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Goethe's early poetry

Sturm und Drang phase



Balladen I
(cf. Term 1 Lecture 5)

Poems with a narrative

Heidenröslein’ (1771)
cf. Term 1, Lecture 5 (Powerpoint Presentation)

'Das Veilchen’ (1773)

Der König von Thule’ (1774)
'Es war einmal ein König’ (1774)

Sept 1770- April 1771: Goethe meets Herder in Straßburg; influence of Herder’s theories of art
(interest in folk-songs as constituents of a national cultural identity)


'Volkslied’ as the very antithesis of a French-influenced rococo/anacreontic aesthetic;
(cf. Term 1 Lecture 5)

  • Goethe collecting folk-songs in Elsaß
  • Goethe’s ‘Volksballaden’ take poetry in a new direction
  • usually regular verse form (for singing)
  • simple language occasionally using low-brow/dialect forms
  • many of these subsequently incorporated into his dramatic project Urfaust
  • many concerned with Goethe’s current preoccupations: love, regret, guilt, incontrovertible fate
NB. diffferent style of these ballads of early 1770s compared with those of the Weimar period written from the late 1770s-1786 (cf. Ballads II below)


‘Die großen Hymnen’
(cf. Term 1 Lecture 4)

Philosophical poems; reflections on the relationship between Man and the gods/divinity

Mahometsgesang’ (1772-3)

'Ganymed’ (1774)
'Prometheus’ (1774)
cf. Term 1, Lecture 4 (Powerpoint Presentation) and Week 4 Tutorial

'Künstlersabendlied’ (1775

14 October 1771: Goethe’s ‘Zum Schakspeares Tag’.

Admiration for:

  • the way in which all Shakespeare’s plays revolve around ‘das Eigentümliche unseres Ichs’ and the collision of the individual will and the external world.
  • nature (rather than ‘artifical’ rococo nature)

Rejection of:

  • rococo style
  • French ‘rules’ for theatre (‘unities of time, place and action’)
  • affectation
  • acceptance of ‘nature’

Poems often focus on the ‘great individual/artist’ and the relation of gods and human beings

  • concept of the ‘Genie’ ( = ‘Schaffen müssen’)
  • poems about ‘great figures’: Mahomet, Prometheus etc.
  • emphasis on ‘subjectivity’
  • ‘world is subject to ‘Neuschöpfung’
  • ‘Entfaltung des Ichs’: ‘Verselbstung’ (Prometheus); ‘Entselbstung’ (Ganymed)
  • Genie || Gott || Natur – all one
  • Genie not bound by conventional rules
NB. often use free verse forms


Love & Nature II

‘Lili’ (Lili Schönemann)





'Neue Liebe neues Leben’ (1775)
'An Belinden’ (1775)
'Auf dem See’ (1775)
'Lilis Park’ (1775)

1772: legal ‘Praktikum’ in Wetzlar. Goethe meets Johann Christian Kestner and falls in love with the latter’s bride to be, Charlotte Buff [ = ‘Lotte’].

1772: returns to Frankfurt am Main

1774: publishes first version of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers

1775: Falls passionately in love with the 16 year-old Lili Schönemann. Engaged April but breaks off engagement in the autumn of 1775.

  • love poems for Lili Schönemann – different character to the poems associated with Friederike Brion
  • monologisch
  • reflection of Goethe’s greater experience of love; anticipation of the finite nature of this relationship

Travels in Switzerland.

November 1775: goes to the court of Herzog Karl August in Weimar