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Although Gerhardt's hymns are written in the vernacular of the XVIIth century, at a time when many of the forms characteristic of the writers of the two preceding centuries still survived, nevertheless his hymns are remarkably free from the tendency of this period to use words coined from foreign tongues. He belongs to no poetic school or literary circle of the 18 XVIIth century. He never sought any laurels. He goes on his way writing because his heart is so full, and not from any desire or intention to devote himself to poetry. A fine feeling for rhythm schooled under the principles of Opitz, language taken from the best sacred literature including Luther's Bible and almost entirely free from foreign words,5454He uses the following: Clerisei, Fantasei, Victoria, Policeien, Regiment, Summa, Ranzion, Compagnie, Regente, studieren, formieret, vexieren, jubilieren. avoidance of bombast and coarseness5555Lines such as "Trotz sei dir, du trotzender Kot!" (Goed. 5,65) were comparatively inoffensive to XVIIth century standards. of which so many contemporary writers were guilty, richness in figures and analogies, tenderness which on occasion yields to sternness, are all attributes of his writing. The mother of Hippel5656Cf. Frau Th. v. Hippel, "Sämmtliche Werke," Berlin, 1827, I, 27 ff. says of him:
"Er war ein Gast auf Erden5757Cf. "Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden" Goed. 284. und überall in seinen 120 Liedern ist Sonnenwende gesäet. Diese Blume dreht sich beständig nach der Sonne5858Sonnenwende, "heliotrope," from the Greek, literally "turning toward the sun." und Gerhardt nach der seligen Ewigkeit."
Gerhardt's poems are all permeated with this hope for future happiness in Heaven and with a childlike joy in this hope. He may sing of the beauties of summer, yet with that his thoughts go further and he soon begins to reflect upon the greater beauties of Heaven. In his "Reiselied" (Goed. 248) he begins by urging on his horse; suddenly he changes from the beauties of the hill and vale to the joy of eternity. Even in an uncouth poem about health (Goed. 244) appear the lines:
"Gib mir meine Lebenszeit
Ohne sonderm Leide,
Und dort in der Ewigkeit
Die vollkommene Freude!"
We have said that biblical phraseology plays a large part in Gerhardt's hymns. In fact many lines are a direct translation of passages in scripture. In two or three of them a single dogma appears very plainly, but elsewhere pure doctrine is the basis of each poem. God is a friendly and gracious God, not a "bear or lion,"5959Cf. Goed. 62, 17--"Er ist ja kein Bär noch Leue." but a Father reconciled by Christ's death, entirely a New Testament conception. He even addresses the Almighty as a good companion:
"Sollt aber dein und unser Feind
An dem, was dein Herz gut gemeint,
Beginnen sich zu rächen:
Ist das mein Trost, dasz seinen Zorn
Du leichtlich könnest brechen."6060Cf. Goed. 217, 56-60.
The Redeemer is mentioned in barely half of Gerhardt's poems. It has therefore been often said that the poet esteemed the graces of Redemption less than those of Creation. He is fully conscious of the former, hence he can resign himself to the latter and dwell upon them in all their phases. On the basis of the Atonement there springs up in his mind the whole Christian life with all its experiences of salvation, consolation, patience, mastery of sin and suffering. Since he does not sing solely for church worship, but for family devotion and for personal edification, he necessarily must observe and discourse upon the various vicissitudes of life in sickness and health, in strife and peace.
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