Margarete Münsterberg, ed., trans. A Harvest of German Verse. 1916.
A NEW anthology of German lyric verse in English should be a matter of rejoicing to those who look to literature for revelation of national feeling and character. For of all forms of literature, lyric poetry has revealed German national character most directly and fully.
Surely, there have been great manifestations of the German spirit in the epic and the drama. Faithfulness unto death, persistence in love and hatred, unflinching courage, and grim heroism have seldom been brought out in figures as grand and impressive as the colossal figures of the Nibelungenlied. And nowhere is there to be found a finer embodiment of German enlightenment than Nathan der Weise, of German earnestness and depth than Wallenstein, of German idealism than Iphigenie, or of the German striving for completeness of personality than Faust. And yet it must be said that neither the German epic nor the German drama, as a whole, have been as truly typical of German character as the bulk of German lyrics has been.
The German temper is essentially lyric. To live himself out, to give rein to his feelings, to revel in vague longings for an ideal, in dim divinations of the infinite, or in the intoxicating raptures of the momentall this is natural to the German. Nothing appeals less to him than the petty formalism of correct mediocrity; if he submits to it, he does so only from a sense of duty and in the interest of public discipline and public necessity. Nothing appeals more to him than the expression of a bold, unrestrained, intense, whole-souled personality.
It is easy to see why a people of such a type of mind should have found in lyric poetry the most adequate form of self-expression; why, next to German music, German lyrics should be the richest and the finest revelation of the German soul. German literature and art have not infrequently been lacking in plastic power and in sure grasp of form. But the emotional intensity of German lyrics has created a form of its own, more elastic, more varied, of stronger spiritual appeal, of higher imaginative power than is found in the lyrics of most other nations. To afford glimpses of this elusive and enchanting world of the inner life, its struggles and its joys, its hope and despair, its triumphs and defeats, and its invincible trust in its own higher mission, is indeed doing a service to the cause of the spirit.