Saturday, April 28, 2012

Peter Viereck about Georg Heym



Georg Heym (1887-1912)

An aesthetically and politically radical co-founder of the German “expressionist” movement, Heym died by drowning in a skating accident at the age of 24. His early poems are mostly worthless, being imitative juvenilia. The poems written in the very few months before his early death are among the most original in the twentieth century and today surprisingly “modern”. First forgotten, then rediscovered (after World War II seemed to justify his desperate predictions of doom), Heym has become a leading influence on German literature today.



   The younger poet, Heym, was always circling around the older one (George); it was an oscillating orbit because Heym simultaneously imitated George to the point of near-plagiarism and detested him, a classic instance of a love-hate relationship to one’s literary father. While denouncing George at literary cafés as a reactionary “corpse”, Heym secretly (as I discovered) tried to get acceptance into the élitist George circle.

   Both poets incarnate the moment of transition from French-influenced “symbolism” to revolutionary German “expressionism”, although George is usually classified only as a symbolist and Heym only as an expressionist.

   In Germany the post-war Heym cult has produced more studies than anyone would want or need to read. Mostly they overstress his supposed “prophecy” (which may have been coincidence and is irrelevant to his aesthetic genius) of World War I.



After which it seems problematical to be presenting Peter Viereck’s translation of Heym’s poem ‘War’ (September, 1911), a posthumously found draft, rather than some other poem! I take responsibility for so doing. [DW]


Georg Heym (1887 - 1912) is one of the top protagonists of a new generation of poets and painters, who at the beginning of the 20th Century attracted attention with a new form of indecent language by then, which soon conquered by the name of Expressionism, the art world. The author, famous as a poet and novelist, worked in his early poetry years essentially as a dramatist. His first novel, published in 1907 was the tragedy  Der Athener Ausfahrt [Athens exit], his only piece printed in his lifetime

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