The Sunday Night Poem - Georg Friedrich Philipp von Hardenburg

[Editor's Note: "Please enjoy this little blurb on the famous German Romantic poet Novalis, and send money, but quickly." This message was found in a bottle off the coast of southern Florida. We presume it is from the C. O., still off on his relaxing holiday. Here is the remainder of his note:]

Georg Friedrich Philipp von Hardenburg (wrote under the pen name of Novalis) was born in Oberwiederstedt, Prussian Saxony, into a family of Protestant Lower Saxon nobility. His father was a director of a salt mine. At the age of ten Novalis was sent to a religious school but he did not adjust to its strict discipline. For some time Novalis lived with his uncle, grandseigneur, who opened him doors to French rationalism and culture. He then went to Weissenfels, where his father moved, and entered the Eisleben gymnasium. In 1790-91 he studied law at the University of Jena, where he met Friedrich von Schiller and Friedrich Schlegel. Novalis completed his studies at Wittenberg in 1793. The ideas of the French Revolution spread through Germany and Novalis dreamt of time when the "walls of Jericho" tumble down. Goethe's book Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, which he read in 1795, influenced his deeply; he considered it the Bible for the "new age." In 1795-96 he studied the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. At the age of 21 he moved to Tennstädt and took up job in civil sevice.

In 1798 Novalis published a series of philosophical fragments, FRAGMENTEN. Novalis' only finished collection of poems, HYMNEN AN DIE NACHT (1800), was dedicated to his first great love Sophie von Kühn, who died in 1797. The death of his young fiancé, Sophie von Kühn, led him to write Hymnen an die Nacht (Hymns to the Night), a set of six prose and verse lyrics first published in 1800 in Athenaeum, a literary magazine edited by August Wilhelm Schlegel and his brother Friedrich Schlegel. Seven months after the publication of Hymns to the Night, Novalis died of tuberculosis, the same disease that had claimed his fiancé.

[The above text is courtesy of, for which we are grateful. There's nothing like falling in love and then dying of consumption to inspire one to write sublimely, if not in a hurry.]

from Hymnen an die Nacht (1799):


BEFORE all the wondrous shows of the widespread space around him, what living, sentient thing loves not the all-joyous light, with its colors, its rays and undulations, its gentle omnipresence in the form of the wakening Day? The giant-world of the unresting constellations inhales it as the innermost soul of life, and floats dancing in its azure flood; the sparkling, ever-tranquil stone, the thoughtful, imbibing plant, and the wild, burning multiform beast inhales it; but more than all, the lordly stranger with the sense-filled eyes, the swaying walk, and the sweetly closed, melodious lips. Like a king over earthly nature, it rouses every force to countless transformations, binds and unbinds innumerable alliances, hangs its heavenly form around every earthly substance. Its presence alone reveals the marvelous splendor of the kingdoms of the world.

Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world, sunk in a deep grave; waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes.-- The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence? [...]


Over I pilgrim
Where every pain
Zest only of pleasure
Shall one day remain.
Yet a few moments
Then free am I,
And intoxicated
In Love's lap lie.
Life everlasting
Lifts, wave-like, at me:
I gaze from its summit
Down after thee.
Oh Sun, thou must vanish
Yon yon hillock beneath;
A shadow will bring thee
Thy cooling wreath.
Oh draw at my heart, love,
Draw till I'm gone,
That, fallen asleep, I
Still may love on.
I feel the flow of
Death's youth-giving flood;
To balsam and æther, it
Changes my blood!
I live all the daytime
In faith and in might:
And in holy rapture
I die every night.


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