Das Buch der Deutschen in America: Pages 368 - 372

Konrad Krez, the poet of the deeply sentimental poem "To My Fatherland" - the most magnificent creation in German-American poetry

German Poetry in the United States
by L. L. Leser, Philadephia

The existence of a rich emotional life among the Germans is even older than German culture. It is our custom to treat as sacred those most mythical days before the time of recorded history, for they carry a sublimated remembrance and ennoblement of the events in human existence. The brash and wondrous myths of the nordic heaven, the lowlands sagas, the ancient and meaningful fairytales, and above all else eternally young, fully melodious folksongs bear witness to the Germanic tendency to elevate and refine primative experience to a form beyond the mundane.

The German may have remained within the borders of his homeland or he may have ventured forth across the globe but he has always carried the legacy of his fathers — the German disposition and German fervour — to all zones and all situations. How often has this fervour been scorned and ridiculed to the point where is has become rebuke — this fervour has been maintained despite all hostile attitudes since the German remains a child of his homeland in word and sentiment, strongly attuned to the circumstances surrounding him.

Wherever Germanic children directed their footsteps, they carried with them a piece of the Nibelung treasure, which is called German poetry. Thus it is no wonder that the mighty land, first approached by the Normans and finally discovered by the great man from Genoa almost a quarter of a century later,could grant a small place to German poetry in the new world.

Approximately 60 years ago the correspondence of an unknown German adventurer was published in Amsterdam by Friedrich Müller. This man went to Mexico and Yucatan with Ferdinand Cortez. The report described the "New Age" of wanderlust and Cortez' enterprises as well as the land and its wild inhabitants. This remarkable letter was written around 1520 and its closing words go something like this: "This letter is written by one in the company of a knight who has traveled to India named Fernand Cortez." Twelve years later a second such report appeared — the story of Ulmer Nicolaus Federmann the Younger in which is communicated his adventures and experiences in Venezuela. The book was printed in Hagenau in 1536 and was received with much interest.
A third work, which proves that the German pen was as dashing and sharp as the German sword, is the "Newspaper of India", discovered somewhere near the end of the 18th Century but written around 1541. It appeared in the first volume of the "Historical-Literary Magazine" edited by Johann Georg Meusel and published by the last governor of the Germans in Venezuela. This was Squire Philipp von Hutten, a nephew of Ulrich von Hutten.

Even Mendoza's campaign in Argentina

was widely detailed by a German. Ulrich Schmidt of Straubing discussed his journey to Rio de la Plata in 1590. A few years later Sigismund Feierabend printed the work, which went through four editions. — Hans Stade's "Travels in Brazil" was published by Weigand Rau in Frankfurt in 1557 and it went through several republishings. Johannes Leder's travels in the Allegheny Mountains in 1669 - 1670, although written in Latin, was a gift of German authorship. By 1672 an English translation of this worthy opus was published in London. The German-American poet and writer Ratterman translated the Latin into German and published the work in The Pioneer. Even if these first compilers of German works didn't reside on American soil, they still delivered valid proofs that even under raw and even dangerous circumstances, the impetus is still present to poetically interpret experience and this is truly characteristic of all Germans from the past to the present.

The first wave of German immigration to America occurred only a few years after these more or less adventurous travelers. A greater portion of these people were poor weavers and most of these abandoned their homeland for ideal reasons: for the sake of faith. If nothing else it is known that among the thirteen first German families to immigrate to America there was a poet; the hearty people of Crefeld, who arrived in Philadelphia on October 6, 1693 on the "Concord" could in no way deny their century-old character. Years earlier and during this year they had among them a poetically rich and creative man, who was born on September 26, 1651 in Sommerhausen, Francken, called Franz Daniel Pastorius, the founder of the first German settlement in America. His efforts at colonizing did not hamper his versatility as an author. Unfortunately much of his writing has been lost. A collection of poetry as well as countless essays on history, geography etc. deliver the proof of this pioneer's rich talent for bringing German culture to America.

The first half of the 18th Century produced a number of poems from the religious visionary Conrad Beissler (1690 - 1768). He came from the Palatinate to America, first working as a baker and later building the first German print shop in Germantown, the town which Pastorious established. He founded the Ephrata Monastery so that he could live fully in accordance with his religious convictions. 35 brothers and 22 sisters beside him, they produced works such as: "The Zionist Hill of Incense", "The Song of the Lost and Lonely Turtledove", "A Paradise Miracle Play, in which the Orient of Latter Eras serves as a Prelude to the New World."

The Siebenburg native Johann Kelpius (1668 - 1708) came in 1694 to Germantown however the booming district must have been too worldly for him because he relocated to the isolation in Wissahickon. Here with several contemporaries of like mind he established a small congregation called "The Lady in the Desert" after chapter 112, verses 1 - 6 of St. John's Revelations. Kelpius' verse is consistent in sentiment with his pietistical contemporaries. Two of his manuscripts, German letters and a Latin diary are still in existence. He wrote "The Paradoxical and Singular Pleasures of Divine Rapture," An Ecstatic Coo from a Desolate Soul at Dawn,"

Bittersweet Serenade of Dying yet Joyous Love," etc.

After this period of mostly religious poetry there is a marked cessation in poetic production by immigrants. This may be attributed to colossal upheavals throughout the entire country and although the Germans of the period were distinguished by their bravery, their willingness to make sacrifices and their devotion, few examples of poetic activity have come down to us. The stream of German poetry began once more to flow in American soil after the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century and an unfathomable number of immigrants, among them many significant intellects, brought the plenum of German verse to the new homeland. The foremost leader of this mighty army, which gave its best in poetic form to the world in unbroken lineage up to today, is Franz Lieber. A full biography of this famous German-American is published in another section of this book. Among his works are "Journal in Greece," "Songs of Wine and Rapture," "Remembrances of Niebuhr," etc. The Deutsche Pionier has published many of his compositions.

Friedrich Münch (1799 - 1884) from Niedergemünden, Oberhessen, "wanted to have a worthy homestead for German folklife across the Atlantic Ocean." In 1838 he arrived in Missouri in the company of numerous immigrants. Among his diverse works we find "On Religion and Christendom," "The State of Missouri," "Spiritual Instruction for the Maturing Youth," etc. (A more complete sketch can be found in the chapter "The Germans in Missouri.")

Ludwig Storck (1803 - 1883) was a member of the French Foreign Legion in Algiers before coming to America in 1834. He was an important linguist, who was a teacher and wrote articles for various periodicals. He died in great poverty in South Bethlehem.

Jakob Schmidt edited the Ohio Adler in Lancaster, Ohio in the 1820s. Later he edited the Adler des Westens in Pittsburg. He is the writer of many poems.

Johann Andreas Wagoner (1816 - 1876) was the editor of the first German periodical in Charleston, South Carolina, called the Teutonen. Born in Sievern near Bremen, he emigrated in 1831. He worked ceaselessly for the elevation of the German people. As a soldier in the Civil War he reached the rank of general in the Confederate Army. Later he became mayor of Charleston. His "History of the Germans in the South" was published in the Pionier.

Clemens Hammer, a Catholic missionary priest, was born near Prague and came to America in 1838. Active for almost 30 years at St. Mary's Church in Cincinnati, he returned to his homeland and died in Prague in 1878.

Robert Clemen (1816 - 1869) was a minister, who emigrated in 1838. He wrote "Pages from the Church History," "Robert Wielaf" and other pieces.

Carl von Schmidt-Bürgeler (1820 - 1875) was born on the Bürgeler Estate in Weimar and came to America in 1846. First he was an actor and then a journalist. He fought with distinction in the Civil War.

Paul Schmidt (1811 - 1876) of Altenschlirf, Hessen emigrated in 1831 and was a champion of the German language, publishing German newspapers in Pennsylvania and Ohio. During the Civil War he was sheriff and marshall in St. Charles County, Missouri. He wrote A First Instruction Book and Reader for German Primary Schools in North America and Poetry.

Ludwig August Wollenweber (1807 - 1881) - "The Old Man from the Mountain." As an organizer of the Hambach Festival in

forced into exile in 1832. He escaped to France, from there he went to Holland. From Amsterdam he went to Philadelphia. Here he found no employment and he traveled through Pennsylvania looking for work. He returned to Philadelphia and then to his homeland in Ixheim near Zweibrücken, where he learned the book printers trade, then he found employment in the State of New York. Soon after he established a weekly newspaper called Der Freimütige in Philadelphia and later the daily newspaper Der Demokrat. In 1853 he sold the newspaper to his brother-in-law, Hoffman, who then joined with Dr. E. Morwitz. Sometime later Wollenweber went to Lebonon, then Reading and he occupied himself exclusively with literary works. From him we have "Gila, the Indian Maiden," "Joy and Sorrow in America," "General Peter Mühlenberg" and other works.

Carl Herling (1818 - 1883) from Weissenfel was a shoemaker by trade and came to America in 1854. He settled in Charleston, South Carolina. He left behind many ponderous compositions.

Carl Friedrich Eberhard Backhaus (1808 - 1871) from Petershagen. He came to Cincinnati in 1834 where he opened an apothecary shop. He wrote poetry, short stories and comedies. Carl de Haas, a teacher from the Wupperthale, came at the beginning of the 1840s to the United States.


Caption below picture at center reads Julius Hofmann, Baltimore.

Go to Pages 372 - 377

Return to Cover, Title & Index

Text provided by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, NY
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks