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As poetry (from Gr. Ποίησις poiesis , "creation") one describes a text area, the production of which is traditionally divided according to the poetic genres . According to Aristotelian poetics (the word for the theory of poetry) these are drama , epic and smaller lyrical genres. In German, literature and literary genres have been spoken of since the 19th century . At most short poems kept the word, as in the case of the poetry album .

The term also means a certain quality in the figurative sense. For example, one speaks of the “poetry of a moment” or a “poetic film” and usually means that what is designated emanates an effect that eludes or goes beyond language, something quiet, similar to a poem, that an effect that evades everyday language unfolds.

The complex of poetic genres in history

In the 19th century, the speaking of poetic works and poetic genres was largely absorbed in literary studies in the - still preferred today - speaking of literature and literary genres. Parallel conceptualizations established: instead of poetic qualities, we speak of literary and literariness . The new terms around the word “literature” are broader, and are neither bound to certain rules nor to feelings. One must study the history of literature in order to identify literary qualities. Thus, the new conceptualizations make it possible to appreciate both verse and prose.

The area of ​​text, for which the word poetry was used the longest in German in the 19th and 20th centuries, is nowadays treated more as poetry in German literary studies : the area of ​​the small genres that only opposed to the end of the 18th century the greats of drama and epic became more important. The word poetry was pushed back to these genres and in the end largely uncommon in German for them (apart from special forms such as concrete poetry ). Here, for example, the English language did not go that far: poetry largely stands for what is “lyric” in German. Lyrics , on the other hand, mostly refer to lyrics .

Middle Ages, early modern times and scholarly reference to antiquity

Daniel Georg Morhof's book about the German language and poetry - naturally includes opera and ballet

In antiquity and early modern times, the term poetry comprised works in bound language, while in the Middle Ages only quantitative poetry (based on the syllable length) was referred to as poesis in the ancient tradition , while the newly developed accenthythmic poetry (based on syllable stress) was called prose assigned and not dealt with in the poetics. The decisive authority in the theory of poetic genres was Aristotle , whose traditional poetics for tragedy made the more detailed statements, from which the subdivisions of the epic and the drama into a serious, heroic tragic and a comic, satirical-comedic productions were carried out. The Ars poetica of the Roman poet Horace is significant as a reflection of the essence of poetry , especially because of the influential comparison of poetry and painting (Ars poetica 361 Ut pictura poesis ), which has been cited again and again since the humanism of the Renaissance and as a starting point for the Determination of the essence of poetry and painting in comparison served.

The Middle Ages , especially since the 12th century, saw the blossoming of vernacular poetry in almost all European languages, which in many respects got rid of the ancient tradition or was based on conditions independent of it, even if it did not develop entirely unaffected by it . Also in the learned poetic production of Middle Latin , which was initially the only dominant literary and written language and only lost its leading role at the end of the 17th century, techniques, genres and stanzas such as , partly adopted from vernacular poetry and partly independently developed, were used the accent rhythmic poetry and rhyming forms , the sequences seal , the corpse (s. also Lai ), the minstrelsy , the Spruchdichtung and Sang Spruchdichtung which Vagantendichtung and the religious drama new paths trodden how best the example of Carmina Burana shows. Although the traditional quantifying poetry and ancient genres such as epigram , letter poem , hymn , poetry, epic and didactic poem were continued and only the ancient drama, apart from the singular exception of Hrotsvit by Gandersheim, was not continued, none of the medieval reform movements invoked Aristotle, who was nevertheless handed down as an ancient authority. That changed with the beginning of modern times. Now, in the course of the reforms in the most varied of areas, which in the age of humanism and renaissance emerged primarily from scholarship, the res publica literaria , critical reflections on poetry began, which explicitly referred to Aristotle: The Middle Ages, the was now defined, had, so the scholarly criticism, brought with it a cultural decline. Sagas, legends and an allegorical spiritual drama had replaced the high Greek and Roman poetic production. Accenthythmic poetry and rhyme had invaded Latin from vernacular languages. Greek and Roman dramatists were reprinted and declared binding. In drama, the range of genres was developed in the 16th century, which flourished in the early 17th century with authors such as William Shakespeare and Pedro Calderón de la Barca . At the same time, it faced sustained scholarly criticism. According to the authors of the scholarship, neither Shakespeare nor Calderón adhered to the Aristotelian guidelines. There was particular criticism of how much high and low things were mixed up in them, how little attention was paid to the unity of place and action, and how much, on the other hand, attention was paid to tension and entertainment through irregularity, instead of didache and moral instruction.

A second development, initiated by Italy, increasingly preoccupied scholarly criticism in the course of the 17th century: it was precisely in the reconstruction of ancient drama that opera was constructed. Their mixture of arias and recitatives was intended to resurrect what Aristotle had addressed with the abandonment of the choir in ancient tragedy. Above all, it was supposed to express affects in the sense of ancient music theory . It turned out in the course of the 17th century that opera by no means followed Aristotelian rules. She increasingly subordinated the text to the music; she committed neither to a comedy nor to a tragedy. Most operas ended in a triumphant celebration of newly established order after a tragic conflict.

The reform efforts that opposed contemporary poetry in the 17th century spread, especially from France, in European scholarship. The Académie Française was influential here , taking on the task of perfecting poetry in the French language in the national interest. German scholars accepted the challenge and tried to present the nation with sample works of German poetry in the 17th century. At best, school dramas could be written in a new style. The question of the normative meaning of antiquity was the subject of bitter disputes, which have found their way into literary history and art history as Querelle des Anciens et Modernes . The dispute revolved around two opposing aesthetic models: the principle of imitation, which was based on antiquity as the absolute ideal of beauty, and on the other hand the principle of the imagination of genius, which draws from itself.

The result of the reform efforts of the 17th century was an increasing separation of poetry criticism from poetry production, as it generated fashions across Europe. In the second half, opera drove tragedy across Europe. The heroic epic became the business of political propaganda, while at best satirical poems survived on the book market, otherwise prose spread. Martin Opitz opposed these tendencies in Germany . In 1624 he published his main work, the book of the Deutsche Poeterey , which in turn was strongly influenced by the Poetices libri septem of Julius Caesar Scaliger . In it he describes the rules and principles of a newly established High German poetry, which should not be based exclusively on the traditional ancient meter, but rather should find its own metric form in accordance with the German language. His aim was to elevate German poetry on the basis of humanism and ancient forms to an art object of the highest order, and he succeeded in creating a new kind of poetics that achieved far-reaching influence, even if modern research tends to its To put the meaning into perspective.

Reform and literarization of poetry in the 18th century

Several tendencies led to a reform of poetry in the 18th century, in which at the end the step was made towards literature as the better term. A crucial precondition for the reform was that it no longer started from a scholarship that had little influence on the market and largely distanced itself from it. With its “literary” journals, which are currently still devoted to the sciences (see the article literary magazine ), the scholarship of the early 18th century in Germany had the media with which public debates could be successfully initiated over the long term. In England and France she used the belles lettres , the “gallant sciences”, as a commercial platform on which classics could be marketed with new elegant prefaces and translated into the national languages. Further European impulses came from the commercial market, which they supplied with gallant instead of academic education.

The call for a reform of poetry in the field of drama, emanating from scholarship and literary criticism, gained explosiveness in the 18th century. The epic turned out not to be reformable. No one liked to read long, serious verses in print, according to the broad consensus among critics at the beginning of the 18th century. In principle, the prose of the novel had supplanted the heroic verse epic, it existed almost exclusively in politically motivated panegyric or in learned experiments. The situation was different in the area of ​​dramatic supply. The 16th and 17th centuries had already seen a heyday of drama, at that time, especially in Jesuit theater , also in Latin. Comedies and operas in the vernacular now dominated the theater. In the Protestant countries, which played a decisive role in the reform of poetry, they did so under considerable criticism from the Protestant clergy, and in cities also under a divided bourgeois reception: the comedies of London were aristocratic, people openly ridiculed the bourgeoisie. All over Europe, the operas were closely connected to the courtly maitressenwirtschaft , an operation that castrati and famous opera singers gave a scandalous aftertaste. Scholarly calls for a reform of the drama fell here the moment they used more public media. The call for a return to a more Aristotelian drama gained strength as a neutral, non-spiritual and non-bourgeois, scientifically founded call for reform. Authors who delivered the Reformed plays simultaneously gained a new marketing platform with the new scholarly criticism: They could write plays that would be marketed through the discussion. With the 1720s and 1730s, the search for new dramas began in Germany as well as in England, which distanced themselves from opera and comedy and which specifically sought to be recognized by the critics. Here as there, authors who, like Richard Steele and Johann Christoph Gottsched , acted as both critics and authors, set the first guidelines with experimental dramas, which they themselves discussed in terms of their merits.

The reform of comedy at the beginning of the 18th century in Europe gradually led to the development of a sensitive, increasingly bourgeois comedy, which could be developed into a bourgeois tragedy. At the same time, opera fell on the defensive in Northern Europe. This can be clearly seen in the London market, where composers like George Frideric Handel , renouncing sensual opera productions, with which he had been extremely successful for a long time, finally gave preference to the oratorio and the cantata . In the reorganization of the concept of poetry that was introduced, the opera, the oratorio, the cantata and the ballet, all forms that poetry experts still counted as poetry around 1700, were separated from it and assigned to music.

A new bourgeois drama with potentially tragic acts despite the protagonists' lower fall came up in the middle of the 18th century based on current novels.

The rise of the novel to a genre worthy of criticism and its positioning alongside tragedy made it increasingly difficult to describe this newly forming complex as poetry in the sense of Aristotelian poetics. François Fénelon's Telemach (1699/1700) was discussed in the first years of the century under the question of whether a new poetry in prose had not succeeded here, and whether, accordingly, France had just produced the missing heroic epic of modernity. The novel won the position of the modern epic in the 1740s mainly in the discussion that attracted Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). If one recognized the new bourgeois tragedy , which were written in the 1750s by authors like Gotthold Ephraim Lessing , as further developments of the Gottschedian, Aristotelian tragedy, as Lessing offered, then one consequently had to use the current novel, which was the godfather, as the modern one Recognize the epic counterpart of modern drama.

The effect in the 1750s was the gradual deconstruction of the old spectrum of poetic genres. Prose entered the realm of drama as well as that of epic. Novel and drama formed equivalents in a new system that required new terminology. “ Poetry ” was an alternative option in German, “ literature ” or, to a limited extent, “ beautiful literature ” became the new generic term at the turn of the 19th century. The choice of the term "literature" for the new spectrum of poetic genres was fluid and imperceptible, as it took place within journals that discussed the latest literature. Around 1700, they were primarily concerned with the sciences and an elegant sub-area of ​​“gallant” or “beautiful sciences”, to which poetry was one. In the middle of the 18th century, the first literary magazines specialized in poetry. As a result, in the early 19th century, it became unclear why literature should be the domain of science when literary criticism focused primarily on works that a hundred years earlier would have been best described as poetry. Literary studies now left the word poetry to a past interested in Aristotelian poetics. In contrast, speaking of literature with a view to poetry was modern. The first modern literary history of the 19th century, the history of the poetic national literature of the Germans written by Georg Gottfried Gervinus , reflects the turn in the title.

With the new concept of literature brought to the reshaped poetry, opera, oratorio, cantata and ballet were no longer part of the spectrum of poetic genres in which they were between 1550 and 1800. The song alone was given space in a field of small poetic genres that literature kept in its new sense. Prose became central to the new concept of literature. It had hardly played a role in poetry. The field of casual poetry or poetry has been disqualified as unliterary. The new literary production was differentiated anew. The heroic versus the satirical genre, the heroic versus the satirical epic, the tragedy versus the comedy were no longer high. In the modern concept of literature, the production of all genres was high, which claimed critical recognition as art. The mass market of trivial literature became inferior to her. The genius concept and cult of Sturm und Drang , romanticism and German idealism played a decisive role here. In the sense of this new aesthetic, poetry and art were no longer learnable craft. Even with Immanuel Kant , who is considered to be one of the pioneers of the concept of genius, they were no longer limited to mimesis , but now a new, heightened claim to truth emerged with a new, heightened claim to truth compared to his doctrine of the subjectivity of aesthetic judgment ( critique of judgment ) and therefore, regardless of the observance of normative formal rules, had a value solely as an authentic emotional expression of their ingenious creator, because he seemed to be called to the herald of a higher metaphysical truth that transcends reason and to the recipient through the supposed instruments of knowledge of intuition or inspiration available only to him an access to this, even to the absolute itself, seemed to provide , even if limited by its limited cognitive ability ( Schelling , Fichte ). Criticism of this conception was expressed by Hegel , who, within the framework of his tiered model, granted art and religion cognitive value, but insisted on the primacy of philosophical knowledge, and Goethe after turning away from the Sturm und Drang of his early years. The concept of genius, however, formed the prerequisite not only for the inclusion of prose, but also for the emergence of new forms of poetry that left the traditional forms of verse and stanzas behind: such as the free rhythms of Klopstock and Hölderlin , or the free verse of modernity .

The literary studies of the 20th century, which had increasingly abandoned the concept of poetry, also claimed historical continuity for themselves. As a rule, it goes hand in hand with the assumption that the “literary genres” are simply the poetic ones according to Aristotle, and that at most words were exchanged here: in the 18th century, poetry was called “poetry” in German and then “literature” more suitable for science, in The term “ beautiful literature ” has become established to distinguish from literature in general, which includes all linguistic references, including non-written material, specialist literature, commercial literature and press products . Nonetheless, the word poet was mainly restricted to the author of poetic texts in the narrower sense, whereas authors of prosaic fiction are usually referred to as writers.

Rediscovery of the poetic in the 20th century

The reorganization of the range of genres from the spectrum of “poetic” to the spectrum of “literary” genres made the word poetry increasingly freely available in the 19th century. The “poetry of a moment” unfolds as a “magical moment” in the viewer. The “poetic film” is only partly a genre. A similarly gentle effect on the viewer is noted here. As the opposite of this emotional use, art has stated the kitschy , the supposedly fake feeling since the 19th century .

It is characteristic of the term, which has become freely available, that in the 20th century it was offered to the literary avant-garde to take over. The Dada presented as a kind of anti-art or anti poetry to traditional art and poetry concept and the underlying value system radically questioned, but created so that ultimately only a new form of poetry that just eluded any formal standard, such as the postulate of linguistic meaning. In Surrealism as well as in the criticism of socialist realism in Eastern Europe, everyday things were poetized: André Breton spoke of the “poetry of everyday life”, Jacques Prévert drew the mysterious everyday into poetry. The surrealists around Breton also propagated the Écriture automatique developed by the psychotherapist Pierre Janet for therapeutic purposes as a new poetic technique, and Paul Éluard differentiated accordingly between “intended” and “unintentional” poetry. The surrealist options of making the label “poetic” freely available are contrasted with modernist, reductionist ones: here, concrete poetry is a field of experimentation in which the creation of meaning in the poem is played with, for example by addressing the poem in its text design adjusts the statement that it no longer stands for anything other than itself, so the theory goes.

It is unclear whether the last few years have seen a renaissance of the term poetry. In particular, the widespread use of poetry in the Anglo-Saxon language area seems to have an impact on everything that is traded under “lyric” in German. One speaks of digital poetry instead of digital lyric poetry - here digital poetry is the direct translation that gains its own plausibility in German based on the model of “concrete poetry”. In the last few years, the English word lyrics for "song lyrics" has increasingly been found in colloquial language (the German-language Wikipedia, for example, offers automatic forwarding to lyrics ). On the other hand, poetry is spoken of at events such as poetry slams . The tendency of such conceptual transfers is usually not to replace but to differentiate the vocabulary. The words recovered as foreign and obsolete gain specific meaning in a conceptual spectrum that now uses poetry as a word for specifically beautiful poems dedicated to memory (as in “ Poetry album ”), otherwise making it available regardless of genre (“a film with very poetic images "). Poetry remains the specialist literary term for small genres of poetry, poetry and lyrics become the modern areas that are gaining worldwide importance with current international pop culture.

See also


  • Klaus Peter Dencker (Ed.): Poetic Language Games - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-15-018238-7 .
  • Rainer Rosenberg: A confused story. Preliminary considerations for a biography of the concept of literature. In: Journal of Literary Studies and Linguistics. 77: 36-65 (1990).
  • William Paton Ker: Form and Style in Poetry. London 1928.

Poetics of Historical Interest

  • Aristotle : Poetics. (Greek / German). Translated and edited by Manfred Fuhrmann. Reclam, Stuttgart 1994.
  • Horace : De arte poetica. In: Quintus Horatius Flaccus: Opera , lat./dt. With an afterword ed. by Bernhard Kytzler. Reclam, Stuttgart 1992.
  • Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux : L'art poétique. Paris 1674.
  • Daniel Georg Morhof : Lessons in the German language and poetry. Kiel 1682.
  • Erdmann Neumeister: The very latest way of arriving at pure and gallant poetry. G. Liebernickel, Hamburg 1707. (Original statement of responsibility: Menantes = pseudonym of Christian Friedrich Hunold who acts here as a kind of editor.)
  • Johann Christoph Gottsched : Attempt at critical poetry for the Germans. Leipzig 1730.

Individual evidence

  1. See for example M. Roes: Poetry and Film. The poetic film is the revolutionary film. In: you . Issue 778, 2007.
  2. Horaz: Ars poetica in German translation on the website latein24.de
  3. On the change of concept in detail: Rainer Rosenberg: A confused story. Preliminary considerations for a biography of the concept of literature. In: Journal of Literary Studies and Linguistics. 77: 36-65 (1990).
  4. ^ Hegel: Aesthetics. Full text on the website textlog.de
  5. See Friedrich W. Block, Christiane Heibach, Karin Wenz (ed.): POes1s. Aesthetics of digital poetry. For the exhibition at the Kulturforum Berlin October 15 to November 23, 2003. Hatje Cantz Verlag, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-7757-1345-X .

Web links

Wiktionary: Poetry  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations