Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern (6 May 1871 – 31 March 1914) was a German
author An author is the writer of a book, article, play, mostly written work. A broader definition of the word "author" states: "''An author is "the person who originated or gave existence to anything" and whose authorship determines responsibility f ...
poet A poet is a person who studies and creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be the creator ( thinker, songwriter, writer, or author) who creates (composes) poems ( oral or wri ...
Munich Munich ( ; german: München ; bar, Minga ) is the capital and most populous city of the German state of Bavaria. With a population of 1,558,395 inhabitants as of 31 July 2020, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and H ...
. Morgenstern married Margareta Gosebruch von Liechtenstern on 7 March 1910. He worked for a while as a journalist in Berlin, but spent much of his life traveling through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, primarily in a vain attempt to recover his health. His travels, though they failed to restore him to health, allowed him to meet many of the foremost literary and philosophical figures of his time in central Europe. Morgenstern's
poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek '' poiesis'', "making"), also called verse, is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language − such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre − to evoke meanings ...
, much of which was inspired by English
literary nonsense Literary nonsense (or nonsense literature) is a broad categorization of literature that balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning. Even though the most well-k ...
, is immensely popular, even though he enjoyed very little success during his lifetime. He made fun of scholasticism, e.g. literary criticism in "Drei Hasen", grammar in "Der Werwolf", narrow-mindedness in "Der Gaul", and symbolism in "Der Wasseresel". In "Scholastikerprobleme" he discussed how many angels could sit on a needle. Still many Germans know some of his poems and quotations by heart, e.g. the following line from "The Impossible Fact" ("Die unmögliche Tatsache", 1910): :''Weil, so schließt er messerscharf / Nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.'' :"For, he reasons pointedly / That which must not, can not be." Embedded in his humorous poetry is a subtle metaphysical streak, as e.g. in "Vice Versa", (1905): ''Ein Hase sitzt auf einer Wiese,''
''des Glaubens, niemand sähe diese.''
''Doch im Besitze eines Zeißes''
''betrachtet voll gehaltnen Fleißes''
''vom vis-à-vis gelegnen Berg''
''ein Mensch den kleinen Löffelzwerg.''
''Ihn aber blickt hinwiederum''
''ein Gott von fern an, mild und stumm.'' "A rabbit in his meadow lair
Imagines none to see him there.
But aided by a looking lens
A man with eager diligence
Inspects the tiny long-eared gnome
From a convenient near-by dome.
Yet him surveys, or so we learn
A god from far off, mild and stern."
Gerolf Steiner Gerolf Steiner (22 March 1908 – 14 August 2009) was a German zoologist. Life and career Steiner was born in Strasbourg, Alsace in March 1908. He earned his doctorate in 1931 at the University of Heidelberg. He completed his habilitation in 1942 ...
's mock-scientific book about the fictitious animal order
Rhinogradentia Rhinogradentia is a fictitious order of shrew-like mammals invented by German zoologist Gerolf Steiner. Members of the order, known as rhinogrades or snouters, are characterized by a nose-like feature called a "nasorium", which evolved to ful ...
(1961), inspired by Morgenstern's nonsense poem ''Das Nasobēm'', is testament to his enduring popularity. Morgenstern was a member of the General Anthroposophical Society. Dr. Rudolf Steiner called him 'a true representative of Anthroposophy'. Morgenstern died in 1914 of
tuberculosis Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by ''Mycobacterium tuberculosis'' (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections show no symptoms, in w ...
, which he had contracted from his mother, who died in 1881.

Gallows Songs

Morgenstern's best known works are the '' Galgenlieder'' (Gallows Songs, 1905). This volume of humorous verses was followed by ''Palmström'' in 1910. Published posthumously were the important companion volumes ''Palma Kunkel'' in 1916, ''Der Gingganz'' in 1919, and ''Alle Galgenlieder'' in 1932. In German these works have gone through dozens of different editions and reprints and sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Morgenstern as translator

Christian Morgenstern was also an acclaimed translator, rendering into German various prominent works from Norwegian and French, including the dramas and poems of
Henrik Ibsen Henrik Johan Ibsen (; ; 20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906) was a Norwegian playwright and theatre director. As one of the founders of modernism in theatre, Ibsen is often referred to as "the father of theatrical realism, realism" and one of the mo ...
Knut Hamsun Knut Hamsun (4 August 1859 – 19 February 1952) was a Norwegian writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. Hamsun's work spans more than 70 years and shows variation with regard to consciousness, subject, perspective ...
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson ( , ; 8 December 1832 – 26 April 1910) was a Norwegian writer who received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature "as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished ...
August Strindberg Johan August Strindberg (, ; 22 January 184914 May 1912) was a Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter.Lane (1998), 1040. A prolific writer who often drew directly on his personal experience, Strindberg wrote more than sixty ...

Musical settings

Morgenstern's poems have been set to music by composers such as Erik Bergman (four Galgenlieder, ''Das große Lalula'', ''Tapetenblume'', ''Igel und Agel'', ''Unter Zeiten''),
Hanns Eisler Hanns Eisler (6 July 1898 – 6 September 1962) was an Austrian composer (his father was Austrian, and Eisler fought in a Hungarian regiment in World War I). He is best known for composing the national anthem of East Germany, for his long arti ...
Sofia Gubaidulina Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina (russian: Софи́я Асгáтовна Губaйду́лина, link=no , tt-Cyrl, София Әсгать кызы Гобәйдуллина; born 24 October 1931) is a Soviet-Russian composer and an established ...
Paul Graener Paul Graener (11 January 1872 – 13 November 1944) was a German composer and conductor. He composed numerous operas and orchestral works in the Romanticism style. Biography Graener was born in Berlin and orphaned as a young child. A boy s ...
Friedrich Gulda Friedrich Gulda (16 May 1930 – 27 January 2000) was an Austrian pianist and composer who worked in both the classical and jazz fields. Biography Early life and career Born in Vienna the son of a teacher, Gulda began learning to play the piano ...
Paul Hindemith Paul Hindemith (; 16 November 189528 December 1963) was a German composer, music theorist, teacher, violist and conductor. He founded the Amar Quartet in 1921, touring extensively in Europe. As a composer, he became a major advocate of the ...
, Robert Kahn, Yrjö Kilpinen, Margarete Schweikert, Matyas Seiber (''Two Madrigals'' and ''Three Morgenstern Lieder'' for soprano and clarinet), Rudi Spring (''Galgenliederbuch nach Gedichten von Christian Morgenstern'' op. 19), Siegfried Strohbach (''5 Galgenlieder''), Graham Waterhouse (''Gruselett, Der Werwolf''), Timothy Hoekman ("Der Werwolf" in Drei Legenden) and
Alexander von Zemlinsky Alexander Zemlinsky or Alexander von Zemlinsky (14 October 1871 – 15 March 1942) was an Austrian composer, conductor, and teacher. Biography Early life Zemlinsky was born in Vienna to a highly diverse family. Zemlinsky's grandfather, Anton S ...
(''Es waren zwei Kinder'', ''Vöglein Schwermut'', ''Der Abend'', ''Abendkelch voll Sonnenlicht'', ''Du gabst mir deine Kette'' and ''Auf dem Meere meiner Seele'').

Essays, reviews and aphorisms

In his early years Christian Morgenstern wrote a considerable number of essays and reviews for various German periodicals. They have been collected together and published in Volume 6 (Kritische Schriften, 1987) of the German collected works of Morgenstern. His philosophical and mythical works were largely influenced by the philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (; or ; 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, prose poet, cultural critic, philologist, and composer whose work has exerted a profound influence on contemporary philosophy. He began his ca ...
, the Austrian educationalist
Rudolf Steiner Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 or 25 February 1861 – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian occultist, social reformer, architect, esotericist, and claimed clairvoyant. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as ...
(the originator of
anthroposophy Anthroposophy is a spiritualist movement founded in the early 20th century by the esotericist Rudolf Steiner that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience. Followers ...
and the Waldorf school movement), and the Russian writers
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (, ; rus, Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский, Fyódor Mikháylovich Dostoyévskiy, p=ˈfʲɵdər mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪdʑ dəstɐˈjefskʲɪj, a=ru-Dostoevsky.ogg, links=yes; 11 November 18219 ...
Leo Tolstoy Count Lev Nikolayevich TolstoyTolstoy pronounced his first name as , which corresponds to the romanization ''Lyov''. () (; russian: link=no, Лев Николаевич Толстой,In Tolstoy's day, his name was written as in pre-refor ...
. Perhaps Morgenstern's most philosophical volume is a collection of aphorisms published posthumously in 1918 entitled ''Stufen: Eine Entwickelung in Aphorismen und Tagebuch-Notizen'' (Stages: A Development in Aphorisms and Diary Notes). It has given rise to a number of celebrated quotations. These include: * "Home isn't where our house is, but wherever we are understood." * "I shall excavate the strata of my soul." * "I'm a man of limits: forever physically, emotionally, morally and artistically on the brink of plunging into the abyss. Yet I manage to keep my balance and possess presence of mind." * "I bear no treasures within me. I only possess the power to transform much of what I touch into something of value. I have no depths, save my incessant desire for the depths." (Translated by David W. Wood)

Collected works

A complete edition of the works of Christian Morgenstern in German in nine volumes is currently being prepared by Verlag Urachhaus (Stuttgart) under the direction of Professor Reinhardt Habel. Volumes 1 and 2 comprise Morgenstern's lyrical writings and poems; volume 3: humoristic writings, including the complete Gallows Songs; volume 4: epic and theatrical writings; volume 5: collected aphorisms; volume 6: critical essays and reviews; volumes 7-9: complete correspondence. The volume titles in German are: *Volume 1: Lyrik 1887–1905, ed. Martin Kiessig, 1988. *Volume 2: Lyrik 1906–1914, ed. Martin Kiessig, 1992. *Volume 3: Humoristische Lyrik, ed. Maurice Cureau, 1990. *Volume 4: Episches und Dramatisches, eds. Reinhardt Habel and Ernst Kretschmer, 2001. *Volume 5: Aphorismen, ed. Reinhardt Habel, 1987. *Volume 6: Kritische Schriften, ed. Helmut Gumtau, 1987. *Volume 7: Briefwechsel 1878–1903, ed. Katharina Breitner, 2005. *Volume 8: Briefwechsel 1905–1908, ed. Katharina Breitner, 2011. *Volume 9: Briefwechsel 1909–1914, ed. Agnes Harder, 2018.


External links

* * *


* Michael Bauer: . Piper, München 1933 (completed by Margareta Morgenstern and Rudolf Meyer. With contributions by Friedrich Kayssler and others). (Reprint 1985, Urachhaus, Stuttgart). * Martin Beheim-Schwarzbach: . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1964, (Rowohlts Monographien, Band 97) * Maurice Cureau: . Peter Lang, Bern 1986. * Herbert Gumtau: . Colloquium, Berlin 1971. * Reinhardt Habel: ''Morgenstern, Christian.'' In: ''Neue Deutsche Biographie'' (NDB). Band 18, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1997, , S. 104–108 (Digitalisat).
Reinhardt Habel: "Christian Morgenstern and Rudolf Steiner"
* Ueli Haldimann (Hrsg.): ''Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann und andere in Arosa – Texte und Bilder aus zwei Jahrhunderten'', AS Verlag und Buchkonzept AG, Zürich 2001, pp. 65–71, * Heiko Postma: ''...um des Reimes willen" Über den Poeten Christian Morgenstern (1871 - 1914)'', jmb Verlag, Hannover 2015, . * Anthony T. Wilson: ''Über die Galgenlieder Christian Morgensterns''. Königshausen und Neumann (= Epistemata – Würzburger wissenschaftliche Schriften. Reihe Literaturwissenschaft, Bd. 448), 2003, . {{DEFAULTSORT:Morgenstern, Christian 1871 births 1914 deaths Writers from Munich People from the Kingdom of Bavaria 20th-century German poets Anthroposophists German male poets German-language poets German translators French–German translators Norwegian–German translators