Nature Park Travel - Europe off the beaten track
From Heinrich Heine: The romantic School (translation by Francis Storr)
Novalis was born 2nd May 1772. His real name was Hardenberg. He was engaged to a young lady who was consumptive, and died of the disease. This trouble cast its shadow over all his writings; his life was one long vision of death, and he died of consumption in 1801, before completing his nine-and-twentieth year and his romance. In its present shape this romance is but a fragment of a great allegorical poem, which, like the "Divina Commedia", was to have sung all things in earth and heaven. Heinrich von Ofterdingen, the famous poet is the hero. We see him as a youth at Eisenach, the little town that nestles at the foot of the old Wartburg, the scene of our greatest glory and our greatest folly. It was there Luther translated his Bible, and there that certain silly Teutomaniacs burned Kampiz's Police-Code*. It was the same Wartburg that once witnessed that famous tourney of minstrels, in which among other poets Heinrich von Ofterdingen engaged in that perilous encounter of song with Klingsohr of Hungary, which may still be read in the Manesse manuscript. The headsman was by to execute swift justice on the vanquished, and the Landgrave of Thuringia was the umpire.
Thus we see the full significance of the description with which Novalis' romance opens - the Wartburg, the scene of his hero's future reknown rising above the infant's cradle in the old house at Eisenach. "The parents have gone to bed and are asleep, the clock on the stairs ticks monotonously, the windows rattle with the wind, the chamber is lit up now and again with fitful gleams of moonlight.
The boy lay tossing on his bed, and thought of the stranger and his talk. "It is not the treasures," he said to himself, "that have stirred in me such unspeakable longings; I care not for wealth and riches; but that blue flower I do long to see; it haunts me and I can think and dream of nothing else. I never felt so before; it seems as if my past life had been a dream, or as though I had passed in sleep into another world, for in the world that I used to know who would have troubled himself about a flower? Indeed, I never heard tell of such a strange passion for a flower."
Such are the opening words of "Heinrich von Ofterdingen," and the whole novel is irradiated with the light and fragrance of the blue flower. We have an eerie feeling as we read; the most romantic and fabulous characters seem like old acquaintances whom we knew intimately in some former age. Old memories awake; Sophie herself wears an old familiar face; we recall the very trees in the beech avenue where we used to stroll together in sweet converse. All this, however, is dim and distant like a half-forgotten dream.
Novalis' muse was a slim, white maiden, with grave blue eyes, hyacinthine tresses, smiling lips, and a little red beauty mark on the left side of her chin. In fact I cannot help identifying with his muse the maiden wo first made me acquainted with Novalis, the maiden in whose fair hands I saw the red morocco volume with gilt edges, which contained "Ofterdingen". She always wore a blue dress, and her name was Sophie ...
At a window above Mademoiselle Sophie was standing and reading, and when I went in to see her, I found in her hands a volume bound in red moroco, with gilt edges; it was the same book as before, Novalis' "Ofterdingen". So she had gone on and on reading in this book, had read herself into a consumption, and looked like a transparent shadow ...
*The 'Codex der Gendarmerie' of Kampiz, the Prussian Minister of Police, who had made himself obnoxious to Liberal students was burnt by certain of their number at the Wartburg on October 18th, 1817, the anniversary of the battle of Leipzig.