Novalis was the pseudonym of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (May 2, 1772 – March 25, 1801), a poet, author, and philosopher of early German Romanticism.
The core of Hardenberg’s literary works is the quest for the connection of science and poetry, and the result was supposed to be a “progressive universal poesy” (fragment no. 116 of the Athenaum journal). Novalis was convinced that philosophy and the higher-ranking poetry have to be continually related to each other.
Hymns for the Night: In August 1800, eight months after completion, the revised edition of the Hymnen an die Nacht was published. They are often considered to be the climax of Novalis’ lyrical works and the most important poetry of the German early Romanticism. The six hymns contain many elements which can be understood as autobiographical. Even though a lyrical “I”, rather than Novalis himself, is the speaker, there are many relationships between the hymns and Hardenberg’s experiences from 1797 to 1800.
The topic is the romantic interpretation of life and death, the threshold of which is symbolised by the night. Life and death are – according to Novalis – developed into entwined concepts. So in the end, death is the romantic principle of life.
The Hymns to the Night display a universal religion with an intermediary. This concept is based on the idea that there is always a third party between a human and God. This intermediary can either be Jesus – as in Christian lore – or the dead beloved as in the hymns. These works consist of three times two hymns. These three components are each structured in this way: the first hymn shows, with the help of the Romantic triad, the development from an assumed happy life on earth through a painful era of alienation to salvation in the eternal night; the following hymn tells of the awakening from this vision and the longing for a return to it. With each pair of hymns, a higher level of experience and knowledge is shown.
HYMNS TO THE NIGHT: 1
Before all the wondrous shows of the widespread space around him, what living, sentient thing loves not the all-joyous light — with its colors, its rays and undulations, its gentle omnipresence in the form of the wakening Day? The giant-world of the unresting constellations inhales it as the innermost soul of life, and floats dancing in its blue flood — the sparkling, ever-tranquil stone, the thoughtful, imbibing plant, and the wild, burning multiform beast inhales it — but more than all, the lordly stranger with the sense-filled eyes, the swaying walk, and the sweetly closed, melodious lips. Like a king over earthly nature, it rouses every force to countless transformations, binds and unbinds innumerable alliances, hangs its heavenly form around every earthly substance. — Its presence alone reveals the marvelous splendor of the kingdoms of the world.
Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world — sunk in a deep grave — waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes. — The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence?
What springs up all at once so sweetly boding in my heart, and stills the soft air of sadness? Dost thou also take a pleasure in us, dark Night? What holdest thou under thy mantle, that with hidden power affects my soul? Precious balm drips from thy hand out of its bundle of poppies. Thou upliftest the heavy-laden wings of the soul. Darkly and inexpressibly are we moved — joy-startled, I see a grave face that, tender and worshipful, inclines toward me, and, amid manifold entangled locks, reveals the youthful loveliness of the Mother. How poor and childish a thing seems to me now the Light — how joyous and welcome the departure of the day — because the Night turns away from thee thy servants, you now strew in the gulfs of space those flashing globes, to proclaim thy omnipotence — thy return — in seasons of thy absence. More heavenly than those glittering stars we hold the eternal eyes which the Night hath opened within us. Farther they see than the palest of those countless hosts — needing no aid from the light, they penetrate the depths of a loving soul — that fills a loftier region with bliss ineffable. Glory to the queen of the world, to the great prophet of the holier worlds, to the guardian of blissful love — she sends thee to me — thou tenderly beloved — the gracious sun of the Night, — now am I awake — for now am I thine and mine — thou hast made me know the Night — made of me a man — consume with spirit-fire my body, that I, turned to finer air, may mingle more closely with thee, and then our bridal night endure forever.
HYMNS TO THE NIGHT: 2
Must the morning always return? Will the despotism of the earthly never cease? Unholy activity consumes the angel-visit of the Night. Will the time never come when Love’s hidden sacrifice shall burn eternally? To the Light a season was set; but everlasting and boundless is the dominion of the Night. — Endless is the duration of sleep. Holy Sleep — gladden not too seldom in this earthly day-labor, the devoted servant of the Night. Fools alone mistake thee, knowing nought of sleep but the shadow which, in the twilight of the real Night, thou pitifully castest over us. They feel thee not in the golden flood of the grapes — in the magic oil of the almond tree — and the brown juice of the poppy. They know not that it is thou who hauntest the bosom of the tender maiden, and makest a heaven of her lap — never suspect it is thou, opening the doors to Heaven, that steppest to meet them out of ancient stories, bearing the key to the dwellings of the blessed, silent messenger of secrets infinite.
HYMNS TO THE NIGHT: 3
Once when I was shedding bitter tears, when, dissolved in pain, my hope was melting away, and I stood alone by the barren mound which in its narrow dark bosom hid the vanished form of my life — lonely as never yet was lonely man, driven by anxiety unspeakable — powerless, and no longer anything but a conscious misery. — As there I looked about me for help, unable to go on or to turn back, and clung to the fleeting, extinguished life with an endless longing: — then, out of the blue distances — from the hills of my ancient bliss, came a shiver of twilight — and at once snapt the bond of birth — the chains of the Light. Away fled the glory of the world, and with it my mourning — the sadness flowed together into a new, unfathomable world — Thou, Night-inspiration, heavenly Slumber, didst come upon me — the region gently upheaved itself; over it hovered my unbound, newborn spirit. The mound became a cloud of dust — and through the cloud I saw the glorified face of my beloved. In her eyes eternity reposed — I laid hold of her hands, and the tears became a sparkling bond that could not be broken. Into the distance swept by, like a tempest, thousands of years. On her neck I welcomed the new life with ecstatic tears. It was the first, the only dream — and just since then I have held fast an eternal, unchangeable faith in the heaven of the Night, and its Light, the Beloved.
HYMNS TO THE NIGHT: 4
Now I know when will come the last morning — when the Light no more scares away Night and Love — when sleep shall be without waking, and but one continuous dream. I feel in me a celestial exhaustion. Long and weariful was my pilgrimage to the holy grave, and crushing was the cross. The crystal wave, which, imperceptible to the ordinary sense, springs in the dark bosom of the mound against whose foot breaks the flood of the world, he who has tasted it, he who has stood on the mountain frontier of the world, and looked across into the new land, into the abode of the Night — truly he turns not again into the tumult of the world, into the land where dwells the Light in ceaseless unrest.
On those heights he builds for himself tabernacles — tabernacles of peace, there longs and loves and gazes across, until the welcomest of all hours draws him down into the waters of the spring — afloat above remains what is earthly, and is swept back in storms, but what became holy by the touch of love, runs free through hidden ways to the region beyond, where, like fragrances, it mingles with love asleep.
Still wakest thou, cheerful Light, that weary man to his labor — and into me pourest joyous life — but thou wilest me not away from Memory’s moss-grown monument. Gladly will I stir busy hands, everywhere behold where thou hast need of me — praise the lustre of thy splendor — pursue unwearied the lovely harmonies of thy skilled handicraft — gladly contemplate the clever pace of thy mighty, luminous clock — explore the balance of the forces and the laws of the wondrous play of countless worlds and their seasons. But true to the Night remains my secret heart, and to creative Love, her daughter. Canst thou show me a heart eternally true? has thy sun friendly eyes that know me? do thy stars lay hold of my longing hand? and return me the tender pressure and the caressing word? was it thou did adorn them with colors and a flickering outline — or was it she who gave to thy jewels a higher, a dearer weight? What delight, what pleasure offers thy life, to outweigh the transports of Death? Wears not everything that inspires us the color of the Night? She sustains thee mother-like, and to her thou owest all thy glory. Thou wouldst vanish into thyself — in boundless space thou wouldst dissolve, if she did not hold thee fast, if she swaddled thee not, so that thou grewest warm, and flaming, begot the universe. Truly I was, before thou wast — the mother sent me with my brothers and sisters to inhabit thy world, to hallow it with love that it might be an ever-present memorial — to plant it with flowers unfading. As yet they have not ripened, these thoughts divine — as yet is there small trace of our coming revelation — One day thy clock will point to the end of time, and then thou shalt be as one of us, and shalt, full of ardent longing, be extinguished and die. I feel in me the close of thy activity — heavenly freedom, and blessed return. With wild pangs I recognize thy distance from our home, thy resistance against the ancient, glorious heaven. Thy rage and thy raving are in vain. Unscorchable stands the cross — victory-banner of our breed.
Over I journey
And for each pain
A pleasant sting only
Shall one day remain.
Yet in a few moments
Then free am I,
In Love’s lap lie.
Lifts, wave-like, at me,
I gaze from its summit
Down after thee.
Your lustre must vanish
Yon mound underneath —
A shadow will bring thee
Thy cooling wreath.
Oh draw at my heart, love,
Draw till I’m gone,
That, fallen asleep, I
Still may love on.
I feel the flow of
Death’s youth-giving flood
To balsam and ether
Transform my blood —
I live all the daytime
In faith and in might
And in holy fire
I die every night.
HYMNS FOR THE NIGHT: 6: LONGING FOR DEATH
Into the bosom of the earth,
Out of the Light’s dominion,
Death’s pains are but a bursting forth,
Sign of glad departure.
Swift in the narrow little boat,
Swift to the heavenly shore we float.
Blessed be the everlasting Night,
And blessed the endless slumber.
We are heated by the day too bright,
And withered up with care.
We’re weary of a life abroad,
And we now want our Father’s home.
What in this world should we all
Do with love and with faith?
That which is old is set aside,
And the new may perish also.
Alone he stands and sore downcast
Who loves with pious warmth the Past.
The Past where the light of the senses
In lofty flames did rise;
Where the Father’s face and hand
All men did recognize;
And, with high sense, in simplicity
Many still fit the original pattern.
The Past wherein, still rich in bloom,
Man’s strain did burgeon glorious,
And children, for the world to come,
Sought pain and death victorious,
And, through both life and pleasure spake,
Yet many a heart for love did break.
The Past, where to the flow of youth
God still showed himself,
And truly to an early death
Did commit his sweet life.
Fear and torture patiently he bore
So that he would be loved forever.
With anxious yearning now we see
That Past in darkness drenched,
With this world’s water never we
Shall find our hot thirst quenched.
To our old home we have to go
That blessed time again to know.
What yet doth hinder our return
To loved ones long reposed?
Their grave limits our lives.
We are all sad and afraid.
We can search for nothing more —
The heart is full, the world is void.
Infinite and mysterious,
Thrills through us a sweet trembling —
As if from far there echoed thus
A sigh, our grief resembling.
Our loved ones yearn as well as we,
And sent to us this longing breeze.
Down to the sweet bride, and away
To the beloved Jesus.
Have courage, evening shades grow gray
To those who love and grieve.
A dream will dash our chains apart,
And lay us in the Father’s lap.