What is a `Dinggedicht`?
What is a ‘Dinggedicht’? The term ‘Dinggedicht’ refers to a form of poetry that was developed in Germany in the late 19th century. Writers such as Eduard Mörike and Conrad Ferdinand Meyer often combined the description of an object with a symbolic interpretation to be gleaned from it. The genre was then developed further in modernist writing of the early 20th century, most famously by Rainer Maria Rilke. The poems collected in his Neue Gedichte, written between 1902 and 1908, concentrate on the attempt to represent reality as aesthetic phenomenon. Put most simply, a ‘Dinggedicht’ is a poem focused upon an object. On the basis of acute observation, the writer attempts to re‐create the object in the medium of language and poetic form. The ‘Dinggedicht’ ‘translates’ the material quality and presence of the object into the immaterial substance of text and by doing so, creates a new work of art. Elizabeth Boa describes this relationship between object and form in the following terms: ‘Just as a piece of sculpture is at once a thing in its own right and a representation whose form is derived from the thing represented, so the “Dinggedicht” should be a thing in its own right, but a thing whose form is determined by the object’. The poet may aim for an objective, distanced presentation of the object, or he/she may attempt to express the object’s essential nature by finding the language that is specific to the object and letting it ‘speak’ for itself. Often, too, the contemplation of the concrete object reveals a symbolic dimension when ‘translated’ into language. However objective the poet may try to be in the representation of the object, the writing of a ‘Dinggedicht’ always also implies a personal, subjective interpretation or reaction. It may even lead to an epiphany, a sudden insight into the meaning of our existence. Here are two examples of famous German ‘Dinggedichte’: 1. ‘Der römische Brunnen’ (The Roman Fountain) of 1882 by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (extract): Contemplating a fountain at the villa Borghese in Rome, the author reflects on the steady flux, the give and take, the constant change that makes up one harmonious and permanent, unchanging whole. Perhaps a symbolic reference to life? Auf steigt der Strahl, und fallend gießt Er voll der Marmorschale Rund, Die, sich verschleiernd, überfließt In einer zweiten Schale Grund; Die zweite gibt, sie wird zu reich, Der dritten wallend ihre Flut, Und jede nimmt und gibt zugleich Und strömt und ruht. High climbs the jet and, falling, fills up to the brim the marble rounds that overflow in veils and frills, into a second basin's grounds; the second, now too rich, forsakes its waves and on the third one spills and equally it gives and takes and stirs and stills. Transl. by Walter A. Aue. Copyright: Walter A. Aue (http://myweb.dal.ca/~waue/Trans/0‐TransList.html) 2. ‘Des Rosen‐Innere’ (The Rose Interior), by Rainer Maria Rilke: Concentrating on the fragility, but also the infinity contained in the interior of a rose that reveals itself without exterior protection, this poem also explores the tension between the fullness and beauty of life and its transience. Wo ist zu diesem Innen ein Außen? Auf welches Weh legt man solches Linnen? Welche Himmel spiegeln sich drinnen in dem Binnensee dieser offenen Rosen, dieser sorglosen, sieh: wie sie lose im Losen liegen, als könnte nie eine zitternde Hand sie verschütten. Sie können sich selber kaum halten; viele ließen sich überfüllen und fließen über von Innenraum in die Tage, die immer voller sich schließen, bis der ganze Sommer ein Zimmer wird, ein Zimmer in einem Traum. Where is the exterior to this interior? And on what wound is laid Such linen for healing? Within them What sky‐ceiling reflects in the inland‐lake of these open roses ‒ carefree, loosely lying, see, in the great looseness round them, as though no trembling hand could shake them. Barely self‐containing, many allow themselves to fill to overflowing and stream out from inner spaces into the days that close fuller and fuller, until the whole fulfilled summer grows into a room, a room in a dream. Transl. by Susan Ranson From: Rainer Maria Rilke: Selected Poems, translated by Susan Ranson & Marielle Sutherland, edited by Robert Vilain (2011), p. 99. By permission of Oxford University Press (www.oup.com)
Further Reading: Elizabeth Boa, ‘Asking the Thing for the Form in Rilke’s Neue Gedichte’, German Life and Letters, 27 (1974), pp. 285‐93. Wolfgang G. Müller, ‘Dinggedicht’, in Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft, ed. by Klaus Weimar, vol. 1 (Berlin/ New York: De Gruyter, 1997, pp. 366‐67); Michael Winkler, ‘Dinggedicht’, in The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. by Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 295. September 2014