The German poet Stefan George was born
in 1868 in the village of Büdesheim near Bingen, a small
but ancient town on the Rhine. In 1873 his family moved to Bingen,
where his father, who had first been an inn-keeper, became a
successful wine-merchant. From 1882 to 1888 George attended the
grammar school in Darmstadt. During the following two years,
his first journeys abroad led him to London, Italy and most notably
to Paris, were he met the poets of the French symbolism, above
all Stéphane Mallarmé, who became the model for
the beginning of George's literary career. The literary situation in Germany at the time was dominated on the one hand by a shallow classicism, on the other hand by a gross naturalism, both of which were equally repelling to George.
Mallarmé's programme of pure poetry' without any social
relevance, his conviction that the Orphic interpretation of the
earth is the only task of the poet' and that everything that
is sacred and wants to stay sacred veils itself into mysteries',
was like a revelation and quite appealing to the young George.
From 1889 on he was registered for three terms at the University
of Berlin, but attended only a few lectures. By the time of the
publication of his first volume of poems in 1890 he had already
assumed the life style that he was to keep up until his end.
Never living in a home of his own not because he could
not have afforded it, as he had inherited a sufficient fortune
from his parents, but because of the way he saw himself
he would stay as a guest of his friends and admirers in Berlin,
Munich, Heidelberg, Basel, or else traveled abroad, mostly in
Italy and in Paris. He avoided all publicity, and his books were
only privately published. Moreover, he underlined the esoteric
character of his writings by certain orthographic peculiarities
and a special ornamental typography.
|Stefan George (1868-1933)
George's subsequently famous Kreis (Circle)
of like-minded friends was beginning to rally about the same
time. Still it consisted mostly of fellows of about his own age
treated as equals, as distinguished from the later situation,
when George was the august master venerated by much younger disciples.
Though, to all appearances, George was of an almost exclusively
homoerotic inclination, there is no indication that he ever went
beyond the Platonic concept of spiritual guidance and aesthetic
contemplation to which he adhered doubtless partly out
of mere social convention, but also for artistic discipline.
Nevertheless, sometimes the strong emotions George displayed
in his relationships to young men could be disturbing to them,
as it is documented in the case of Hugo
von Hofmannsthal. George was himself
only 23 when he met the still younger but precocious Austrian
poet, who was 17 then. It is not really clear what happened,
but evidently their relations were troubled, though they kept
up a correspondence for some years. Also another friendship of
George that had been initially more successful ended in dissonance,
when the Germanist Friedrich
Gundolf whom George had mentored as
a teenager, and who had become his most ardent apostle, as a
man in his late thirties insisted on marrying despite George's
What proved to be George's most passionate, most ill-fated and
poetically most fruitful love affair began in 1902, when he approached
a boy in a street of Munich: Max Kronberger, a 14-year-old grammar-school
student, felt flattered when a man he had noted before asked
his permission to sketch his 'interesting' head. On the next
day George succeeded in taking a photograph of the boy, but it
seems that thereupon George's courage failed him, as he did not
try to meet the boy again for almost a year. At the time of their
next accidental meeting in the street, Kronberger found out that
George was a poet and, since his respectable parents agreed,
they saw each other regularly from then on, in a relationship
not always free from tension. However, Kronberger died of an
acute disease on the day after his sixteenth birthday. What followed
was a poetical glorification which was sometimes compared to
the literary monument erected by Dante for Beatrice, but resembles
rather the deification bestowed by Hadrian on Antinous, in a
somewhat different way owing to the difference of times and circumstances,
Your eyes were dim with distant dreams, you tended
No more with care the holy fief and knew
in every space the breath of living ended -
Now lift your head for joy has come to you.
The cold and dragging year that was your share,
A vernal tide of dawning wonders bore,
With blooming hand, with shimmers in his hair
A god appeared and stepped within your door.
Unite in gladness, now no longer darkened
and blushing for an age whose gold is flown:
The calling of a god you too have hearkened,
It was a god whose mouth has kissed your own.
You also were elect no longer mourn
For all your days in unfulfilment sheathed...
Praise to your city where a god was born!
Praise to your age in which a god has breathed!
This forced gesture and overdone interpretation twisted everything
George wrote looking back on his love for Maximin. His spontaneous
feelings for an adolescent are better expressed in the verses
that he, again in love, in 1905 addressed to the 14-year-old
My child came home
The sea-wind tangled in his hair,
His gait still rocks
With conquered fears and young desires for quest.
The salty spray
Still tans and burns the bloom upon his cheek:
Fruit swiftly ripe
In savage scent and flame of alien suns.
His eyes are grave
With secrets now, that I shall never learn,
And faintly veiled,Since from a spring he came into our frost.
So wide the bud
That almost shyly I withdrew my gaze,
And I abstained
From lips that had already chosen lips.
My arm enclasps
One who unmoved by me, grew up and bloomed
To other worlds
My own and yet, how very far from me!
George not only turned Maximin into a myth,
but also used him as figurehead for his new aims, as expressed
in his most ambitious poetry, contained in the volume Der
Siebente Ring, (The Seventh Ring) of 1907. Now George's programme
was no longer art for art's sake, but a political vision formed
in opposition to a time and society he considered vile and decayed,
a spiritually void world of mean commercial utilitarianism and
brutal power-politics garnished with decorative phrases.
George, who had been opposed to the reality
of the Prussian-dominated German Empire, as contrasted with his
idea of Germany, was not carried away by the storm of enthusiasm
at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, and felt rather
confirmed by the defeat of 1918. In the turmoil of the post-war years, George became the lodestar of the most idealistic
part of the young generation, as represented by Klaus Mann
(born in 1906), who remembered later that my admiration
for him was boundless. I saw him as the leader and prophet,
the Caesarean priestly figure as he presented himself. Amidst
a rotten and barbarous civilisation, he embodied human and artistic
dignity, uniting discipline and passion, grace and majesty. Each
of his gestures was of an exemplary, programmatic character.
He stylized his own biography like a myth: his romance, the boy
Maximin, was the core of a philosophy that was a revelation
to the circle of disciples. The reunification of morals
and beauty seemed to have been realized in the mystery of Maximin.
Here I found the reconciliation of Hellenic and Christian ethos.
Stefan George's ordering mind had or so did I believe
solved the fundamental conflict that Heinrich Heine analyses
with intuition and perspicacity, that reigns as tragic leitmotiv
over the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. My youth venerated
in Stefan George the Templar whose mission and deed is described
in his poem. When the black wave of nihilism was threatening
to devour our culture, he arrived, the militant seer and inspired
At the surface, there were doubtless some similarities between
George's programme of a hierarchic reformation based upon a new
aristocracy of mind and spirit, and the ideologies of the fascist
movements as they were beginning to flourish in several European
countries during the nineteen-twenties. Though to him, for his
attitude and sentiments, it was impossible to identify his cause
with the Nazism that was to take over Germany, the ambiguity
became clear in 1933, when some of his followers embraced the
upheaval wholeheartedly, while others, like his oldest companion,
the Jewish poet Karl Wolfskehl, were forced to emigrate.
George himself, who was already fatally ill, declined all honours
by which the new rulers tried to gain his support, and, silent
but demonstrative, left Germany to end his life elsewhere. He died
on the 4th of December 1933, in Locarno, Ticino, Switzerland.
|At a costume ball: George as Dante, with Maximin as his Italian page.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Editorial Board, World History of Male Love, "Famous Homosexuals", Stefan George, 2000 <http://www.gay-art-history.org/gay-history/gay-literature/famous-homosexuals/stefan-george-gay/stefan-george-gay.html>