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The poetics ( Greek ποιητική τέχνη "poetry") is the study of the poetry . The adjective poetological refers to poetics, whereas the adjective poetic mostly refers to poetry .

As a theory of poetry , it deals theoretically with the essence of poetry , its effect, its value , its tasks, its functions, its specific means of expression and its poetic genres. In addition to treatises on art technology , which are primarily aimed at questions of the production of poetry (poietics), literary theory tries u. a. to give a general concept of what is “poetic”, d. That is, to develop criteria for the poeticity of texts.

Art technique - literary criticism - aesthetics

The point of view that poetics is a pure art technique can be found above all in the normative rule poetics from antiquity to the end of the 18th century. Rule poetics formulate practical, learnable instructions for the “correct” creation of poetic works of art - a theory and practice that is strongly influenced by rhetoric . Johann Christoph Gottsched is the last authoritative German representative of a rule poetics that he developed in numerous writings.

In connection with the questions of art technique it deals with, poetics is also disciplined as literary criticism and, in this regard, is an indispensable but also problematic part of literary studies . The literary theory that has developed from criticism and philology is increasingly aimed at an objective determination of the characteristic properties of poetic texts or their poeticity beyond subjective judgments of taste. In the 20th century, literary scholars tried to determine the essence of poetry from ontological ( Roman Ingarden ), epistemological (Ernst Wolff) or logical ( Käte Hamburger ) standpoints. Viewed from the perspective of philosophy , poetics is a sub-area of aesthetics , with the latter historically emerging from poetics itself.

European writers of poetics and their reflections on poetics

Antiquity and late antiquity

Important systematic treatises on: genre poetics (esp. Tragedy , partly also comedy , epic ), poetry as mimetic art (concept of mimesis ), aesthetic effects (especially of tragedy, concept of catharsis ).

  • Plato : Ion
  • Horace : Epistula ad Pisones ( Letter to the Pisonen ): De Arte Poetica ( On Poetry ), since Quintilian mostly cited as Ars poetica (The Poetry)

Important treatises on: doctrine of decorum (of the appropriateness of individual formal elements, such as genre , verse), definition of the poet's tasks as ("aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetae") use and pleasure, the mimesis concept , which was misunderstood until the Enlightenment ut pictura poesis ( a poem is like a picture ).

Characteristics of the treatises in late antiquity : Shifting the interest from questions of style and from theoretical and literary critical approaches to normative rules, strictly defined according to the techné of rhetoric and based on the dualism of res and verba (material and linguistic form).

middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages, poetics was treated only in the context of rhetoric , in the teaching system of the septem artes liberales The seven liberal arts .

Brief treatise on verse theory

Extensive textbooks on a rhetorically determined ars versificatoria ( poetry ): doctrine of the amplificatio (extension understood as the artful swelling of a statement beyond what is necessary for immediate communication) as the main task of the poet and the doctrine of Ornatus (ornament of speech with rhetorical figures and tropes ) . Continuation of the two-style doctrine ( ornatus facilis - light style and ornatus difficilis - heavy, dark style ) based on the ancient distinction between atticism and Asianism ; Reinterpretation of the three-style doctrine ( genera dicendi "Redegattungen" differentiates the stilus gravis / sublime , stilus mediocris and stilus humilis "high / sublime, middle and lower / simple style") to the medieval class system .

  • Dante : De vulgari eloquentia (About the vernacular)

Breakthrough of the narrow framework of the medieval ars versificatoria by turning to vernacular poetry.

Around 1220 Snorri wrote his Edda , a textbook that was primarily aimed at skalds , poets at Icelandic and Norwegian rulers. In it he gives examples for around 100 different verses and provides mythological background knowledge , since many of the Kenningar , typical of Norse poetry, pictorial paraphrases of certain terms or names directly refer to this knowledge of the pagan past, which was no longer widespread at the time of its creation in Christian times Respectively.

Early Humanism (Italy)

Re-evaluation and equation of poetry with theology (which dominates everything in the MA).

Renaissance and Baroque


Intensive preoccupation with ancient poetry and rhetoric led to the rediscovery of the poetics of Aristotle and Horace ; numerous translations of her works follow:

Reinterpretation of Aristotelian and Horace's poetics in favor of the normative system of rules of rhetoric: the poet is seen as poeta doctus or poeta eruditus , who, as a learned and educated poet, has the rules of poetics and rhetoric, i.e. neither from divine inspiration ( poeta vates ) nor from the power of one's own subjectivity (original genius), creates for an educated audience. The Aristotelian mimesis is understood as imitatio (imitation), in which the Aristotelian theory of probability (poetry is fiction based on the laws of probability and possibility - not based on reality!) Is fundamentally misunderstood; In the course of this misinterpretation, a flood of imitations of exemplary classical authors ( Virgil for the epic , Seneca for the drama ) takes place ( imitatio veterum ). The purpose of the poetry is the trinity of docere et probare (teach and argue using the stilus humilis ), delectare (entertain using the stilus mediocris ) and flectere et movere (touch and move using the stilus gravis / sublime ). The concept of catharsis is reinterpreted in the sense of a moral education program: the tragedy is supposed to demonstrate vices that create fear and pity in the audience (originally Aristotle éleos and phóbos, misery and shudder), which in turn is supposed to lead to moral purification. The doctrine of the three genera dicendi is consolidated in the class clause and with the law of the height of fall (the higher the social rank of the tragic hero, the worse and deeper his fall is felt by the public) in the doctrine of the three derived from the dogma of probability units in the tragedy theory of Aristotle read into it .

The poetics of literary mannerism sees itself as a counter-movement to the classicist Renaissance poetics. What is called for is a liberation from classicist rules and the dogma of probability in favor of the poetic imagination. The abundant use of tropes , metaphors and concetti (subtle phrases) is particularly popular in order to increase, distort and finally dissolve reality in the improper, but imaginative and also intellectual way of speaking into the bizarre, grotesque, fantastic and dreamlike.

The controversy between classicistic and mannerist poetics divides Italian poetry and poetry into a traditional classicistic ( Atticistic ) and a progressive, experimental ( Asianistic ) type; The same controversy can also be found in the so-called Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes in France.


Here too, first of all, the classicistic orientation towards ancient models and Italian poetry and poetry theory.

Common to all works is the normative character, the classicist tragedy theory with the class clause , the doctrine of the three units with the moral-pedagogical reinterpretation of catharsis . The poetry must generally be based on the commandments of raison (reason), vraisemblance (probability) and bienséance (appropriateness); its purpose is to combine utilité (benefit) and plaisir (pleasure). The mimetic is (as nature imitation natures Imitatio understood).

A first relativization of the so-called doctrine classique emerges here.

Is seen as the trigger of the actual counter-movement against classicism, since he was the first person to deny the eternal validity of the ancient patterns.


Takes the classicist point of view, but in view of the open form of Shakespeare's dramas, it was never quite able to prevail.

Here the authors try to find and formulate a mediating point of view between the classicist canon of rules and the thesis of the uniqueness and individuality of each individual work of art .

German language area

The Italian and French poetics of the Renaissance together with the mediating Dutch poetics of Daniel Heinsius De tragoediae constitutione and Gerhard Johannes Vossius De Artis Poeticae Natura, Ac Constitutione Liber , Poeticarum Institutionum Libri Tres and De Imitatione cum Oratoria, tum praecipue Poetica form the starting point for the German poetics that remained classicistic until the Enlightenment with Johann Christoph Gottsched as the last normative rule poet .

The basis of German baroque poetics is Opitz's book from the German Poeterey , published in 1624 , which, contrary to its repeatedly emphasized importance, is actually only a partial translation of Julius Caesar Scaliger's Latin textbook Poetices libri septem . Out of dozens of other poetics, only a few stand out:

Of course, it is possible Opitz first time, the classical poetic meters confront the Latin one German counterpart. In his poetic practice, however, Opitz remains awkward and does not always stick to his own rules.

As a result, a lively discussion about German as a poet's language and its value in European literatures is triggered. Because of the emphasis on language artistry ( stilus sententiosus ), Klaj, Harsdörffer and Zesen also show influences of mannerism . The climax and most important summary of the poetological debates of the Baroque period is Birken's poetry from 1679 .

Enlightenment (France)

The classicist and mannerist poetics debate continues in the Enlightenment , but on a different level: turning away from the academically humanist ideal of an imitatio veterum and its translation into the modern national language, and re-establishing poetics on the basis of the social behavior of the educated . In addition, there is the taste problem of bon goût ( good taste in the sense of sensual perceptions; judgment authority that is able to combine sensual and rational evaluation criteria with regard to the beautiful ) and bel esprit (nice joke in the sense of mental liveliness; judgment authority based on the principle of rational knowledge ) at the center of the discussion.

For both authors, “feeling” alone is the ultimate authority for the ability to judge taste.

For him, the ultimately decisive instance of "reason" is above feeling.

Enlightenment (Germany)

These are the first representatives of German poetics based on taste judgment.

In the literary feud between Gottsched and the Swiss Bodmer and Breitinger, the contrast between rational poetics (Gottsched's position) and emotional poetics (Bodmer and Breitinger's position) breaks up.

Sturm und Drang and Klassik (Germany)

Romance and modernity

The idea of ​​the productivity of the imagination is central to the poetics of romanticism and modernity . In contrast to the strict classicist separation of the genres of lyric , epic and drama , Romanticism also developed the idea of ​​a progressive universal poetics, recognizing that all orders could be abolished, which the French Revolution had permanently demonstrated . Poetics has been practiced in the context of literary criticism and literary studies since the 19th century. A multitude of positions could emerge here, depending on the different theoretical starting points determined in terms of form or content. In this way modern poetics breaks away from the aesthetics of imitation. It recognizes as the “first law” that “the arbitrariness of the poet does not suffer any law over itself” ( Friedrich Schlegel ). In addition, the inherent poetics of language becomes significant, as Novalis and Stéphane Mallarmé have recognized. The poetics of futurism brings new techniques of collage and montage into play. These break the continuity of narrative forms in favor of a sequence of disparate text elements. In the last third of the 20th century, postmodernism played an important role as a technique of ironic quoting of well-known motifs.


  • Beda Allemann (Ed.): Ars Poetica. Texts by poets of the 20th century on poetics . Darmstadt 1966.
  • Irene Behrens: The doctrine of the division of poetry, primarily from the 16th to the 19th century. Studies on the history of poetic genres . Halle adS 1940 (= magazine for Romance philology, supplements, 92).
  • Ivo Braak : Poetics in a nutshell. Basic literary terms. An introduction . 7th, revised and expanded edition by Martin Neubauer. Unterägeri 1990 (= Hirts index books).
  • Dieter Burdorf: Poetics of Form. A history of concepts and problems . Stuttgart 2004. Metzler Verlag ISBN 3-476-90095-9
  • Manfred Fuhrmann : The poetry theory of antiquity. Aristotle - Horace - 'Longin'. An introduction . 2nd Edition. Darmstadt 1992.
  • Werner Jung : A short history of poetics . Hamburg 1997.
  • Bruno Markwardt : Poetics . In: Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturgeschichte , greeted by Paul Merker and Wolfgang Stammler, ed. by Klaus Kanzog and Achim Masser. Volume III: P-Sk, ed. by Werner Kohlschmidt and Wolfgang Mohr , revised. and with the editorial assistance of Klaus Kanzog. 2nd Edition. Unchanged new edition. Berlin New York 2001.
  • Jürgen H. Petersen: Mimesis - Imitatio - Imitation. A history of European poetics . Munich 2000 (= Uni-Taschenbücher, 8191).
  • HG Rötzer (Hrsg.): Texts on the history of poetics in Germany . Darmstadt 1980.
  • Klaus R. Scherpe: Genre poetics in the 18th century. Historical development from Gottsched to Herder . Stuttgart 1968 (= studies on general and comparative literary studies, 2).
  • Günther and Irmgard Schweikle (eds.): Metzler Literature Lexicon. Terms and Definitions . 2nd, revised edition. Stuttgart 1990.
  • Stefanie Stockhorst: Reform Poetics. Codified genus theory of the Baroque and alternative norms in poetological paratexts . Tübingen 2008 (early modern times vol. 128).
  • Stefan Trappen: genre poetics. Studies on the poetics of the 16th to 19th centuries and the history of the triadic genre theory . Heidelberg 2001 (= supplements to the Euphorion, 40).
  • Silvio Vietta (Ed.): Texts on poetics. An annotated anthology . Scientific book society. Darmstadt 2012.
  • Hermann Wiegmann : History of Poetics, an outline . Metzler, Stuttgart 1977, ISBN 3-476-10160-6 .
  • Gero von Wilpert : Subject dictionary of literature (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 231). 8th, improved and enlarged edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-520-23108-5 .

Web links

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


  1. See Ewald Standop : The designation of the poetic genres in English and in German. In: Germ.-roman. Monthly. New episode. Volume 6, 1956, pp. 382-392.
  2. Wolf Dieter Habicht, Wolf-Dieter Lange, Brockaus-Redaktion: Poetik In: Der Literatur Brockhaus in 8 volumes, volume 6. 1995, p. 276.
  3. Ingrid Brunecker: General validity or historical conditionality of the poetic genres: a main problem of modern poetics, worked out on Dilthey , Unger and Staiger . Philosophical dissertation, Kiel 1954.