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Beck, Karl Isidor


BECK, KARL ISIDOR (1817–1879), Hungarian-born poet, writing in German, who gave voice to the Hungarian people's struggle for liberation against the Austrian Empire. His work was filled with despair and disillusion with the state of Jewry and the world. His first poems, Naechte, Gepanzerte Lieder (1838), and Stille Lieder (1840), contained such glowing rhetoric, passionate imagery, and consuming love of freedom that he was hailed as a new Byron. When his Lieder vom armen Mann appeared in 1846, Friedrich Engels saw in him a future Goethe. The Lieder vom armen Mann are lyrics of great depth of feeling and clarity of vision, ranging from savage invective against social injustice to pathetic pictures of starvation in working-class homes. Beck prefaced the volume with the allegation that Rothschild had enslaved the masses with his gold and had failed to liberate his own unredeemed people. Beck was the first German lyric poet to write about slum conditions; in his lyrics there broods a vague hope of better days to come and a fear of impending social strife. Beck's Jewish despair found utterance in a cycle of poems entitled Das junge Palaestina, that bewail his unreciprocated love for Germany. His biblical drama Saul (1840) has as its climax David's vision of the Jewish people: he sees them as eternal fugitives who have become mere caricatures of a people that was once pure, simple, and glorious. His verse epic, Jankó, der ungarische Rosshirt (1841), contains some excellent descriptions of Hungarian life. The refrain of one of his poems, "an der schoenen blauen Donau" inspired Johann Strauss' famous "Blue Danube" waltz. Although he was baptized in 1843, Beck continued to be haunted by the fate of Jewry. He sank into a state of pessimistic resignation, which was intensified by the failure of the Hungarian rising of 1848. Filled with bitterness, he made his peace with the Austrian government, renounced his radical activities, and virtually ceased writing poetry for the rest of his life.


S. Liptzin, Lyric Pioneers of Modern Germany (1928), ch. 3; E. Thiel, Karl Becks literarische Entwicklung (1938).

[Sol Liptzin]

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