Rudolf Borchardt

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Rudolf Borchardt in Italy, around 1907

Rudolf Borchardt (born June 9, 1877 in Königsberg , † January 10, 1945 in Trins near Steinach in Tyrol) was a German writer , poet , translator and speaker .


Rudolf Borchardt was the second child of the Jewish businessman Robert Martin Borchardt (1848–1908) and his wife Rose, b. Bernstein (1854–1943), born. He spent the first five years of his life in Moscow and moved to Berlin with his family in 1892 . Since he was discriminated against in grammar school, the family placed him in the care of grammar school professor Friedrich Witte, who educated him at two royal grammar schools in the traditions of Protestant life and "loyalty to the king". Even at this time he was influenced by reading Herder's writings . In 1895 he graduated from the Royal High School in Wesel and began studying theology in Berlin that same year , later studying classical philology and archeology . He continued these studies in Bonn and Göttingen in 1896 and also studied German and Egyptology .

Hugo von Hofmannsthal's early work and Stefan Georges' work left lasting impressions in 1898 . In 1898 Borchardt began working on a dissertation on genres of Greek poetry , which was not completed. After personal crises and a serious illness in February 1901, Borchardt rejected the plan for a university career. In January 1902 Borchardt fell out with his father because he refused to allow him monthly payments. On February 17th he traveled to Rodaun and visited Hugo von Hofmannsthal, whom he admired. From 1903 he lived with a few interruptions in Tuscany and lived in a villa near Lucca .

Grave of Rudolf Borchardt in Trins , Tyrol (2013)

In 1906 Borchardt married the painter Karoline Ehrmann in London and returned with her to Italy, from where he was a sought-after speaker and took him to Germany on several lecture tours until 1933. With the beginning of the First World War he returned to Germany, was initially an infantry officer and later worked in the general staff. After the divorce from Karoline in 1919, Borchardt married Marie Luise Voigt in 1920, a niece of Rudolf Alexander Schröder , with whom he had been friends for a long time. From this marriage there were four children.

Since 1921 Borchardt lived with his family again in Tuscany in various rented villas. Due to his Jewish origins, he lived more and more withdrawn from 1933 onwards. This did not prevent him from handing over a copy of his transmission Dante's Divina Comedia to the fascist dictator Mussolini in April 1933.

In August 1944, Borchardt and his wife were arrested by the SS in Italy and transported to Innsbruck. After their release, they hid in Tyrol . Rudolf Borchardt died there of heart failure on January 10, 1945 .


Stefan George, 1910

Rudolf Borchardt's lyrical oeuvre, who was initially associated with the George Circle , can only be attributed with difficulty to certain literary movements of his time, such as neo-romanticism or the fin de siècle . As a result of self-chosen isolation, he remained a solitaire, a poeta doctus with the highest demands on himself and others. It was shaped by the study of classical studies and by the poems of Georges and Hofmannsthals.

His awareness of tradition made him reject the movements of literary modernism , from the conception of poésie pure to the form shattering of expressionism . While, in contrast to Rainer Maria Rilke, he did not have his own works published in his youth - apart from rare private prints in Inselverlag - he went public from 1905. So with his conversation about forms and Plato's lysis and the speech about Hofmannsthal , with which he justified his strict conception of form and translation theory. The yearbook Hesperus , edited with his friends Schröder and Hofmannsthal, published in 1908 Borchardt's criticism of Stefan George's Seventh Ring as well as the first translation samples. Only after the First World War did Borchardt reach a broader, if not large, audience.

Borchardt developed a vision of the cosmos of ancient European tradition and, in a partially deliberately chosen isolation, designed an aesthetic program of creative restoration , as the title of a speech given in 1927 read. He turned against the break with tradition in modern society, against the “anarchy of fashions” and artistic styles, which he opposed to the romantic program of restoring a German concept of culture. This should unite the tradition of the Occident , the world of antiquity up to classicism and romanticism and serve to create identification for a German nation. Borchardt was close to the conservative currents of his time, whose unifying factor was a hunger for myth and which included his friend Hofmannsthal, who was supposed to conjure up a “ conservative revolution ” in his famous 1927 speech on literature as the nation's spiritual space .

Domenico di Michelino : La Divina Commedia di Dante , 1465 ( Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore , Florence)

The focus was equally on antiquity and Dante , for whose Divine Comedy Borchardt devised its own German in decades of work - "creative restoration" from the renewing power of poetry. Epics such as The Book of Joram and the knightly robed Durant , but also dramas , landscape historical essays ( Villa , Pisa ), even contemporary novellas should be models of applied formal history.

Numerous translations and anthologies for the Bremen press , including the Eternal Reserve of German Poetry (1926), are also based on philological divination. Alliances - such as the collaboration with the magazine Die Insel  - were hardly ever lasting; the poet's peremptoric gesture often endangered even close friendships such as those with Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rudolf Alexander Schröder. Daily prose and speeches with which he promoted his national-conservative image of the poetic-political tradition during the Weimar Republic had little effect.

For Borchardt's idea of ​​“creative restoration” his translation work is of central importance, a work that he understood as a linguistic renewal of the occidental tradition. He also combined his own poetry with the claim to contrast the time of the “rampant disintegration of forms” with a model of its genre with each work. His life's task of working in “opposition to the modern zeitgeist ” on a “restoration of German cultural totality from its entire historical inventory” was abruptly ended by the National Socialist seizure of power . Since he was cut off from most publication opportunities, he concentrated in Italy on historical and philological studies and devoted himself to his garden book ( The Passionate Gardener ).

The time-critical iambi (1935) and The Passionate Gardener , the final expression of his cultural vision, could only appear posthumously . Since 1955 an edition of works, since 1994 an edition of letters, shows Borchardt's oeuvre.

His notes on The Passionate Gardener can be seen in the permanent exhibition in the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach. Borchardt's estate is in the German Literature Archive in Marbach . Here, in 2012, the Borchardt editor Gerhard Schuster discovered an incomplete manuscript of about 1000 pages of a pornographic novel. Although Borchardt's youngest son Cornelius spoke out against publication under the non-author's title Weltpuff Berlin , the novel was published in October 2018 under the title. The publication also represents the first volume of a critical complete edition of Borchardt's works.


Borchardt's elitist aspirations and the affliction of his work with universal, philological education prevented broader success from the start. Marked Werner Vordtriede his poetry as "poetic encyclopedia". Rudolf Alexander Schröder regarded him as the poet "to whom the ancients would have awarded the honorary title poeta doctus" . He considered his friend to be "a historian and interpreter of idiosyncratic greatness." Hofmannsthal compared him with Viktor Hehn and Jacob Burckhardt and found his “inner constitution remarkable, which perceives language material as spirit and culture, as a sanctuary”. From a literary point of view, it was found that his poetry tends to be hermetic , but not because it strives for absolute poetry , "but out of the desire to redeem language from its rigidity and impoverishment".

In 1937, the journalist Fritz Brügel published a sharp review of the novel Unification Through the Enemy in the Moscow exile magazine Das Wort under the title Aristocratic Fascism , which goes far beyond a condemnation of the individual work. He smugly characterized Borchardt's language in his earlier "Pan-German propaganda brochures" as complicated and flawed; the Dante translation is a model of silliness and eccentricity. During the world war, Borchardt carried out bloodthirsty war incitement and propaganda, called for the destruction of European civilization and mocked the people. He had propagated German war aims that were "far more cruel, inhuman and insidious than the worst sentences of the Versailles Treaty". Borchardt is the first German writer who recommended "book burnings, beatings and torture and all the inexpressible rawness of fascism" before it came to power. After Borchardt's ideas were realized in Germany, his own literature could no longer appear there, which was an injustice, "because the ruling fascists [...] should have bowed to such merit". His novel proclaims an "aristocratic fascism".

Theodor W. Adorno initially characterized the poet as a language virtuoso with restorative and archaic features. With reference to Herder überhöhe Borchardt, the poetic is irrationalist as an original language that is transcendent in relation to the other arts, as a "visionary faculty". “Categories such as untouchability, protection of gods, exemption, sanctification are peculiar to poetry and only it.” Borchardt's pathos against the disenchanted world is, however, “a little stale”, and the antithesis between the visual arts as techne and poetry is irrelevant because that The medium of the fine arts, from which Borchardt wants to distance it, is itself also language. In addition, the music does not fit into this dichotomous scheme.

In the essay The conjured language , Adorno emphasizes the key character of poetry in Borchardt's work. His specific poetic form of reaction was the lyrical one. Borchardt's "speaking gesture" is less that of the speaker than an epiphany of language itself. The poems are indeed non-illustrative, but nonetheless "plump sensual" and in this respect develop the paradox of "nonsensual intuition". Compared with the poems of Rilke or Trakl , for the sake of their articulation they would reject music-like effects, but were more musical in their approach. With Karl Kraus connect Borchardt the experience of the "Voice decay". "His Weltschmerz is about language no less than that of the subject about his loneliness and foreignness." Borchardt recognizes how the high demands that language places on him cannot be met. The language is devastated by “commerce, communication” and the “shame of exchange”. While Hofmannsthal described the language problem as a personal curse in relation to language in the Chandos letter , Borchardt is concerned with the fault of the language itself.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1910

The literary critic Friedrich Sieburg used the correspondence to shed light on the relationship between Borchardt, described as impatient and arrogant, and the profound "poet" Hofmannsthal. They were friends of unequal tension, but equal zeal, even if a real harmony in mutual trust had never formed between them. Borchardt's education, striving for a balance between research and poetry, was immeasurable, his treatises and essays of uncanny depth, his speaking skills tremendous. He was able to improvise over Greek, Provencal and English verses with ease. During the First World War, he preached to the Germans in the old Prussian tone self-retreat and "conservative revolution". Borchardt was concerned with connecting Hofmannsthal's poetic achievement, which “struck him like a bolt of lightning”, with the world and history, even if it was questionable whether his work needed such communication.

Borchardt's ambitions had been curbed by his enormous intelligence. Certain areas of poetry had remained closed to him despite his enormous educational reserves, Hofmannsthal had opened up new areas of experience for him and was usually patient and indulgent, up to a limit, the violation of which provoked a decisive reaction, a sharp rejection of Borchardt for the poetic one To join the truth. Hofmannsthal's vehemently negative reaction to the Eranos letter that Borchardt had written on the poet's 50th birthday was devastating. The letter shows Borchardt as a torn man who worked with unrestrained rhetorical means. The lust for power that Borchardt once reprimanded Stefan George had been rejected by Hofmannsthal. At this great moment the spirit of humanity rose up against violence "which is also the constant lure for Germans in intellectual history".

Helmuth Kiesel asked whether “Weltpuff Berlin” could not be read as a “reactionary punch against feminism”.


First editions (chronological)
  • German speeches. Verlag der Bremer Presse, Munich 1925.
  • Eternal supply of German poetry . Anthology. 1926.
  • German Renaissance poetry. Reconstructed from the estate and edited by Stefan Knödler. Edition Tenschert at Hanser, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-446-23033-0 .
Editions of works and collections
  • Rudolf Borchardt - Collected Letters. Edited by Gerhard Schuster and Hans Zimmermann. Munich and Vienna 1995.
  • Rudolf Borchardt - Hugo von Hofmannsthal . Correspondence. Munich and Vienna 1994.
  • Rudolf Borchardt - Rudolf Alexander Schröder . Correspondence. Volumes I (1901-1918) and II (1919-1945). Edited by E. Abbondanza, Munich 2001.
  • Rudolf Borchardt - Letters to Marie Luise Borchardt. Volume I-III. Munich 2014.


  • Gregor Eisenhauer : Antipodes. Ernst Jünger and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Rudolf Borchardt and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1998, ISBN 3-484-32099-0 .
  • Adalbert Elschenbroich:  Borchardt, Rudolf. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 2, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1955, ISBN 3-428-00183-4 , p. 456 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Ingrid Grüninger in connection with Reinhard Tgahrt (arrangement): Rudolf Borchardt - Directory of his writings . Hanser, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-446-18033-8 (Supplement to the edition of Rudolf Borchardt's collected letters; also self-published by the Rudolf Borchardt Society as writings of the Rudolf Borchardt Society. Volume 8. Further edition: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft , Marbach as Schiller National Museum and German Literature Archive: Directories, Reports, Information. Volume 28; Table of Contents ) ..
  • Franck Hofmann: Languages ​​of Friendship. Rudolf Borchardt and the work on the aesthetic person . Fink, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-7705-3935-4 .
  • Kai Kauffmann: Rudolf Borchardt and the "Fall of the German Nation". Self-staging and historical construction in the essayistic work . Niemeyer, Tübingen 2003, ISBN 3-484-18169-9 .
  • Kai Kauffmann (ed.): The wild flesh of time. Rudolf Borchardt's cultural historiography . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-93357-3 .
  • Alexander Kissler : "Where am I staying?". Rudolf Borchardt and the Invention of the Self. Wallstein, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-89244-631-8 .
  • Stefan Knödler: Rudolf Borchardts Anthologies , de Gruyter, Berlin 2010 (sources and research on literary and cultural history, volume 63 = 297), ISBN 978-3-11-022830-4 .
  • Werner Kraft : Rudolf Borchardt. World of poetry and history . Claassen, Hamburg 1961.
  • Wolfgang Matz : A bullet in the body. Walter Benjamin and Rudolf Borchardt: Judaism and German poetry . Wallstein, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8353-0946-3 .
  • Jan Merk: "... common musketeer in a small country garrison". The poet Rudolf Borchardt as a war volunteer in the Garrison Müllheim . In: The First World War on the Upper Rhine , ed. by Robert Neisen / Markus Eisen, Freiburg: Rombach 2015, ISBN 978-3-7930-9812-6 , pp. 187-204.
  • Ernst Osterkamp : The power of form. Rudolf Borchardt's sonnet 'Farewell'. In: Harald Hartung (ed.): Poems and interpretations. From naturalism to the middle of the 20th century (=  Reclams Universal Library . No. 7894). Reclam, Stuttgart 2011 [first 1987], ISBN 978-3-15-007894-5 , pp. 231-243.
  • Bastian Schlüter: Exploding antiquity. Imaginations from the Middle Ages between the world wars . Wallstein, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8353-0880-0 , pp. 201-255.
  • Gustav Seibt : Borchardt? Indeed! Answer to Gerhard Schuster, head of the Rudolf Borchardt Archive. In: Ders .: German surveys. The classic and the sick. Springe 2008, p. 106 ff., ISBN 978-3-86674-024-2 .
  • Peter Sprengel : Rudolf Borchardt. The lord of words . CH Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-68207-0 .
  • Rudolf Borchardt, Alfred Walter Heymel, Rudolf Alexander Schröder. An exhibition of the German Literature Archive in the Schiller National Museum, Marbach am Neckar 1978 . Exhibition and catalog by Reinhard Tgahrt (among others). Special exhibitions of the Schiller National Museum, Volume 29. Kösel, Munich 1978.
  • Rudolf Borchardt, 1877–1945. Lectures from the Pisan Colloquium . Edited by Horst Albert Glaser in conjunction with Enrico de Angelis. Files from international congresses in the fields of aesthetics and literary studies, Vol 4. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-8204-0940-8 .
  • Reich manual of German society . The handbook of personalities in words and pictures . First volume, Deutscher Wirtschaftsverlag, Berlin 1930, ISBN 3-598-30664-4 .
  • Jürgen Manthey : With Königsberg against Berlin, with Pisa against Rome (Rudolf Borchardt) , in this: Königsberg. History of a world citizenship republic . Munich 2005, ISBN 978-3-423-34318-3 , pp. 587-611.
  • Andreas Beyer: "Is that the villa?" Rudolf Borchardt in the villa landscape , in which: The art brought to the language , ed. by Lena Bader, Johannes Grave and Markus Rath, Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin 2017, pp. 114–134. ISBN 978-3-8031-2784-6

Web links

Wikisource: Rudolf Borchardt  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Rudolf Borchardt  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Rudolf Borchardt (
  2. ^ Rudolf Borchardt: Life told by himself (library Suhrkamp); Rudolf Wilpert: Lexicon of world literature. Volume 1: Concise dictionary based on authors and anonymous works . Stuttgart 1988, p. 194; Walther Killy, marginal note from the Rudolf Borchardt Archive.
  3. ^ A b c Walther Killy: "Rudolf Borchardt". In: Literaturlexikon , vol. 2, p. 112 f.
  4. ^ Rudolf Borchardt, Alfred Walter Heymel, Rudolf Alexander Schröder. An exhibition of the German Literature Archive in the Schiller National Museum, Marbach am Neckar 1978 . Exhibition and catalog by Reinhard Tgahrt (among others). Special exhibitions of the Schiller National Museum Volume 29. Kösel, Munich 1978, p. 483; Sebastian Neumeister: Rudolf Borchardt and the Romanesque Middle Ages. In: Ernst Osterkamp (ed.): Rudolf Borchardt and his contemporaries (sources and research on literary and cultural history 10). De Gruyter: Berlin-New York 1997. ISBN 3-11-015603-2 , pp. 73-83, here p. 73.
  5. “Rudolf Borchardt. Das lyrische Werk ”, p. 920. In: Kindlers New Literature Lexicon . Volume 2, Munich 1991.
  6. Gerhard Schuster: Borchardt's novel “Weltpuff Berlin”: Rudolf nefarious or: Sex until the doctor comes? In: FAZ.NET . ISSN  0174-4909 ( [accessed October 10, 2018]). ; Ijoma Mangold : "Weltpuff Berlin": 18 indomitable centimeters . In: The time of October 10, 2018.
  7. "Weltpuff Berlin": 18 unbending centimeters . In: ZEIT ONLINE . ( [accessed on October 10, 2018]).
  8. Borchardt, Complete Works Volume XIV (in two parts): Erzählungen 2 (Hardcover) - Rowohlt. Retrieved October 10, 2018 .
  9. “Rudolf Borchardt. Das lyrische Werk ”, p. 922. In: Kindlers Neues Literatur-Lexikon . Volume 2, Munich 1991.
  10. Thomas Anz: “Fascism or rock face in the field? Rudolf Borchardt and literary criticism. A review of Fritz Brügels from 1937 and today's feature pages ” on .
  11. ^ Theodor W. Adorno: Die Kunst und die Künste , S. 443. In: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (=  Collected Writings , Volume 10).
  12. ^ Theodor W. Adorno: Die Kunst und die Künste , S. 445. In: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (=  Collected Writings , Volume 10).
  13. a b Theodor W. Adorno: The conjured language , p. 536 f. In: Notes on Literature (=  Collected Writings , Volume 11).
  14. ^ Friedrich Sieburg: "Hugo von Hofmannsthal", p. 368. In: On literature. 1924-1956 . Edited by Fritz J. Raddatz. DVA, Stuttgart, 1981.
  15. ^ Friedrich Sieburg: "Hugo von Hofmannsthal", p. 371. In: On literature. 1924-1956 . Edited by Fritz J. Raddatz. DVA, Stuttgart, 1981.
  16. ↑ A reactionary punch against feminism? , in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , March 14, 2019, p. 12.