Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb (1724–1803)

views updated May 29 2018


KLOPSTOCK, FRIEDRICH GOTTLIEB (17241803), German poet. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock was the oldest of seventeen children born into an impoverished Pietist family of attorneys and pastors in Quedlinburg (Saxony-Anhalt). After receiving a humanistic education at the princely college in Schulpforta, he studied theology and philosophy at the universities of Jena and Leipzig, where he began writing the first songs of his monumental religious epic Der Messias (The Messiah; published in 4 volumes between 1748 and 1773, final version in 1799/1800). In 1751, he accepted an invitation from the Danish king, Frederick V, who sponsored the completion of the Messias. Shortly after his arrival in Denmark, Klopstock married Margarethe (Meta) Moller from Hamburg, the "Cidli" of his odes, who died four years later. After living in Denmark for almost twenty years, Klopstock resided in Hamburg for the rest of his life, married his first wife's niece, the widow Johanne Elisabeth von Winthem, and published poems, plays, and theoretical writings on German literature, language, and culture.

Klopstock became one of the most celebrated poets of his time and revolutionized German poetic language and its function within the theoretical debate about the possibility of a German national culture. Inspired by Johann Jakob Bodmer's and Johann Jakob Breitinger's literary theory of the poetic use of imagination, he rejected the dominant German aesthetic theory, the rationalist poetics of Johann Christoph Gottsched with its rigid literary conventions. Klopstock aspired to create a new poetry that could live up to the stylistic qualities of masterpieces such as Homer's Iliad or John Milton's Paradise Lost. His vision of the poet as "genius" or prophetic "creator" rather than "imitator" of nature led to the invention of a new lyrical language. Written in classical hexameters instead of the traditional German alternating verse forms, the first three cantos of the Messias signaled a departure from grammatical and syntactical rules and introduced an innovative, complex style. The pathetic use of inversions, repetitions, neologisms, comparisons, and metaphors infused enthusiasm, passion, and sentiment into the biblical story. In this way Klopstock transformed the culture of religious dogma into an inner world of sensitive experience. Although composed and perceived as a devotional work, the Messias evoked readers' or listeners' emotional responses and let them experience the religious sublime through the new aesthetic form. In his following poems, odes of enthusiasm, patriotic hymns, and elegies, Klopstock continued his formal experiments and was the first to introduce free verse into German poetry. His search for an emotional and yet sacred poetic language that manifested the experiences of the inner self combined expressive subjectivity with poetic autonomy and resulted in the interdependence of the secular and the spiritual. In this way, Klopstock instilled religious pathos into the poetic representation of friendship, nature, love, leisure, and the nation.

While Klopstock wrote spiritual songs (Geistliche Lieder [1757, 1769]), and religious and patriotic tragedies (Der Tod Adams [1757; The death of Adam] and David [1772]), his most influential work was probably the play Hermanns Schlacht (1769; The battle of Arminius). However, it did not receive the same attention as his poetic workafter all, Klopstock and the Messias had become synonyms. His collection of theoretical and fictional texts, Die deutsche Gelehrtenrepublik (1774; The German Republic of Letters) added a new dimension to his publications. This utopian historiography of a German national culture in the making launched the idea that national identity could be generated through shared values and transmitted by cultural artifacts and institutions. Drawing on Greek ideals, Klopstock envisioned a German republic in which the humanist tradition would unite political and cultural and public and private spheres. While the esoteric montage of different text genres did not receive the same attention as the Messias, its form of dissemination was quite remarkable in the history of publishing. Being concerned to receive fair compensation as an author, Klopstock circumvented the established book trade through publishers and booksellers by advertising his work via subscription and successfully launched a new means of profitable distribution.

Klopstock's contemporaries celebrated him as Germany's national poet. His poetic focus on feeling and experience influenced the young poets of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, and Friedrich Hölderlin praised him as Germany's leading lyric poet, and the Romantics embraced his cultural patriotism. Klopstock's poetic legacy was soon surpassed by that of Goethe, who dominated Germany's cultural landscape throughout the nineteenth century, and it was not until the twentieth century that German poets and authors such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Arno Schmidt, and Peter Rühmkorf rediscovered the power of Klopstock's lyrical voice. Recent scholarship has established a continuing interest in Klopstock through the production of a historical-critical edition of his works.

See also Drama: German ; German Literature and Language ; Germany, Idea of ; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von ; Herder, Johann Gottfried ; Pietism.


Primary Sources

Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb. Werke und Briefe: Historischkritische Ausgabe. Edited by Horst Gronemeyer et al. Berlin and New York, 1974.

Swales, Martin, ed. German Poetry: An Anthology from Klopstock to Enzensberger. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1987.

Secondary Sources

Hilliard, Kevin. Philosophy, Letters, and the Fine Arts in Klopstock's Thought. London, 1987.

Hilliard, Kevin, and Katrin Kohl, eds. Klopstock an der Grenze der Epochen. Mit Klopstock-Bibliographie 19721992. Berlin and New York, 1995.

Kohl, Katrin M. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. Stuttgart, 2000.

. Rhetoric, the Bible, and the Origins of Free Verse: The Early "Hymns" of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. Berlin and New York, 1990.

Lee, Meredith. Displacing Authority: Goethe's Poetic Reception of Klopstock. Heidelberg, 1999.

Stephan K. Schindler

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

views updated May 21 2018

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803) was the first modern German poet and the forerunner of Goethe. Klopstock's Iyrical poetry reveals the timelessness of his great genius.

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock was born at Quedlinburg in Lower Saxony on July 2, 1724. From 1739 to 1745 he attended the Protestant School of Schulpforta, renowned for sound training in classics; from autumn 1745 to Easter 1746 he went to Jena University; and from Easter 1746 to 1748 he studied theology at Leipzig University.

The first three cantos of Klopstock's Messias (inspired by John Milton) appeared in 1748 in the fourth volume of the Bremer Beiträge. Messiasis a landmark in modern German writing: It destroyed Johann Christoph Gottsched's supremacy; it opened a new literary movement; and it made Klopstock world-famous.

Though Klopstock was not the first to strike a passionately lyrical and religious note in modern German poetry, he, with the proud surety of a born genius, ennobled the new High German lyrical language and hexametric verse form with dignity, grandeur, lofty themes, and emotions. Not since the days of Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Gottfried von Strassburg (perhaps with the exception of Johann Christian Günther) had a German poet felt the divine mission of his creative work so intensely. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Book X of Poetry and Truth, refers to the miraculous ascendancy of Klopstock as the author of the Messias and the "enthusiastic" odes. Klopstock's hexameters are not based on quantitative meter but are almost naturally adapted to German speech. His fragment Ü ber Sprache und Dichtkunst deals with the peculiar nature of the hexameter, by no means alien to German expression.

From 1748 to 1750 Klopstock was a tutor in Langensalza. From July 1750 to February 1751 he was Johann Jakob Bodmer's guest in Switzerland. Since they had little in common, a breach in their friendship was unavoidable.

In 1750 Klopstock composed the ode Der Zürchersee. This poem is not only enthusiastic feeling or description or meditation; all those expressions are blended into a unique artistic entity which mysteriously hovers between nature description and lyrical emotion and which foreshadows Goethe's dynamic Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) language.

After leaving Switzerland, Klopstock went to Quedlinburg, Hamburg, and finally Copenhagen (1751-1770) at the invitation of the Germanophile Danish king Frederick V. During these years he wrote Der Tod Adams (1757); Vaterländische Oden (1764-1768); volumes 1, 2, and 3 (altogether 15 cantos) of the Messias; and Hermanns Schlacht (1769), one of three semidramatic scenes (Bardiete) dealing with the destiny of Arminius. The other two Bardiete were Hermann und die Fürsten (1784) and Hermanns Tod (1787). In 1754 he married Meta Möller, who died 4 years later.

The grandiose dithyramb Die Frühlingsfeier, a lyrical rendering of a tempest, was originally composed in "free verse" (spring 1759). Goethe refers to it in Werther (letter of June 16). As in the Zürchersee ode, here, too, is a happy blending of reflection, lyrical emotion, and biblical images in the dynamic language of Sturm und Drang. In the end, heaven and earth unite in a mystic union, and the rainbow of peace rises over the horizon. These two poems mentioned are among the most inspired lyrical expressions in the German language.

The year 1773 witnessed the publication of Gottfried August Bürger's Lenore, Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen, and Johann Gottfried von Herder's edition of Von deutscher Art und Kunst. By the time the complete Messias (20 cantos, 1773) and Die deutsche Gelehrten-Republik (1774), based on a plan for the foundation of an academy of science, appeared, Klopstock had outlived his own fame.

From 1770 to 1803 Klopstock lived in Hamburg. After enthusiastically becoming an honorary French citizen in 1792 and at first intensely welcoming the French Revolution, he became disappointed and shocked by its aftermath. Klopstock died in Hamburg on March 14, 1803.

Further Reading

Klopstock is discussed in August Closs, The Genius of the German Lyric (1938; 2d ed. rev. 1962); Siegbert Salomon Prawer, German Lyric Poetry: A Critical Analysis of Selected Poems from Klopstock to Rilke (1952); and Richard Kuehnemund, Arminius, or the Rise of a National Symbol in Literature, from Hutten to Grabbe (1953). Recommended for background are Jethro Bithel, ed., Germany: A Companion to German Studies (1932; 5th ed. rev. 1955); Werner P. Friederich, An Outline-history of German Literature (1948; 2d ed. 1961); H. B. Garland, Storm and Stress (1952); Eric Albert Blackall, The Emergence of German as a Literary Language, 1700-1775 (1959); and Ernest L. Stahl and W. E. Yuill, eds., Introductions to German Literature, vol. 3: German Literature of the 18th and 19th Centuries (1970). □

Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb

views updated May 18 2018

Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb (1724–1803) German poet. He anticipated the Sturm und Drang movement and influenced other poets, notably Goethe, Rilke, and Hölderlin. While a student he began writing the epic poem The Messiah.

About this article

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

All Sources -
Updated Aug 24 2016 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic