The Issue of Interrelation of the Gedankenlyrik and the Philosophical Verse

Gedankenlyrik, one of the concepts in literature, due to the lack of one general and acceptable definition cannot be scholarly conceptualized. However, Almut Todorov, the scholar investigating the poetics of Gedankenlyrik correctly noted that the understanding of the term is of paradigmatic importance, where the general concept giving rise to this notion should be taken into account. The author specifies that Gedankenlyrik, first of all, is the term outlining the predomination of emotional specificity of the genre in lyrics, whereas its establishment as a concept took place within the framework of the lyric theory [Todorov 1980:8]. Todorov investigated the common signs and shortcomings, coming to the conclusion that scholars attempting to separate Gedankenlyrik from other concepts (elegy, sonnet) do not differentiate it through analytical tools, but rather by the beforehand selected categories. Hence, the essence of Gedankenlyrik is modified and presented as an emotional lyrics invariant, trying to synthesize the emotional and intellectual origins of poetry [Todorov 1980: 8].

The philological analysis of Gedankenlyrik from the very beginning not only misunderstood the specific definition, but also the genre played an important role, making it difficult to conceptualize, which was caused by the rapid radicalization of the methodological theory of literature, poetry and its thematic as well as formal development. Todorov's observation is rather interesting, as the analysis of the issue, led to the problematization of the relationship between the lyric poem and the empirical reality influencing the poetic theory of categories [Todorov, 1980: 40].

The modernist verse of the XIX century should be taken into account, along with its formal as well as existential radicalism, making it clear why all attempts of classifying lyrical forms and genres was a failure from the start. The reason lay in the usage of classical approaches towards these rather complex issues. The same can be argued about the empirical reality and the verse - even between the reader and the fictional text – where a completely new system developed (in classical modernism - in general - systems), where literature became impossible to explain within the framework of classic methodology and literary theory.

Schiller, whose philosophical lyrics are implicitly recognized as classic examples of Gedankenlyrik and whose theoretical thoughts laid the foundation for the establishment of the tradition of philosophical poetry, not only felt, but also took into account this difficulty. Therefore, an Elegy, a genre which is both classical and modern due to its philosophical nature became the best "option", and Schiller did not discuss it from the point of view of a narrow literary-theoretical meaning; in his theory of Sentimental Poetry, the notion of Elegy, systemically expands and expresses the sensitivity of the content, and becomes its best representative. Schiller explains:


"If the poet opposes nature and art as ideal versus fact, and if the first image prevails and the result of feeling, and pleasure becomes dominant, this can be called an elegiac poet" [Schiller, 1965: 621].


Schiller expressly specified that he did not aim at revising the demarcation borders between the genres of literary theory i.e.: his understanding of Elegy is completely philosophical and instrumental; the attempt is to differentiate the aesthetic sensibility between an idyll and an elegy:


"I only predict the prevailing senses in the genres of poetry, and it is well known that the latter does not fit in the narrow confines. Not only Elegy affects us: dramatic and epic poets are also capable of leaving us with an elegiac mood" [Schiller, 1965: 622].


Moreover, the idyll becomes a component of elegiac genre for Schiller, and if the first - the elegy – reflects the lost ideal, the second - idyll – reflection of the unattainable ideal (for Schiller is moral harmony). All in all, the perception lies in the structure:


"(...) because the poet in one and the same work is not bound to one and the same senses, this division (i.e. poetry division of genres - D. B.) should be according to the depiction of form" [Schiller 1965: 622].


To better represent Schiller’s discussion, as well as reflexive, philosophically structured and philosophical verse (a concept of philosophical poetry theory) it should be noted that for Schiller "sentimental" and "naive" are not static, but rather are used to describe certain issues. Nature, in its naïve context, comes to existence, while being discovered by the artificial being, as a non-artificial and a non-property phenomenon. Moreover, the "artificial situation and relations come in as a shock by the sight of authentic nature" [Schiller, 1965: 587] the nature immediately brings in the moralistic terms, caused by the artificial, unnatural and sophisticated condition; Thus, the artificial interest towards the natural can be very well justified:


"(...) such interest towards the Nature arises only in two circumstances: first, it is necessary that the subject, which awakens it, should either be nature or considered as nature; secondly, it should be naïve (in the broadest sense), i.e. Nature creates contrast to art and shames it. As soon as art collides with nature, the latter becomes naïve, beforehand it is absolutely impossible "[Schiller, 1965:587].


Therefore, there are four central aspects  related to each other according to Schiller: 1. existential: the contrast between the natural and the artificial; 2. The moral and moralizing: the natural confronts the artificial, and in addition "such approach has not an aesthetic but a moral character; The idea is not to get any additional assistance or indirect reasonability; The forms of beauty is not directed at" [Schiller, 1965: 588]; The importance of this aspect is strongly outlined: "Thus, it is necessary that the nature should reign over art not as a blind force, as a dynamic amount, but as a moral value" [Schiller, 1965: 593]; 3. Dialectic: Nature can be determined naively only after the discovery of it by the artificial; 4. Operating: nature, as naïve, itself brings in the crucial, dialectical-logical element; Nature, as a "coercion-free existence, own existence of things, their own and the same laws of existence" [Schiller, 1965: 587] It is interesting on the one hand, the natural defects of a sense, on the other hand - the absence of the natural free will in a sense "what distinguishes us from them, is exactly what they lack, to be divine. We are free, they are essential; we change, and they are always the same. The ideal or divine is revealed only then, when both are connected to one another, when the need obeys the law of will and the mind along with fantasy still obeys the rules" [Schiller, 1965: 589].

In Schiller‘s aesthetics reflexive verse is substantially different from the naive as well as sentimental poetry, as it is poetry of ideas and not feelings, and finds its place among sentimental literature. For Schiller the formal difference between the naive and sentimental poetry is rather important: whether the verse has the character or naively imitates nature. As for the formal layer of a naive verse - be it in the lyric, dramatic or an epic - does not matter for Schiller just as the linguistic and chronological markers of the verse (but not only the era, but also the casual circumstances are of great importance, as Schiller says, for shaping the author as a naive or a sentimental poet). It is essential not only to feel a certain level of complexity or simplicity, but alienated nature as well. As for sentimental poetry it intends depicting the emotions obtained while observing the nature. The primary net of sentimental poetry derives from these secondary materials and casts away not only the nature but the authentic contemplative immediate emotions caused by observation. As Schiller notes:


He (the sentimental poet, - D. B.) discusses the impression that things are on it, and this judgment is based on the unrest, which itself is covered. Here the subject is related to the idea, and only in this connection the poetic power can arise. The sentimental poet is always aware of the presentation and the feel of reality, as a limit, and his idea of ​​a mixed sense of infinity and inspiration always refers to the source"[Schiller 1965: 614].


After the foundation of sentimental poetry theory, it became clear that the naïve, irrational nature of the poem, is complicated in sentimental verse not only in content, but – poetically as well, and plays a key role in the sentimental poetic intention. The two main topics are: the reality and the ideal. Therefore, Schiller’s next task was the description of typologies of the sentimental verse; which is why the conceptual context causes reference to elegiac poetry at first; the reflexive genre sees the ideal and strives towards it - his aesthetic and philosophical analysis, and such verse according to Schiller, in contrast to the satirical verse, is of a transcendental nature. That is why, a key feature of sentimental poetry, according to Schiller's metaphysical view, is to overcome the rejection of the subject, which is purely a romantic starting position. Accordingly: "Every sentimental poet follows one of these two ways of perception" [Schiller, 1965: 614-615], or simply describes the reality critically or is oriented on the metaphysical world - the ideal. Moreover, the sentimental poet as Schiller defines is oriented on the ideal and such perfection does not exist in nature. The elegiac poet aims at the reconstruction of the nature, which Schiller understands as a kind of philosophical or, at least, mythological operation; the nature of the replacement instead of conceptualized perfection of the sentimental idea, is purely speculative, mediated by mythologies and philosophies and the sentimental poet is alienated from the real world, because the natural ideal becomes the subject of his aspirations. Noteworthy is, that Schiller is aware of this contradiction and tries to explain such peculiar nature according to poetic endeavours. The nature in all of the poet's overall creative feature, whom Schiller calls a sentimental poet (Horace, Rousseau, Clopschtock, Haller, Kleist), holds unquestioned dominance in the poetic imagination, and Schiller sets out the Kantian formula, which later become of great importance for the German Romantic writers, namely:


"Imagination precedes foresight in them, strength of mind, a sense; they shut their eyes and damage their hearing, to make themselves look in their minds. Spirit could not make any impression, and once his own game and not pay attention to what is inside of him, and so did not put forward a reflection of contrast” [Schiller 1965: 625].


This way of reflection, as Schiller outlines, is the only way for sentimental poetry, that is to say – that the determinant of a rational, reflexive verse is the idea (Schiller often and emphatically says that poetry or feelings are a runway of ideas, and when one runs out of it, the poet aims at going back and tries to find a definition of reminiscence or poetic existence); Moreover, interesting enough seems that Schiller, as a representative of the Weimar classics, also thematises the main aspects of Gedankenlyrik. According to Schiller's theory, the rational theory of poetry is purely philosophical. As for Schiller’s sentimental poetry, theory plays only a didactic role and serves only as the poetic and moral (and not moralistic) nucleus retain, and the XX century, the German (and, generally, European) philosophical poetry (Rilke, Meister) and Reflexive lyrics (Bachmann, Bobrowski, etc.) is totally released of the philosophical didacticism of the XVIII century.  

In the modernist aesthetic the theory of Schiller plays an important role, due to the philosophical and literary-theoretical aspects, as well as the socio-political correctness. As Todorov outlined, based on the confrontation between feelings and thoughts, nature and culture the newly aroused poetry is understood by Schiller as a connection between the poetical condition and the Utopia and that is why Schiller’s understanding of elegy is connected with the philosophical and aesthetic concept [Todorov1980: 59].

After this historical and theoretical excursion it is essential to find out the specifics which differs the philosophical poetry from the tradition of Gedankenlyrik, which unfortunately in scholarly literature is either neglected, or in the best case identified as one. For example, Metsler’s authoritative dictionary, perceives Gedankenlyrik, Ideenlyrik and philosophical lyric as one and the same concept, where Gedankenlyrik is defined as "predominantly reflexive verse, which in contrast to the emotional and mood lyrics is opposed by thinking" [Metsler 1990: 168]. It is also outlined that in modern lyrics the reflections are multiplied, and the interrelation of thinking and feelings are implied problematically, but concept of Gedankenlyrik in most cases is simply neglected nowadays [Metsler 1990: 168].

These encyclopaedic references and summaries, basically, provide the views of the general characteristics of Gedankenlyrik and the philosophical lyric developed in the XX century; the problem-solving of the situation and the unambiguous definitions of development cannot be overcome. Among these scholars, having a chrestomathic nature, Henning Falkenstein and his doctoral dissertation published in 1963 under the name "Problem of Gedankenlyrik and Schiller's lyrical poetry" [Falkenstein 1963] is noteworthy. The work is notable for the fact that the author, despite the large amount of scholarly literature during the process of processing and classification the author uses the maximum caution while defining the concept of Gedankenlyrik; in fact he only defines it only on the basis of Schiller's poetry.

Falkenstein does not address the issue of Gedankenlyrik, as described in the scholarly literature. According to him, the concept established in scholarly literature of XIX century, when nobody actually cared about a coherent and reasoned definition [Falkenstein1963: 1]. The scholar choses the path of studying the notion of history and its specific pragmatics (since as he rightly notes, is that any literary concept is used to describe the literary fact), and since this notion is Schiller's poetic heritage, thus having a long tradition; moreover, Falkenstein uses Schiller's poetic example, on the one hand trying to determine the concept Gedankenlyrik, on the other hand showing that the poetry of Schiller has correctly identified this phenomenon. Apart from this as he remarks, the issue is complicated by the fact that scholars cannot agree whether Schiller's poetry falls into the frameworks of Gedankenlyrik or not [Falkenstein 1963: 2]. In addition, there is another important factor: the philosophical lyric - lyric of ideas and philosophical concepts; Ode came into existence along with the concept of Gedankenlyrik, but as Falkenstein notes, the differences have remained unnoticed for a long time. Such a fate, he remark is shared by Otto Biolitz in 1913, and much earlier by Schiller's friend, Kioner, the poet, who used the philosophical notion of an Ode to describe Schiller's poem The Ideal and Life. There exists a correspondence between Kioner and Schiller and Falkenstein focuses on the following section in the letter: “I consider you as the sole representative of this genre - philosophical Ode. I think poetry is the soul of this species, considering the philosophical object, the infinite (das Unendliche)", and concludes that this is more quintessential than all the other critics and their numerous expressions; It was here that highlights the confusion between philosophy and poetry from a different method, namely: the philosophical poetry refuses assimilation, it was "a philosophical object" and only after that will be the light shines in the poetic form clothed in "endless" [Falkentein 1963: 5-7].

Falkenstein takes the large amount of critical literature, while considering the relationship problems of poetry and philosophy, and based on their thorough analysis provides three groups:

1. Poetry (especially in the lyrics), and philosophy was seen as fundamentally different and mutually contradictory values. Accordingly, Gedankenlyrik is seen as something secondary, which lacks sensitivity and lyrical form or is something intermediate between philosophy and poetry, which is neither true philosophy nor true lyrics;

2. Through contrasting philosophy and poetry to such extant, the focus entirely moved  on the creativity of the psychological verse where psychological processes are tolerated and Gedankenlyrik was understood as using emotional-sensory in order to create literature;

3. Gedankenlyrik was seen as a sort of transitional stage between philosophy and poetry; accordingly, philosophical poem was regarded as a rhyme and metric disciplined philosophy [Falkenstein 1963: 8-13].

The scholar points out that the characteristic features of the three groups mentioned above are common: namely, the poetic text is an important criterion in the isolation from the process and subsequent errors caused by this problem: philosophical thought and poetic body of philosophical thought are revealed unjustified equalization trend. The essential points can be formulated as follows:

1. Schiller's provides correct characterization of the issue of Gedankenlyrik and studies it according to specific analysis method;

2. A thorough structural analysis is subject to a variety of Schiller's poetic genre of writing, and it is proved that it is a mistake to strongly connect Gedankenlyrik to one of the lyrical genre (be it elegy, hymn or ode).

One of the main concepts which Falkenstein recommends to be taken into account (based on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s linguistic theory, where language is an infinite endless unity and process of infinite formation) is the linguistic characteristics of the poetical text:


"Poetical language is an art work in any part of its essence; the content of this or that language assistance is not given, but poetical work emerges immediately in a language and arises as an artistically formed tongue [Falkenstein 1963: 19].


As for the poetic names, the scholar here focuses on the special features of lyric in contrast with Epic and Drama, in particular concentrates on density and immediacy (Dichte und Unmittelbarkeit) of the lyrical expression. This immediacy is, in his opinion, related not only to feelings, but in essence the immediacy of language. This linguistic immediacy is the dominant element in art having semantic components, which is rather convincingly demonstrated by Willhelm von Humboldt; afterwards his view was not only shared, but also amplified by Cassirer, as well as Falkenstein. Gedankenlyrik at some point was even imagined as something having a non-lyrical nature [Falkenstein 1963: 23].

If in the lyrical poetry of thought, the sense of confrontation is a mistake from the very beginning, and the lyric poem is structured as a mental and sensory element, then the concept of Gedankenlyrik is not devoid of meaning. Falkenstein argues about it within the context of Schiller's poetry and comes to the conclusion that, on the one hand, his poetic texts are not reflexive verses, meditation lyrics with a paradigmatic form, and on the other hand, Schiller's Elegies, the hymns, the musical forms, didactic-rhetorical poetry is full of ideas and setting up purely philosophical ruminations; Moreover, the structure of the main elements of such ideas should be sought in the language of Schiller. In the most important poem by Schiller Ideal and Life, ideas and meditation create a throughout chain, but as the scholar rightly points out, the symbolic-allegoric, epic-mythical, hymnal are interwoven, making it impossible and at the same time unjustly to coin the work as a true example of Gedankenlyrik [Falkenstein 1963: 113].

After a thorough examination of Schiller’s poetry, Falkenstein comes to the conclusion, which he afterwards generalizes:


In lyrics ideas, such as, should not be on the same level as philosophical terms; They're just a little rhyme to philosophy, as - universal certainty of "elevated" subjective feelings or simply an intermediate step between philosophy and emotions " [Falkenstein 1963: 115].


It is noteworthy that the sceptical author acknowledged that the ideas, ruminations lyrics, as a kind of lyric content or categories, manifests itself in the genre of Schiller’s filtered hymns and elegies. But Falkenstein’s conclusion, again and again is based on Humboldt and Cassirer. Gedankenlyrik and the philosophical concepts of the non-material lyrics provide the necessity of bringing in a new term - thematic poetry. The term is mainly related to the theme of the music researcher and kind of Schiller's famous words: "The soul expresses only Polyphonies". Although the scholar brings in more motivated arguments referring to the benefit of "thematic verse" (for example: it is a term combining the poetic work of both elements: the creative beginnings, denoting is and ideological finality-integrity expressive), but, in our opinion this term cannot be used while addressing reflexive, intellectual poetry for two essential reasons:


1. It cannot avoid on the one hand, associative "outflow" in the case of any artistic text (regardless of the name and genre) the thematic work of the essence of this or that particular topic and on the other hand, the term cannot be localized and if we put it in logical terms the topics that it addresses is rather broad; In theory this may include any topic of any written text, despite its intellectual, ideological, or purely poetical specificity and quality.

2. The terms having significant methodological flaws, unable to differentiate the philosophy and poetry of verse emerged as a specific poetics (and not a genre or metric), which is used to describe the depth of the structure.


Thus, lyric of ideas or philosophical poetry show up such problematic issues, which remain unanswered even nowadays.

Either way, it could be argued that philosophical poetry cannot be reduced to the philosophy of the famous poem by powerful interests, or even before - a high degree of intellectualism detection of poetry, philosophy and poetry, and the closer intersection between the minds. Such a systematic and intensive dialogue between philosophy and poetry can find reflections in many diverse works: such as the role of Spinoza’s Pantheism in Goethe’s Works; the role of Kant’s philosophy in Schiller’s works; the role of Greek philosophy and the philosophy of German Romanticism in Holderlin’s creations; Kierkegaard and Nietzsche's role in Rilke's works; Nietzsche's philosophical lyrics can be brought as an example in this regard as well. In general, if we look at the general features of the reflexive verse no less important is to emphasize the purely conceptual point: semantic, reflexive verse is different from the emotional verse that it is in a sense capturing moments of diverse paradigm and their attempts in structuring according to the artistic logic. If not taking into account this aspect we may be misleading and make a mistake like the extreme polarization of the XIX century in the German literature between the shared and emotional verse.  

In any case, no matter from which standpoint the problem will be addressed, while posing the question of philosophical poetry the following five circumstances show up:

  1. The high samples of philosophical poetry do not have an artistic illustrations of philosophical systems or a form of rhymed philosophical treatise;
  2. The philosophical poetry creates a precedent of a systematic and intense artistic dialogue with philosophy and metaphysics, which, ultimately, determines not only the content of the poem, but also - this kind of lyric poetics completely;
  3. For the philosophical poem and its poetics the defining feature of the systemic treatment are philosophical concepts, artistic and philosophical conceptualization aesthetics of this or that community;
  4. The tradition of philosophical verse varies from the tradition of Gedankenlyrik: a) if the lyrics of thought reflects the specifics of the intellectual and conceptual types of blocks and creates dominance, the main characteristic of the philosophical poem, in addition, is the definiteness of philosophical, metaphysical and philosophical systems conceptual tools and its principal; b) If any of the sample of Gedankenlyrik and its conceptual understanding does not necessarily require knowledge of some philosophical system, the philosophers and philosophical conceptual apparatus for the understanding of the philosophical poem it is absolutely necessary;
  5. The Philosophical poetry unconditionally can be understood within the framework of Gedankenlyrik‘s tradition, whereas putting a poet into a Gedankenlyrik tradition does not implicitly mean that he represents philosophical poetry, as well as some of the poet's works which is full of philosophical motives does not serve as a guarantee that he belongs to philosophical poetry.

In conclusion, it should also be noted that the philosophical poem also differs from the poetical verse. The latter, demonstrates the author’s aesthetic creed along with all the characteristics of its content, and belongs to a reflexive verse, which, since ancient times, has not undergone substantial changes.


Falkenstein H.
Das Problem der Gedankenlyrik und Schillers lyrische Dichtung. Kleinoffsetdruck H. Görich, Marburg
Metzler J.
Metzler-Literatur-Lexikon: Begriffe und Definitionen (Hg. von Günther und Irmgard Schweikle). Stuttgart.
Todorow A.
Gedankenlyrik. Metzler, Stuttgart.
Schiller Fr.
Selected Works in Three Volumes, Volume III, Publishing House “Sabchota Sakartvelo”, Tbilisi