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Moritzburg Palais, Zeitz





located at the Zeitz Moritzburg Palais Museum

Published in support of the Schloss Moritzburg (Palais) Zeitz E.V. (Reg. Society)
Internet-Publication with the kind permission of the authors

(Page 4-6)

Also a Resident of the Palais at Zeitz

About the Poet Ernst Ortlepp


On the title page of his 1900 Ortlepp biography, F. Walther Ilges announced that he would report about a >>missing person<<. Another century has passed, in the meantime, and it would be careless to simply contradict Ilges' statement.  However, we can also not carelessly agree with it.  Ortlepp's name has found a secure place in the name registers of the Goethe and Nietzsche editions and in the edition of Richard Wagner's letters.  That historian who deals with the cultural policies and censorship policies of the >>Heilige Allianz<< (translator's note: >>Heilige Allianz<< or "Holy Alliance" refers to the Declaration of Intention of the Monarchs of Austria, Russia and Prussia, in support of Christianity as basis for the policy of the preservation of the power structure of 1815), will not miss that in 1835,  a few weeks prior to the prohibition of the writings of "Young Germany" (translator's note: "Junges Deutschland" or "Young Germany" refers to a German literary movement from 1815 - 1832/5), State Chancellor Prince Metternich was decidedly personally active in pursuing (the prohibition of) the poem Fieschi. Certainly, one would have to refer to older encyclopedias if one does not know anything about the >>hero<< of this poem whom Ortlepp treated with understanding--and, in any event, not antagonistically.  However, one can also read Treitschke; in his book, one can still feel the horror with which the preservers of the old Europe looked at that unsuccessful royalty assassin and his role as, in their eyes, terrible example.  Recent dealing with and research in the area of the difficult relationship between Germans and Poles also brought back into mind that, among those European poets who supported the Polish liberation struggle of 1830/31, the >>missing<< Ortlepp played a prominent role.

Naumburg, 21. Dec. The poet Ortlepp who has particularly become known to the street urchins of our toown and those of the neigbouring villages, who, as is known, had been prowling our streets, staggering, in a drunken state, day and night, for several months, recently has been sentenced by the local court to 14 days in jail on charges of loitering and disturbing the peace, and after the completion of his jail term, he has been sent to the correctional facilities at Zeitz, for the second time, wherefrom he returned after a stay of more than one year, only this mid-summer.

Naumburg Kreisblatt, 22.Dezember 1860

Ortlepp owes it to his "Polish Hymns" that he was mentioned in the great Frankfort Exhibition on the 15. Anniversary of the Revolution of 1848, while one did not consider his actual poetic contribution to the ideas of 1848 very important, any more. Germania, a poem that was »dem deutschen Parlament gewidmet« (dedicated to the German Parliament), could only be published by Ortlepp, himself, in 1848, in Frankfort.  When Paul Mitzschke emphasized: »Ortlepp hatte sich in den Wirren des Jahres 1848 als treu monarchisch gesinnt erwiesen und auch in seinen Gedichten aller Zeiten vielfach einen begeisterten vaterländischen Ton zur Ehre Preußens angeschlagen« (by which Mitzschke expressed that, in the turmoils of 1848, Ortlepp had proven himself as a faithful monarchist, and also in his poems, at all times, he had chosen an enthusiastic patriotic tone in honor of Prussia), then he was certainly dealing very liberally with the truth.  >>Monarchist spirit<< certainly prevails in the Germania poem, but the monarch that was honored here was that who had been chosen by the Parliament, the so-called Ersatz-Kaiser (substitute Emperor), the Imperioal Custodian, Archduke Johann.  Presumably, Ortlepp was the only German poet who honored this peculiar political figure.  

Thus it can not be denied that Ortlepp, who once,--as he, himself, affirmed--was the >>Erste<< (first), »der der politischen Poesie wieder Bahn brach« (who broke again new ground for political poetry), in this respect, after 1848, was, with certain justification, counted among the >>missing persons<<. Also towards the end of the century when, above all, the workers' movement remembered many poets of the 1830's and 1840's, there did not occur an Ortlepp renaissance.  Ortlepp had gone his own way, too much.  His visiton of a future society that was shaped by the mind appeared neutral towards the alternative(s) of monarchy vs. republic.  And from his future combatants, Ortlepp also differs with respect to his seeing in traditional art and in its traditional ideals that which is worthy of preservation and also the examples that can still be aimed for.

After 1848, he had not gone >>missing<<, yet, since the works that he created as translator and editor, prevailed for some time.  A Shakespeare translation was distributed by Reclam.  Ortlepp presented the first complete translation of Byron's poems, and these texts were used for some time until a new edition was completed.  Today, special bibliographies still refer to his edition of the >>Sämtliche Werke<< (Complete Works) of the Saxon writer of Englihtenment, Rabener.  This list could still be impressively lengthened, to Ortlepp, however, these works meant little in comparison to his poetic work, his work as an original writer.  The conversation with Goethe, which has been often retold as a lighthearted anecdote, dealt with the peculiar nature of Ortlepp's understanding of poetry and with the difference between this understanding and that of Goethe, the poet in whom, also for Ortlepp, the absolute ideal of a poet had found its incarnation.  From this 1828 conversation, a pretty and rococo-style statement Goethe had made, is often quoted: »Jedes Gedicht ist gewissermaßen ein Kuß, den man der Welt gibt, aber aus bloßen Küssen werden keine Kinder.« (Every poem, in a certain way, is a kiss that one gives to the world, but from mere kisses, no children are born.)  Goethe's diary entry explains to us what was at issue:  Ortlepp,  whom one can not deny a certain poetic talent, is supposed to have become so entrangled in aesthetic-=sentimental notions that he could not find a connection to the outside world.  Once again, Goethe saw himself confronted by that understanding of poetry that he already could not come to terms with in the cases of Kleist and Hölderlin, at the reasons of which, however, he had also worked in his >>Werther<< and in the >>Tasso<< drama.  To Ortlepp, the language of th peo3et is divine speech, the poet is the actual representative of mankind; only with the musician, he could share his place.  As Richard Wagner with whom Ortlepp obviously  had not further contact after the Leipzig years, be believed in an obligation of mankind towards those who give to it works of art and artistic values. 

»Eine edle Verschmelzung des politischen und religiösen Momentes« (a noble melding of the political and religious moment) is what Ortlepp saw as having been reached or at least aimed at in his political poetry.  A melding always brings forth something in which the original character of the elements can no longer be clearly recognized.  Ortlepp wanted to meld politics and religion into a third entity that was supposed to be nobler.  Already Novalis saw in the poet the true priest.  Ortlepp put him and the Lied, in similar resoluteness, into the center of his images of mankind.  Politics turns into the creation of justice and greatness, not for the establishment of actors and structures, and religion has to bring forth humanity; where it does not want to face this task, it has failed.  >>God is only the God of the good.<< 

Ortlepp's poetic conception is not to be evaluated here.  At least, it speaks for it that it could still carry the poet's work after his early hopes had been crushed.  This is expressed in the poem >>Das Lied<<: >>Das Lied<< still gives all to him who stands before the abyss.  The data of those happier years in Ortlepp's life can be found in the biography that is being published here, for the first time.  In 1853, the poet was banished from Württemberg; he returned to his middle-German homeland.  The  Klänge aus dem Neckarthal of 1852 and the Klänge aus dem Saalthal, that followed in 1856 set some accents of his poetry differently:  The great history and the warnings to his contemporaries have not vanished, but in addition to them, the smaller, yet solid regional values, take up more room.  This process became quite common after the disappointments of 1848; with it, the rise of that began which, summarized under the term >>regional art<< (Heimatkunst),  would then be judged quite variedly.

Most reports of the last decade of Ortlepp's life emphasize the image of a deteriorated alcoholic.  It is certain that the authorities took measures against him, several times; to them we owe Ortlepp's late "close relationship" to Zeitz, in the "correctional facilities" of which he spent more than a year.  Wherever this is reported on, the motivations of the authorities are never thoroughly discussed.  it is also known that Ortlepp, at the age of 56, took the philological exam that was required for the service at higher learning institutions.  Such an office was not given to Ortlepp, and this was quickly explained on account of his less than clean-cut appearance.  Such images and viewpoints are also always the reflections of those who create them.  Poetic writings from his later years that will be featured in this edition could help to gain a more rounded image of the ageing poet. 

Farewell to the World

Some day, God will wipe off the tears
That I have cried here,
Open thee, thou silent grave,
To the pilgrim with his rod,
For the pilgrim sinks down,
To be with God, forever.

Oh! My Saviour Jesus Christ,
Thou has suffered more than I,
But I had a longer time
To fight my life's battles;
In suffering, we are both equals,
Guide me into Heaven!

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
I fold my hands to Thee;
Be praised forevermore!
Give to us a blessed end,
Tired pilgrim, thou,
All rushes towards our home.

Dear friends, farewell,
Whom I, oh, loved so dearly!
Bitter enemies, farewell,
Whom I never gladly brought sorrows,
To both love and forgiveness,
Thus I enter heaven now.

Oh, what an easy path,
Angels approach us,
Clad in white robes,
They offer us their greetings and blessings,
And, from golden light, it sounds:
"Jesus, my hope and salvation!"

Whoever reads these poems 1:1 within a Christian context will miss the essential:  One only has to look at whom he compared himself to Jesus in strophe 2--and in what tone he was interacting ... It is obviously the case that Ortlepp, in order to have a chance of selling these sheets of single poems, at all, he had to stick to traditional themes, however, wherever possible, he gave them his own twist to show what he really thought. (H. Walther)

This hope is all the more well-founded since the echo of one of these works has entered the depictions of the development of Friedrich Nietzsche, for the last six decades.  The Pforta student Nietzsche had known the Pforta alumnus Ortlepp; we know it from his letter of July 4, 1864: 

Der alte Ortlepp ist übrigens todt. Zwischen Pforta und Almrich fiel er in einen Graben und brach den Nacken. In Pforta wurde er früh morgends bei düsterem Regen begraben; vier Arbeiter trugen den rohen Sarg; Prof. Keil folgte mit einem Regenschirm. Kein Geistlicher.
Wir sprachen ihn am Todestag in Almrich. Er sagte, er gienge sich ein Logis im Saalthale zu miethen.  (By the way, the old Ortlepp is dead. Between Pforta and Almrich, he fell into a ditch and broke his neck. Early in the morning, when it was raining dreadfully, he was buried at Pforta; four workers carried the rough coffin; Professor Keil followed with his umbrella. No priest.
We spoke to him on the day of his death, at Almrich. He said that he was on his way to rent lodgings in the Saale valley.
We wanted to set a small tombstone for him; we have collected money; we have about 40 Thalers.)

This text harkens back to the conclusion of the Werther novel, the novel about a man who could also not find a connection to the outside world, as Goethe once remarked of Ortlepp.  As surely as this text confirms that Ortlepp impressed the young Nietzsche, as uncertain are assumptions with respect to the direction and content of this influence.  Also this contributes to the fact that, 200 years after the birth of Ortlepp and 100 years after the death of Nietzsche, Ortlepp is not entirely >>lost<<.

Droyßig, the birth place of Ernst Ortlepp
Lithography from around 1860 by Hans A. Willard (1832-1864)


Internet Edition: Helmut Walther (Nürnberg)
Translation: Ingrid Schwaegermann (Edmonton, Canada)

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