularly profound conclusion that the incomparable glory of Rome has passed and that everything earthly must disappear, leaving behind nothing but the memory of past greatness and an awareness of transitoriness: "Denkmal der Grosse bist du und der Verganglichkeit auch" (Elegy V).
Unlike Goethe, Ludwig is interested solely in the decline of ancient Rome and not in its living present: Since Rome will never again reign, the city remains nothing more than an insignificant mummy from the past, serving only to remind us of her own history.
While the eighteen-year-old prince was wandering around Rome, blissful in his ignorance of history and undisturbed by ruminations on past and present, the Prussian resident (later minister) in the Vatican, Wilhelm von Humboldt, was affected in a wholly different manner. The five short poems in distichs (5: 147-48) that he wrote in the course of his strolls around the city superficially resemble Ludwig's snapshots. But, like Goethe, he appreciated the interplay of the city's past and present, and the power of its art to preserve the best of antiquity and to lead us back to a lovelier age--again through the preservation of stone ruins:
Tempel sturzen in Schutt; hinwelken der Menschen Geschlechter; Doch der gerettete Stein fuhret die Gottheit zuruck. Gottheit ja stralet aus Euch, Quirinalische Heldenkolosse, Und in schonere Zeit fuhrt ihr den staunenden Blick! ("Die Rossebandiger")
Humboldt's most memorable contribution was the great meditative poem "Rom" (1806), a rumination on the Eternal City that acknowledges the decline of ancient glory while recognizing its meaning for the present (5:149-53). (6) Throughout its 488 trochaic verses in ottava rima we find frequent references to the ruins of ancient Rome, which serve us today as a mirror of history: "Stadt der Trummer! Zufluchtsort der Frommen! / Bild nur scheinst du der Vergangenheit...." The ages have chosen Rome to serve as the image for the inevitable course of history.
Denn vor alien Stadten hat genommen Dich zum Thron die allgewaltge Zeit Dass du seyst des Weltenlaufes Spiegel, Kronte mit mit Herrschaft deine Hugel. (vv. 57-64)
His emotions are torn between joy and grief as he contemplates the ruins of Rome's glory: Everywhere he looks, it seems, the city is crumbling in the grip of "der Zerstorung grause Hand" (v. 1020). He remembers that the Romans, defeated by invaders from the North in 387/6 BCE, were tempted to leave their home because they lacked the courage and energy to undertake the reconstruction of their city. But admonished by Marcus Furius Camillus, the second founder of Rome, they decide to remain and build a new realm. All earthly grandeur must eventually give way to destiny's mighty blows, just as the very sun must disappear in the evening in order to rise again in the morning; but the products of the mind endure: "Doch der Geist, der tief verborgen weilet, / Wird von keiner Flucht der Zeit ereilet" (vv. 391-92). This, then, is Humboldt's conclusion in the face of the Roman ruins--the past lives only to the extent that it survives in the minds of the present:
Denn es soli vergehn des Menschen Treiben; Ewig wahret nur, was leblos starrt. Nichts soll von der langen Vorzeit bleiben, Was nicht lebend tragt die Gegenwart.
As he explained his feelings about the Roman ruins to his friend C. G. Korner (letter of June 8,1805): "so ist Rom das Symbol zugleich der Verganglichkeit und des Weltzusammenhangs, wie er intellektuell und asthetisch fur uns existirt." (7) Humboldt's conviction concerning the intellectual unity of the world, of course, was fundamental to his conception of the university as he outlined it a few years later (May 1809) in his "Antrag auf Errichtung der Universitat Berlin"--an institution in which "keine Wissenschaft ausgeschlossen seyn [soll]" and all knowledge unified (4: 31). (8)
The third German poet wandering around Rome in 1805 and composing elegies was August Wilhelm Schlegel, the traveling companion of Mme de Stael. Though known as one of the foremost theoreticians of German Romanticism--the aesthetic dialogue Die Gemahlde (1799) by Schlegel and his wife Caroline is one of the founding documents of the movement--his elegy "Rom" (1805; Schlegel 2: 41-66) remains close to the classical model with its images of ruin and revival. To be sure, like most of the poems by Schlegel, who was a finer scholar and critic than poet, this one too amounts largely to a versified survey course on Roman history, from its mythic pre-history to the destructive onslaught of Germanic hordes sweeping down from the Alps. But here again, in the opening and closing reflections, we encounter the standard epithets. Whoever has learned about fife from the Greeks can now experience the meaning of death in Rome: "Hast du das Leben geschlurft an Parthenope's uppigem Busen,/ Lerne den Tod nun auch uber dem Grabe der Welt" (vv. 1-2). To be sure, the sky is bright from horizon to horizon, but a sense of profound melancholy prevails: "Aber den Wanderer leitet ein Geist tiefsinniger Schwermuth / Mit oft weilendem Gang durch des Ruins Labyrinth" (vv. 7-8).
Following his historical overview and an account of Rome's destruction by the Germanic tribes, he notes that the ruins may now rest in peace: "Friedlicher mogen sie nun hinsinken, die letzten Ruinen, / Langst zu verschwistertem Schutt neiget sich Saul'und Gebalk"(vv. 189-90). Where once a sacred triumphal avenue bore victorious generals, now "ein versaumter und einsamer Pfad" (v. 197) brings beasts of burden with their rural goods to market; and the Palatium that gave its name to all future palaces, now covered by ivy and grape vines, is used for the storage of harvest equipment. The centuries in their constant cycles have brought back "den Stand fruhester Zeiten" (v. 212). He recalls the famous topos associated with Rome: "Gewesen" (v. 245: Roma fuit). Rome would be no unworthy place to discover whether or not the world is growing older: "Mit gleichmutigem Sinne der Dinge Beschluss zu erwarten, / Kein unwurdiger Ort ware die ewige Stadt" (vv. 257-58).
We find a late echo of these classical treatments of Roman ruins in the two distichs of August von Platen's poem " Verfall" (1831; Platen 60), which laments Rome's inevitable decline and its beauty. But though Rome's glory has disappeared, the memory of its beauty remains as grounds for our grief.
Hulflos sinkst du dahin, unerrettbar! Dass du so gross warst, Dass du verdunkeltest einst, Machtige, Rom und Byzanz, Frommt es dem Enkel? Es mehrt den unendlichen Schmerz und die Wehmut: Alles vergeht; doch wird Schemes allein so beweint.
Several German painters, including notably Philipp Hackert and Johann Christian Klengel, inspired by Piranesi's famous vedute, devoted themselves to Roman ruins. By all odds the most famous (and most often caricatured) iconic image representing the Classical view of Roman ruins is Tischbein's painting Goethe in der Campagna.
As Tischbein explained in a letter to Johann Caspar Lavater dated 9 December 1796, he had recently undertaken a portrait of Goethe, "und werde es in Lebens-grosse machen, wie er auf denen Ruinen sitzet und uber das Schicksal der menschlichen Werke nachdenket" (Funk 364). He achieved this effect symbolically by including in a left-to-right sequence elements from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman architecture. The pensive Goethe is seated on an overturned Egyptian obelisk alongside a Greek marble relief depicting a scene from his own Iphigenie auf Tauris (which Goethe was currently putting into blank verse) and a Roman capitol. In the background are visible the grave monument of Caecilia Metella and the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. No image recapitulates more precisely the views informing the various poems we have discussed and the evocative power of Roman ruins.
If Tischbein's painting exemplifies the Classical view of ruins--conspicuously Roman--the sharply contrasting Romantic view is vividly represented by Caspar David Friedrich's painting of the ruins of the twelfth-century Cistercian monastery of Eldena near his hometown of Greifswald, a ruin to which he often returned in his paintings and drawings. Friedrich was fascinated by ruins, which constitute one of the principal themes in his work from start to finish.
But Friedrich, who left Germany only to go to the art academy in Copenhagen and never experienced Rome or Italy, restricted himself to German ruins, such as the those of the monastery Heiligkreuz near Meissen and, notably, of Eldena. (9) Friedrich's obsession with the medieval ruins at Eldena was already apparent in his painting Die Abtei im Eichwald (1809/10), which depicts a procession of twelve monks carrying a coffin toward the ruins of an abbey which bears all the features of Eldena. When King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia purchased the painting, along with its companion piece, Der Monch am Meer (1809/10), and put them on display in Berlin, it contributed significantly to Friedrich's public success but also to the growing controversy between Classicism and Romanticism. The later of these two works is of interest because of its juxtaposition of medieval and modern, as symbolized by the contemporary house and figures situated within the ruins of the monastery. (In Carl Blechen's Gotische Kirchenruine  a similar effect is achieved through the figure sleeping peacefully in the ruins.) Just as Tischbein's painting of Goethe in Campagna symbolizes the Classical obsession with Roman ruins, Friedrich's exemplifies the pronounced shift of interest in German Romanticism to the Middle Ages and their ruins, as evidenced in paintings by such Romantic contemporaries as Johan Christian Dahl and Moritz von Schwind.
The Romantic obsession with the Middle Ages is evident in virtually every sphere of intellectual activity: from religion and law to history and literature. In the opening sentence of "Die Christenheit oder Europa" (1799) Novalis wrote that "es waren schone glanzende Zeiten, wo Europa ein christliches Land war, wo Eine Christenheit diesen menschlich gestalteten Welttheil bewohnte" (3:507). With his Deutsche Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte (1808-23) Karl Friedrich Eichhorn shifted the emphasis in the study of law from Roman to Germanic (Ziolkowski, Clio 129-30). Another manifestation of the general trend was Friedrich Schlegel's series of Viennese lectures Uber die neuere Geschichte (1810). The Grimm brothers made their contribution with their Kinder- und Hausmarchen (1812-14) and Deutsche Sagen (1816-18) while novelists began to turn to medieval history for their material, as did Achim von Arnim in Die Kronenwachter (1817). The appearance of medieval themes in paintings was wholly in accord with this general trend.
But why ruins? One might respond that most medieval edifices still existed simply in the form of ruins, but a more compelling reason may be suggested: ruins provided the most compelling visual image for the Romantic fascination with fragmentation--a fascination evident even in Romantic music, as Charles Rosen has elaborately demonstrated (41-115). As McFarland writes with reference to such English poets as Wordsworth and Coleridge, "Incompleteness, fragmentation, and ruin--standige Unganzheit--not only receive a special emphasis in Romanticism but also in a certain perspective seem actually to define that phenomenon" (7). The same principle applies even more precisely to German Romanticism, where Friedrich Schlegel in his Athenaums-Fragmente (1798) and Ideen (1800) developed the fragment to a high form of literary art shared by August Wilhelm Schlegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Novalis. As Schlegel put it in his Athenaums-Fragmente: "Ein Fragment muss gleich einem kleinen Kunstwerke von der umgebenden Welt ganz abgesondert und in sich selbst vollendet sein wie ein Igel" (45). With its critical quills the fragment provokes us to independent thought. At the same time, it constitutes the literary equivalent to the ruin in art. In both cases, fragment and ruin trigger a sense of longing for completion, for fulfillment, that characterizes Romanticism. This longing is expressed most vividly, perhaps, in the frequent calls for the completion of the Cologne cathedral. In his "Grundzuge der gotischen Baukunst" (1806), for instance, Friedrich Schlegel spoke of "das Grosse dieses erhabenen Baustuckes" (376) while Sulpice Boisseree hailed "den Riesengeist" of the cathedral, (10) which still awaits its fulfillment. This new view of ruins also showed up in Romantic poetry.
By all odds the most popular ruin in Germany of the Romantic era was the Heidelberg Castle, which fulfills much the same literary role as did Rome for the Classicists. The best-known poem of the pre-Romantic writer Friedrich Matthisson was his "Elegie in den Ruinen eines alien Bergschlosses geschrieben" (1786; Matthisson 1:114-17), which is set in the ruins of the castle overlooking the university town. The poem describes the ruminations of the poet who--"Unter Trummern der Vergangenheit / Wo der Vorwelt Schauer mich umwehen"--recalls the glories of the medieval past when a young warrior set out from the castle for victory against the enemy and then, returning, was welcomed back by his proud father and beloved bride at a joyous feast. But how times have changed!
Nothing but half-buried gravestones remains to recall the glory of their lives:
Ihr Gedachtnis sank wie ihre Grufte, Und den Thatengknz der Heldenzeit Hullt das Dunkel der Vergessenheit!
Thus, the poet reflects, pass life's splendors along with the dream-vision of vain power: "So versinkt im schnellen Lauf der Zeiten / Was die Erde tragt, in ode Nachtf" The Heidelberg ruins provoke in the poet's mind precisely the same melancholy reflections on decline that Rome inspired in so many contemporaries who visited the Eternal City; but for Matthisson the present still provided no reassuring thoughts of revival or preservation through art. "Hoheit, Ehre, Macht und Ruhm sind eitel!" and even love and friendship leave no trace behind.
The mood soon changed as students began arriving in Heidelberg in the first decade of the new century. As the new Heidelberg professor Friedrich Creuzer wrote in 1804 to Clemens Brentano, when he went wandering "in den machtigen Ruinen des hiesigen Schlosses" and contemplated "unsere neudeutsche Kleinheit," he felt keenly "dass hier ein Ort fur Manner sei, die das alte grosse Deutschland im Herzen tragen, fur Dichter, [...] die den alten romantischen Gesang in seiner Tiefe auf zu fassen und auf eine wurdige Art wieder zu beleben vermogen." (11) Brentano, encouraged by such words, moved to Heidelberg and soon wrote his "Lied von eines Studenten Ankunft in Heidelberg"(1806).The student approaching the town gazes up, "Und druber an gruner Berge Brust, / Ruht gross das Schloss und sieht die Lust"--the parties on the evening of 26 July 1806 anticipating the festivities the next day to celebrate the recovery of the Grand Duke from a serious illness and the wedding engagement of the crown prince. The following year, when Joseph von Eichendorff arrived as a student in Heidelberg, he noted in his diary (16-18 May 1807) that "die alte Pfalzburg, gewiss die grosste u. schonste Ruine Deutschlands, [uberschaut] majestatisch die ganze Stadt" (Eichendorff 3:189).
Given this widespread admiration for the Heidelberg ruins, it is hardly surprising that Arnim and Brentano published in their Zeitung fur Einsiedler (in the issue dated 4 June 1808; 146) a sonnet by Zacharias Werner entitled "Der steinerne Brautigam und sein Liebchen."The author's note appended to the poem specifies the setting: "Am Wartthurm des Heidelberger Schlosses steht in einer Nische die Statue eines Pfalzgrafen fast ganz von einer Epheustaude uberwachsen, die sich an ihn schmiegt wie an den Liebenden die Geliebte." The four strophes of the sonnet are divided into four voices, beginning with the ivy, which embraces the statue as his beloved had embraced the count while they were still alive. The tower tells her that the count is powerless to disentangle himself from its chains, "Und Leben muss im starren Tode schwinden." Then the count notes that, in his narrow space, he can see nothing, but he feels himself embraced with the vibrations of love. The sonnet concludes with the voice of an angel, who praises the deity that has united again the lives that death had parted:
Gelobt sey Gott im Thai und auf den Hohen, Der der Gestalt sich offenbahrt im Traume, Und eint, was ihm entquoll, das Doppelleben.
Again, then, the past lives on in the present, here assisted by God according to the poet, who only a few years later converted to Catholicism and was ordained as a priest.
From these examples it is clear that the focus of the Romantics has shifted from antiquity to the Middle Ages and that the theme is no longer broadly historical-cultural but nationalistically German. The thirteenth-century castle at Heidelberg was extensively damaged in 1689 by French troops during the Nine Years' War, or War of Palatine Succession. While Heidelberg could boast of by far the most popular ruin, it was by no means the only one. In his best-known poem, "Das Schloss Boncourt" (1827; Chamisso 1:49-50). for instance, Adelbert von Chamisso recalls in his imagination the castle in Champagne-Ardenne where he was born but which was subsequently destroyed in the course of the French Revolution:
Hoch ragt aus schattgen Gehegen Ein schimmerndes Schloss hervor, Ich kenne die Thurme, die Zinnen, Die steinerne Brucke, das Thor.
Although the castle has now vanished and given way to cultivated fields it remains vividly in his memory. The poet blesses the peasants who now plough those fields. As for himself, he intends to write his songs and preserve the past through his art--very much as the classicists saw the glory of Rome preserved in its literature and art.
Another poem inspired by an actual castle--the Burgruine Weibertreu, famous from the legend of "die treuen Weiber von Weinsberg"--is Justinus Kerner's "Die Aolsharfe in der Ruine" (1839; Kerner 1:80), where the poet imagines that the spirit of the past still resounds within the castle's ruins when the wind blows through:
In des Thurms zerfall'ner Mauer Tonet bei der Lufte Gleiten Mit bald halb zerriss'nen Saiten Eine Harfe noch voll Trauer. In zerfall'ner Korperhulle Sitzt ein Herz, noch halb besaitet, Oft ihm noch ein Lied entgleitet Schmerzreich in der Nachte Stille.
Here again, while melancholy in mood, we find the theme of the past preserved through art.
Romantic ruins occur not only in poems, but also, conspicuously, in prose. Brentano's fairy tale "Das Marchen von Gockel und Hinkel" (written originally in 1814/15) takes place largely in monastic ruins generally identified as Klosterruine Sankt Wolfgang near the Savigny estate where Brentano was a frequent visitor and where he wrote the early version of his story. (12) As the story begins, we learn that Gockel, Hinkel, and their daughter Gackeleia live "in einem alten Schloss, woran nichts auszusetzen war, denn es war nichts drin, aber viel einzusetzen, namlich Tur und Tor und Fenster" (Brentano 3: 484)--an accurate description of the monastic ruin, which has become a popular tourist site. "Das Dach," Brentano writes, "war eingesturzt und die Treppen und Decken und Boden auch."The castle, we are told, was originally one of the most splendid in all Germany, but the French, who were accustomed to doing so, destroyed it totally. (Here again we hear the nationalistic tone familiar from Heidelberg.) The long and complicated plot, which involves in particular the theft and restoration of a precious ring with a magical stone, ends when the castle is restored by magical wish to its original form, "wie es einst im hochsten Glanze bei unsern Voreltern gewesen" (3: 562), and Gackeleia marries her Prince Kronovus in the castle's restored chapel. Again, then, a medieval structure, destroyed by the French (the nationalistic theme), is eternalized through art (the Romantic theme).
No Romantic poet was more profoundly concerned with the restoration of medieval ruins than Joseph von Eichendorff. In 1843 he published an invitation to the public to participate in the restoration of the Cologne cathedral, "eine unheimlich mahnende Erinnerung an vergangene Grosse" (Eichendorff 4: 1055). Now that Germany's peoples have united to win their freedom and independence (from the French, as usual), there awoke also a love of all that Germans of the past had created in poetry and art: "Wohlan denn! es gilt den Ausbau eines Kunstwerkes auf deutschem Boden!"(4:1056). In that same context, he made notes for a never-written poem in which "Die Engel des Domes sitzen trauernd auf den Pfeilern des Dorns u. klagen, dass er Ruine geblieben, u. immer mehr verfallt" (4: 1062). A year later, his much longer essay on "Die Wiederherstellung des Schlosses der deutschen Ordensritter zu Marienburg" (4: 949-1052) provided a history of that distinguished order and an elaboration of its restoration, "damit wir an der grossen Vergangenheit die Bedeutung erkennen, welche seine Wiederherstellung fur die Gegenwart hat" (4: 951).
Eichendorff clearly understood the meaning of these ruins from the historical past for present-day Germany. In his late account of Halle und Heidelberg (1857) he explained the importance of architecture, "diese hieroglyphische Lapidaschrift der wechselnden Nationalbildung" (2:1070-71). Initially, Germans turned to "die Antike im Schlafrock des hauslichen Familienglucks,"a rather condescending allusion to the frequently trivialized obsession with Rome. Then, suddenly, they were awakened to "eine Ahnung von der Schonheit und symbolischen Bedeutung ihrer alien Bauwerke." The young Goethe initiated this sense with his appraisal of the Strassburg Cathedral, but did not carry through--a result, though Eichendorff does not say so, of his subsequent turn to ancient Rome. The most striking image of this medieval turn, he concludes, is the history of the Marienburg: a remarkable structure that did not even have the satisfaction of falling into picturesque ruins because its elements were exploited for modern uses: "er wurde methodisch ftir den neuen Orden der Industriereitter verstummelt und zugerichtet."
Not surprisingly, given his enthusiasm, medieval ruins appear with some frequency in Eichendorff's poems and prose.In his romance "Der Wachtturm" (1837), for instance, the poet gazes in the moonlight at the sea, the cliffs, and castle ruins and sees in his imagination a scene from the past (1:334-35).
Ich sah verfallen grauen Das hohe Konigshaus, Den Konig stehn und schauen VomTurm ins Meer hinaus.
Looking down from his tower, the king curses a ship on which a suitor carries away his beloved daughter. Again, the past lives on in the imagination of the poet, as we saw by analogy in several of the Rome poems.
Perhaps the most conspicuous use of medieval ruins--albeit in France rather than Germany--for a symbolic purpose is found in Eichendorff's novella "Das Schloss Durande"(1837), in which the castle ruins represent the old order that is destroyed by the French Revolution (2: 809-49). The tale begins with a mention of the remnants of the castle--"die Trummer des alten Schlosses Durande" (2: 811), which is situated in Provence, and ends with a depiction of its destruction when the powder stored in the tower is ignited and explodes before the eyes of the terrified revolutionary rabble: "Dort in dem Turme liegt das Pulver, hiess es auf einmal, und voll Entsezten stiebte alles uber den Schlossberg auseinander. Datat es gleich darauf einen furchbaren Blitz, und donnernd sturzte das Schloss hinter ihnen zusammen" (2: 849). But the ruins are not simply a political image. The politically conservative Eichendorff exploits them also as a cautionary symbol against elemental human emotions: "Du aber hute dich, das wilde Tier zu wecken in der Brust, dass es nicht plotzlich ausbricht und dich selbst zerreisst" (2: 849). The fire was ignited by the castle's former huntsman Renald in his Kohlhaaslike pursuit of what he considers justice ("wollte jetzt nur sein Recht" [2: 830]) for "das himmelschreiende Unrecht" (2: 831) that he believes has been committed. Renald has the mistaken impression that the young Count Durande has seduced and carried off his sister Gabriele, when in fact, unbeknownst to her beloved count, she pursued him to Paris and then back to Provence. Seeking his "justice," Renald pursues them to Paris--where he is placed for a time in a madhouse on account of his irrational claims--and then follows them back to Provence, where he is assisted in his effort by the revolutionary rabble. In the course of fighting at the castle, Gabriele, disguised in the count's cloak to distract the mob's attention, is herself shot and then dies in the arms of the count, whom Renald has shot. When he learns of his mistake and of his sister's death, the maddened Renald sets fire to the castle at all four corners and then, with a torch, climbs the tower to his own spectacular death. Although the ruin here is French rather than German, the theme is the same: a medieval work, overthrown by (French) revolutionary violence, survives through literary art.
In conclusion, then, Classicism and Romanticism alike engaged ruins for symbolic purposes: notably as echoes of the past in present-day consciousness and as images of beauty that can be preserved or restored. But Goethe and his contemporaries turned to ancient Rome--which they regarded as a cultural whole extending as in Tischbein's painting from Egypt by way of Greece to Rome--for their icon and saw in it a broad cultural-historical significance. The Romantics, in contrast, looked to the Middle Ages, whose ruins exemplified more specifically the struggles of the German historical past, rather than a general cultural tradition, together with a growing sense of national pride as Germans dreamed of the unification of their independent states and duchies.
This differs sharply from Goethe's view on the few occasions when he engaged with medieval ruins, as in his 1816 essay on "Ruysdael als Dichter" (12:138-42), which can be read as an indirect criticism of Romantic painting. In the concluding sentence, for instance, he speaks of "die Gesundheit seines [Ruysdaels] aussern und innern Sinnes," which contrasts sharply with Goethe's famous definition of Romanticism as "das Kranke." Goethe was concerned not with national pride but with the loftier symbolism within which ruins are represented in harmony with nature and the present: "das Abgestorbene mit dem Lebendigen in die anschaulichste Verbindung [zu bringen],"as he defined the artist's intention in such paintings as Das Kloster (which he knew from his visits to the gallery in Dresden. This view is fully consistent with his attitude toward Roman ruins and their role in modern culture Similarly, in connection with Der Kirchhof (actually Der Judenfriedhof) he observed that works of nature have "ein langeres Leben, eine grossere Dauer" than the works of man. Goethe's tendency to generalize and to subject art to the laws of nature constituted one of the principal reasons for his controversy with the Romantics over art. For instance, C. D. Friedrich in Der Wanderer uber dem Nebelmeer (1818), painted only a year after Goethe's essay on Ruysdael, implicitly takes Goethe to task for suggesting that he should shape the clouds in his painting according to the meteorological theory recently proposed by Luke Howard, whereas Friedrich in his depiction of various cloud formations stayed true to the preliminary sketches that he had made from reality (Ziolkowski, "Bild als Entgegnung").
The Classicists, who comprised largely the privileged few who could afford the Bildungsreise to Rome, are exemplified by Tischbein's Goethe lounging meditatively on his symbolic ruins, while the Romantics are at home and busy among their own ruins, like Brentano's Heidelberg student or the occupants of the cottage in Friedrich's painting. We did, however, also note variations within these general patterns: The teenaged Ludwig I paid his respects to the past glory of Rome but was unaware of its meaning for his own present; Schiller, while appreciative of its glories, never set foot in Rome. Eichendorff was concerned not only with the preservation of the medieval past through art, but also with the actual restoration of such acclaimed ruins as the Cologne cathedral and the castle at Marienburg. But, for all their differences, the common denominator for poets and painters alike is their perception of both beauty and meaning in their ruins, whether ancient or medieval, whether cultural or political.
(1) I cite the anonymous English translation.
(2) Letter of 9 Oct. 1764; Norton 1: 184.
(3) See Mortier, Goldstein, and Swaffield. McFarland is concerned not so much with actual ruins as with such literary forms of ruin as the fragment.
(4) Goethe is referring to Horace's Carmen saeculare, verses 9-12: Alme Sol ... possis nihil urbe Roma visere maius.
(5) See in this connection Ziolkowski, Elegy 141-57.
(6) SeeRehm 193-216.
(7) Quoted in the editors' commentary: Humboldt 5: 658.
(8) On Humboldt's views concerning universities see Ziolkowski, German Romanticism, 290-94.
(9) See, for instance, his drawings from 1801 and 1837 as reproduced in Kelle in nos. 62 and 116.
(10) Cited by Eichendorff in "Halle und Heidelberg" (2: 1070).
(11) Quoted by Brentano in a letter of 22 April 1804, to Ludwig Tieck; Brentano 31:311.
(12) See Sundermann.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2016|
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