Hymns to the night

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Hymns to the Night is the title of a cycle of poems by Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg). The cycle was first published in 1800 in the last edition of the journal Athenaeum .

The cycle is the only major work that was published during Novalis' lifetime and was also completed by him. Together with his sacred songs, they are regarded as the climax of his poetry and can be described as the most important poetry of early romanticism .

Origin and influences


There are two different versions of the hymns. The first - a handwritten version - was written towards the end of 1799 or the beginning of 1800. This version is written in verse. The printed version - the second version - for which Novalis actually intended the shortened title “Die Nacht”, was created only a little later, in the period from the end of January to the beginning of February 1800. It is mostly written in rhythmic prose , but also contains passages. This prose version was selected by Novalis itself as the print version and can therefore be seen as the final version, closer to its intentions. For this reason, the Athenaum version is usually used in research. There are no preliminary stages to the handwritten version of the hymns. Nevertheless, there are approaches in research that suggest that the text was written as early as 1797 (see 2.3).

In contrast to the constitution, the prose version aims less at the subjective and private. The speaker of the text is not Novalis, but a lyrical self , but the hymns nevertheless contain many autobiographical elements or at least favor such a reading . In a sense, they can be seen as an expression of the events and developments in Hardenberg's life between 1797 and 1800. These include the death of Sophie von Kühn , the engagement to Julie von Charpentier , the study time at the Freiberg Bergakademie , intellectual debates on the connections between spirit and nature and diverse considerations about nature.

Sources and suggestions

The ideas and linguistic material of mysticism and pietism can be seen as sources and suggestions for Novalis . Furthermore, Edward Young's “Night Thoughts” (German 1751), Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (German by AW Schlegel 1797 ) and Jean Paul'sInvisible Lodge ” (1793) demonstrably had an impact on Novalis. In addition, Schiller's “The Gods of Greece” (1788) should be mentioned, which is particularly important for the 5th hymn (see 2.5). Various elements from the hymns come from these sources; z. B. the night as mother or the motif of lovers who are united beyond death, and the veneration of the grave of the beloved as a holy place. Nevertheless, Novalis succeeded in creating something of his own from these elements, which can be described with the term early romantic mythology . This is to be understood as a poetic combination of private mythology and Christian mythology. A universal middle religion is to be developed. The idea behind this is that there is always a mediator between man and the divine. In Christian mythology this is Christ , in private mythology according to Hardenberg's ideas, the mediator can do something different for every person, e.g. B. also be the deceased lover. The early Italian poetry of the Novo style and Dante's comedy (here in particular the figure of Beatrice, mediator between the poet and God in Paradise) could have been of importance. Novalis' intention in the hymns is to merge these two ideas in order to create a special early romantic mythology.

Content and interpretation

The text consists of six hymns. These can be divided into three parts, each with two hymns. The same basic pattern can be found in each of these parts. The first hymns in each case describe in a three-stage model typical for Novalis the development from life in the happy, earthly realm of light through a phase of painful alienation to liberation in the eternal night. The second hymns each describe the sobering awakening from the vision and the longing to return to this vision. The three cycles are designed as an increase; at each of these levels a higher level of experience and knowledge is reached.

The 1st hymn

The first hymn can be mentally divided into three parts. It begins with a praise of light, which is initially called the principle of life. It is represented as the life awakening force of the natural world. All components of nature breathe light, including humans, who are referred to as strangers. A certain tension is indicated here. The second part of the first hymn contrasts the night with the light. The associations with the night are first shaped by feelings of loneliness and emptiness and influenced by failed hopes. The lyrical self, which only appears after the night has been mentioned, feels a longing for light. In the third section, however, this longing for light disappears and gives way to the understanding of the mysterious night. Feelings of security and the new birth through the mother night are now expressed. The night is an element of all life and is enjoyable and worth striving for. It is important that the night also becomes the space of love, indeed it was only the night that opened the meaning in the speaker for the experience of love. Love in a mother-child relationship, between the night, personified by Novalis as the "world queen", and the self, now gives way to love for the night's messenger, the beloved. The eternal wedding night is performed with the beloved. The beloved is described as the “sun of the night”, a synthesis of light and night, which can be seen as a foretaste of the abolition of all boundaries and the new unity.

The ego has matured in the course of the first hymn and has thus gone through an initiation . The night is now understood as the infinite, the all-embracing and the begetting. The three-stage model mentioned at the beginning can be seen very clearly in this hymn. It is noteworthy in this context that Novalis reverses traditional associations. The light, the positive symbol in the Christian religion, which can also be seen here as a symbol for the rational understanding and the Enlightenment , is lowered and the night is raised. It is seen as a sacred element and is the space for religious experiences. The contrast between light and night can also be found in language, the descriptions of light go hand in hand with the accumulation of short, light vowels (i, ü), those of night with long, dark sounds (a, u).

The 2nd hymn

The excitement is followed by disillusionment, as the night is always followed by the morning. In this hymn, the ego complains about the hustle and bustle of the day's work. But the ego also recognizes that the rule of light is only limited, but the rule of night is timeless and spaceless. So the topic here is not the night as the time of sleep and rest, but the night in a symbolic meaning. Now the disillusionment is followed by the realization: The I describes how the initiate can encounter night by day. This can happen in the intoxication of the wine, through the numbing effect of the bitter almond oil, in the opium intoxication ("the brown juice of the poppy seeds") and also in the intoxication of the physical love. Furthermore, the night can also lie in the magic of old stories (from the golden age). This state of intoxication, known as sleep, is in contrast to the sleep of the Philistines , who misunderstand him as "foolish". In the second hymn, the (temporal) limitation of light is emphasized and contrasted with the timeless and spaceless infinity of the night.

The 3rd hymn

The third hymn no longer speaks of the general, but reports on a personal, spiritual experience of the lyrical self . At the same time, the tone changes, because the present tense gives way to the past tense of the first-person narration.

The lyrical ego now reports on an event of pain in its life, which, however, is designed according to the same initiation scheme as in the first hymn and at the end of the third hymn turns into a spiritual, positive experience. In terms of content, the speaker explains how he stood in pain at the grave of his beloved. He now reports on a mystical experience at this grave in which he feels the suspension of space and time. He experiences a spiritual rebirth and sees his beloved in a visionary appearance. The lyrical ego realizes that in the end there will be an eternal covenant with its beloved. The eternal wedding night is mentioned here again.

This hymn has given rise to numerous considerations regarding possible preliminary stages of the "Hymns to the Night". The third hymn was often referred to as the so-called "original hymn". This is due to the fact that Novalis apparently writes autobiographically in this section . He quotes almost verbatim from his diary of May 13, 1797. In it he describes how he had an extraordinary experience at Sophie's grave: “In the evening I went to Sophieen's. There I was indescribably joyful - flashes of enthusiasm - I blew the grave like dust, in front of me - centuries were like moments - their closeness was palpable - I believed they should always come forward. ”Therefore, the time when the third hymn was written was often close set to the described experience. However, there are some arguments against this. For example, it should be noted that the grave experience in the diary is only casually described between the everyday. In addition, no preliminary steps to the handwritten version of the "Hymns to the Night" have been found. Rather, it can be assumed that Novalis consciously remembered this grave experience in the course of writing the hymns and gradually and subsequently designed it into an initiation on a higher level of knowledge. In this vision the lyrical ego experiences the invalidation of the temporal and transitory; he sees eternal life emerge from the night. So death, love and the higher world open up in a single moment. The basic idea of ​​the third hymn was probably known to Novalis because of its religious origins and through Fichte and Jean Paul . What is meant here is the randomness of the individual form of the ego and the calling to a higher ego. In relation to the poet himself, this idea was a decisive help in surviving the post-emergence desire. For the poet and for the ego, the beloved becomes the mediator in her early romantic mediator religion.

The 4th anthem

As the third hymn corresponds to the first hymn, the fourth hymn corresponds to the second. The first-person narration is continued, the speaker no longer complains about the day's work, but is ready to do it diligently. However, the heart remains firmly and faithfully connected to the night. The latter becomes particularly clear in the section that closes the fourth hymn. The I know that there will be a last morning, after which the night, the participation in the higher being, will be eternal. The way there is seen by the lyric self as a pilgrimage to the holy grave under the weight of the cross. Here one can see clear amalgamations of private mythology and biblical-Christian ideas. The holy tomb can be seen as both the tomb of the loved ones and the tomb of Christ. The beloved is risen like Christ. This creates a sense of assurance and security in the lyrical self. The final poem of the fourth hymn is an expression of longing for the night and thus longing for death as the gateway to eternal life.

The 5th anthem

The fifth hymn is the longest of the six hymns and alternates between verse and prose. It is roughly the same size as the first four hymns put together. As already indicated by the connection with Christ, subjective, private experience is no longer the main theme in the fifth hymn. Instead, in the fifth hymn, a history of mankind is drafted according to the well-known romantic triad model . Therefore, a change of perspective takes place in the fifth hymn and the form of the first-person narration is replaced by a narrative in the third person. In this hymn Novalis gives an overview of the history of religion from antiquity to its present day.

The romantic triad begins with a happy "primeval time". This is seen in the hymns as ancient Greece . The world was inhabited by gods and people floated in a festive frenzy of life. People worshiped the sun; however, they denied their origin, the night. So the intoxication was constrained by the unsolved problem of death. Death had no meaning for the people of that time and was simply the end of existence; he was not integrated into life. In the second phase of the triad, late antiquity , the inadequate integration of death leads to decay. Death was only glossed over by the idea of ​​death as the brother of sleep. However, this transition age will be overcome with the beginning of the third phase of the triad. This begins with the birth of Christ. Death is now seen as the threshold to eternal life and is therefore appropriately integrated into life. The appearance of Christ solves the mystery and horror of death, as people will come to eternal life by following him.

In the fifth hymn clear connections to Schiller's “The Gods of Greece” (1788) can be seen. However, the poems of Schiller and Hardenberg evaluate the arrival of Christianity completely differently. Novalis says that deification took place between ancient times and Christianity. So his approach is that both antiquity and Christianity are phases of closeness to the gods. Schiller, on the other hand, notes the deification with the beginning of Christianity. Schiller shows in his poem that people in antiquity were more divine because the gods were more human. However, it must be kept in mind that both poems create stylized images. The common point of both texts is that the present is perceived as soulless. To solve this problem Novalis uses the concept of the early romantic middle religion. Christ has the same mediator function for humanity as the beloved does for the speaker of the first four hymns. The mediation between the finite and the infinite is therefore the decisive factor. The central point here is death and resurrection. The beloved and also Christ convey that finitude is not everything. The individual life can only be seen as a temporary separation from the absolute; all orders are only provisional. Note also the figure of the singer in the fifth hymn. The singer is the poet's representative in the text. He goes out to preach the message of death and redemption. In contrast to Christian doctrine, in the fifth hymn the apostles are not the herald of the good news. The poetry proclaimed by the poet thus takes on the function of the gospel . It can be said that the hymns are, in a sense, a gospel.

The 6th anthem

The final sixth hymn is entitled “Longing for Death”. It is kept in the tone of the spiritual song and again represents the disillusionment after the enthusiasm. The fifth hymn describes the certainty of belief, whereas the sixth hymn shows the uncertainty of belief. The speakers - the text is written in the first person plural - describe a frightening experience of being far from God. So you can use the phase before the golden age as a background. Feelings of the longing for death, which is at the same time a longing for eternal life, are clearly expressed. The expression of the longing for home and home ties the frame back to the first hymn in which people were described as strangers. As a stranger in the light, man longs for his home and his origin - the night.


An overview of the various editions can be found under the entry Novalis and in the International Novalis Bibliography (URL see web links).

Audiobook version: Hymns to the Night, 1 audio CD, ed. and read by Christian Brückner , director: Waltraud Brückner, music: Kai Brückner . (= Edition Christian Brückner). Parlando, Berlin 2000.


  • Heinz Ritter-Schaumburg : The dating of the 'Hymns to the Night' . In: Euphorion 52, C. Winter, Heidelberg 1958, ISSN  0012-0936 , pp. 114-141.
  • Heinz Ritter-Schaumburg: Novalis' Hymns to the Night - Their interpretation of content and structure on a text-critical basis . 2nd significantly expanded edition with the facsimile of the hymns manuscript, C. Winter, Heidelberg 1974, ISBN 3-533-02348-6 and ISBN 3-533-02349-4 .
  • Hermann Kurzke : Novalis . Beck, Munich 1988.
  • Walter Frühwald: [Work article] Hymns to the night . In: Walter Jens (Ed.): Kindlers new literary dictionary . Kindler, Munich 1988–1992.
  • Herbert Uerlings: Friedrich von Hardenberg, called Novalis. Work and research. Metzler, Stuttgart 1991.
  • Lothar Pikulik: Early Romanticism. Epoch - works - effect . Beck, Munich 1992.
  • Herbert Uerlings: Novalis. Reclam, Stuttgart 1998.
  • Andreas Blödorn: [Work article] Hymns to the night. In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Hrsg.): Kindlers Literatur Lexikon . 3rd, completely revised edition. 18 vols. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2009, ISBN 978-3-476-04000-8 , vol. 12, p. 196 f. [with references].

Film adaptations

  • Selcuk Cara filmed the first hymn from Hymns to the Night (Film, FH Dortmund, 2011) official selections - Level Ground Film Festival, Pasadena USA 2014, Pride Mostra Film Festival, Cap Verde 2014, Outtakes Film Festival, New Zealand 2013, 7ºFor Rainbow - Festival de Cinema e Cultura, Brazil 2013, Florence Festival Internazionale Di Cinema LGBT, Italy 2013, El lugar sin limetes Festival de Cine, Ecuador 2013, Rio Filmfest de Cinema, Brazil 2013, Perlen Filmfestival Hannover, Germany 2014, Everybody's perfect 3 Filmfestival Geneva, Switzerland 2014 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Schulz . In: Novalis: Works. Edited and commented by Gerhard Schulz. CH Beck, 2001, p. 658.
  2. Cf.: “The cross stands incombustible - a flag of victory for our race.” Quoted from: Andreas Blödorn: [Work article] Hymnen to the night. In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Hrsg.): Kindlers Literatur Lexikon. 3rd, completely revised edition. 18 vols. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2009, ISBN 978-3-476-04000-8 , vol. 12, pp. 196f., Here 196.