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Poetry and Nature

Aside from the hymns of Cross and Consolation discussed above,9696Cf. p. 21. which among Gerhardt's poems are by far the most numerous, and which gave him the widest opportunity to grasp the inner life of the Christian believer in its different tendencies and phases, the subjective development of his spiritual songs is shown in two directions--in the poetic glorification of 24 nature and of family life. Gerhardt's knowledge of nature is limited to the ideas set forth in Johann Arndt's9797Joh. Arndt, a Protestant theologian, 1555-1621. The "Vier Bücher" appeared in 1605. Cf. the references on pp. 63 ff. [i.e. Goed. 200, 205, 209, 212, 263] to his Paradiszgärtlein aller christl. Tugenden, 1612. Viertes Buch vom wahren Christentum. Following Arndt, Gerhardt believes the material as well as the spiritual phenomena on earth are influenced in a mysterious way by the heavens and their constellations; hence the prophetic significance of comets which he mentions in two poems.9898Goed. 104 and 142. In the year 1615 just such a threatening "torch" had appeared to announce the frightful war. Fourteen years later another comet was regarded as prophecy of the death of the Swedish King. Naturally, then, in 1652 Gerhardt is terrified with all others at the appearance in the sky of the third "Flammenrute" (Goed. 104).

However, within this limited knowledge nature appears to him as of independent grandeur, wholly subservient to God and freely enjoyed by all Christians. In his life, too, as well as in his songs, Gerhardt is open to all the world and is at all times sensible to the appreciation of nature. It is a noteworthy characteristic of him that in one glance he includes with sense of fitness and artistic certainty both large and small, the most sublime and the most commonplace. In this wise he sings:

Die Erd ist fruchtbar, bringt herfür
Korn, Oel, Most, Brot, Wein und Bier,
Was Gott gefällt.
(Goed. 139, 49 ff.)

To Gerhardt the world lies in continual sunshine.9999Even no. 15 which begins with a seemingly very pessimistic complaint about the disastrous weather and consequently meagre harvest closes with a prayer full of hope for the future. He scorns trouble, distress seems merely to accentuate happiness; from the horrors of the Thirty Years' War he turns to thank God for the return of peace,100100Goed. 95. and to inspire his people with gratitude for the infinite mercy of the Most High. He celebrates evening and morning and takes us in summer through the flowering gardens of God, portrays rain and sunshine, earth's sorrows and joys.


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