If not more numbers and figures

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If not more numbers and figures is a poem by Novalis (Georg Friedrich Philipp Freiherr von Hardenberg) from the year 1800. It contains some of Novalis' central ideas of a romantic universal poetry and is often cited as programmatic for romanticism .


When numbers and figures
are no longer the key to all creatures
When they sing or kiss,
More than the deeply learned know,
When the world goes into free life
And the world goes back,
When light and shadow turn back
to pure clarity spouses,
And if one
recognizes the true world stories in fairy tales and poems ,
then the
whole perverted being flies away from a secret word .


The poem is part of the Heinrich von Ofterdingen fragment of the novel . It is not a matter of course that “numbers and figures” are discounted in this poem, since Novalis, in addition to philosophy and jurisprudence, also dealt intensively with the natural sciences and was matriculated at the Bergakademie in Freiberg for two years and then worked in the saltworks management in Weißenfels . For the poets of the Enlightenment , access to the cosmos was tied to rationality. With this endeavor breaks romance and novalis.

In 1798 Novalis had praised the magic of mathematical formulas in his "Monologue":

If only you could make people understand that language is like mathematical formulas - you make up a world for yourself - you only play with yourself, express nothing but your wonderful nature, and that's why you are they are so expressive - that is precisely why the interplay of things is reflected in them.

Novalis distrusts the “deeply learned” and finds the key to understanding the world in singers and lovers. The idea of ​​the “return of the world to the world” refers to the mystic Jakob Böhme . With this thought Novalis or this poem turns against the Enlightenment, but not with a romantic feeling, but with a clearly structured thought (see form below).

The 1st and 2nd verse criticize the claim of the natural sciences and their rational-quantitative methods ( numbers and figures for formulas and geometric structures) to explain the “secret of the world”. With the expressions keys and creatures , the scientific field of words is already abandoned in the direction of mysticism and religion.

The 3rd and 4th verses criticize the deeply learned (ie the representatives of rational science) because or because those who sing or kiss (ie holistically musically or lyrically creators or lovers) know more .

The 5th / 6th Verses contain a complex two-part statement: The world can have two meanings in the 18th century: the educated, noble-bourgeois world of the society of "conventions" represents a contrast to the free, spontaneously emotional, unadulterated life. Or the world is as " Creation “the natural-divine order of the cosmos, from which the Enlightenment tore man out as the healed original world. The aim of the story is therefore the restoration of the original paradisiacal state (back into the world ) through the history of salvation .

The 7th and 8th verses bring the fourth, penultimate condition: The light is the image for the understanding of the Enlightenment, which with the torch of reason the light of truth into the darkness ( shadow ) of superstition and fanaticism, of ignorance and bears error. For romanticism, however, it is well known that the dark and the night were nothing negative, but rather the enabling of true knowledge, intuitive knowledge, and mystical wisdom. The real clarity is of course in contrast to the mere light of reason of the Enlightenment.

The ninth and tenth verses bring as the climax of the if- accumulation the claim that the true world histories are not to be found in the learned sciences, but in poetic fairy tales and poems . The poem thus proves to be self-reflexive. Novalis sees timeless images of archetypal situations, conflicts and human states expressed in fairy tales and poems . He is thus in the context of natural philosophical views of his time, as z. B. Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert in his work Views from the dark side of science expressed 1808th Schubert understood the myths of old and more recent times as timeless representations of archetypes in the sense of Carl Gustav Jung .

The 11th and 12th verses finally bring the longed-for conclusion from the previously set conditions: only before a secret word (cf. Eichendorff's four-line poem " Dowsing Rod ": If a song sleeps in all things, / those dreaming on and on, / and the world begins to sing, / if you only hit the magic word ) - that is, the word of the romantic poet - the whole perverted being flies away (that is, the learned science with its methods and individual knowledge) and makes the liberation of existence out of oppression space through intellectual and social norms. The motif of the secret word known only to an initiated circle is related to the conception of Hölderlin and the later attitudes of the circle around Stefan George .


The single- verse unit, consisting of 12 verses , corresponds to the closed train of thought . The meter is an iambic four-lever meter . As rhyme scheme A will pair rhyme used with two successive verses[aa bb cc ...]Except for the last two verses, the ending of the verse is a female cadenza . The whole poem consists of a single conditional sentence structure: Four subordinate clauses with “If” (rhetorical means anaphor ) precede a “Then” sentence and form a logical-grammatical unit with it according to the consecutive principle (see commentary).


  • Konstantin Wecker : Novalis. Appeared on the album Without Why (2015). Music: Konstantin Wecker, text: Novalis / Konstantin Wecker.
  • Novalis (Band) : If not more numbers and figures. Appeared on the album "Brandung" (1977) Music: Fred Mühlböck,

Single receipts

  1. ^ Thomas Gräff: Poetry from Romanticism to the turn of the century . Oldenbourg Interpretations 96, Oldenbourg, 1st ed., 2000, p. 41.
  2. Novalis: Schriften (historical-critical edition), Vol. 1: Das Dichterische Werk , edited by Paul Kluckhohn and Richard H. Samuel. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 2nd, supplemented, expanded and improved edition according to the manuscripts. 1960, p. 344.
  3. Walter Hinck: “Stations of German Poetry. From Luther to the present day - 100 poems with interpretations ”. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000, p. 77.
  4. ^ Novalis: Works , edited and commented by Gerhard Schulz . CH Beck, Munich 2001, p. 426.
  5. ^ Thomas Gräff: Poetry from Romanticism to the turn of the century . Oldenbourg Interpretations 96, Oldenbourg, 1st ed., 2000, pp. 42 and 43.
  6. ^ Thomas Gräff: Poetry from Romanticism to the turn of the century . Oldenbourg Interpretations 96, Oldenbourg, 1st ed., 2000, p. 43.


  • Gerhard Kaiser : History of German poetry from Goethe to the present . 3 parts in cassette. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-518-38587-9 .
  • Walter Hinck : Stations of German Poetry. From Luther to the present day - 100 poems with interpretations . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-20810-3 .

Web links

If not more numbers and figures (learning tips collection)

Novalis website (If not more numbers ... - Heinrich von Ofterdingen - First part (excerpt) with illustrations)