Which poem tells of your journey through life

Marie Luise Kaschnitz on the way to a "house of light"

On the 40th anniversary of the writer's death

By Günter Ruddat, Bochum

Marie Luise Kaschnitz received the Goethe plaque from the city of Frankfurt on June 31, 1966. (picture alliance / dpa / Manfred Rehm)

In memoriam Marie Luise Kaschnitz (January 31, 1901 - October 10, 1974) Günter Ruddat tries to discover and develop the liturgy of her life in the work of this extraordinary German writer and "sensitive contemporary".

"I'm not brave."

This is what the poet Marie Luise Kaschnitz says about herself - shortly before her death - in a poem that particularly impressed me:

"The brave know
That they do not rise again
That no flesh grows around them
Last morning
That they don't remember anything
Meeting no one again
That nothing is waiting for you
No bliss
No torture
I'm not brave. "

In the face of life and death, Marie Luise Kaschnitz needs to keep the possibilities of life beyond the death line open. That there should be no recent morning, no meeting again, no bliss - she cannot imagine that. "I'm not brave," she says.

Next week, October 10th, will mark the 40th anniversary of the poet's death. So this morning I would like to remind you of individual stations on her life journey - and of the work of this extraordinary German writer and "sensitive contemporary".

Marie Luise Kaschnitz was born on January 31, 1901 as Marie Luise Freifrau von Holzing-Berstett in Karlsruhe, into a Prussian-Protestant officer family from the Baden-Alsatian nobility. After their two older sisters, the parents had finally expected a son and were immensely disappointed with this third daughter. Three years later, the family owner is finally born, her brother Adolf Max, the out-and-out favorite child.

Marie Luise is a child of nature, a child of the eyes

One year after their birth, the family moved to Potsdam, in 1913 to Berlin and at the end of the First World War to the restored family property, an estate in Bollschweil im Breisgau, which they later referred to as their "real home". The father, an outsider in the officer corps, does not return from the war without disturbance and suffers from the cheerfulness of his musically gifted wife and the lightheartedness of his enthusiastic singing children. The parents' marriage breaks up even if they continue to live under one roof.

Marie Luise is a child of nature, a child with eyes, for whom everything that it perceives is transformed in the mirror of its imagination. In this way, she experiences a lack of closeness and attention, but also stimulation and support. Between the three siblings, she experienced a sheltered, but at the same time internally threatened and in its own way oppressive childhood.

Many years later she reveals this in the story "Das dicke Kind" (2):

The narrator, a middle-aged woman, is visited by a fat girl she does not know. In its dull indolence and sad tearfulness it is repulsive and at the same time somehow unsettlingly attractive. Later the woman follows the girl unnoticed to the shore of a frozen lake. Here she witnesses how the child, awkward and clumsy - in contrast to his graceful sister - breaks in while ice skating.

The woman watches how the girl's face changes in the struggle to free herself from the icy water. And in fact the child manages to save himself on the bank on his own. At that moment the narrator realizes: I no longer needed to help the girl, "I had recognized it". When she returned home, she found a picture of herself as a child, "in a white wool dress with a high collar, with light, watery eyes and very fat".

For the poet, the dance of the fat girl on the ice is certainly not only in view of her own childhood, but of her entire existence, a moving image of crossing boundaries "especially in the most threatening situations", beyond oneself "to the extreme "to go.

First happy years in Rome

Marie Luise Kaschnitz began an apprenticeship as a bookseller in Weimar at the age of 21 and later worked for a publishing house in Munich. During this time she met the Austrian archaeologist and art historian Dr. Guido Freiherr Kaschnitz von Weinberg, 34 years old and Catholic. He comes from a cosmopolitan Viennese family. The two meet again in Rome, where she works in a book shop and he works as a research assistant at the German Archaeological Institute.

The marriage took place in Bollschweil in December 1925. Then followed the first happy years in Rome. Through her husband, the young woman discovered the world of science and with Rome a cradle of cultures, a kind of substitute for a missed study. There are also a large number of study trips around the Mediterranean. This is how the first literary activity, which her husband supports and critically accompanies, takes root in this period. The "one-heart-and-one-soul" of your marriage is probably the lifelong special requirement for writing. That leaves her with almost too little time for her only daughter, Iris Constanza, who was born in 1928.

Her first novel "Love Begins" was written in Rome in 1933:

The couple Andreas and Silvia, the first-person narrators, are going on a journey to a southern country, where fascist Italy is on the horizon. For Silvia, the foreign country becomes a "mirror image" of his own life. The figure of Andreas, on the other hand, represents the way of life that is later designated by the term "inner emigration": he rejects the abandonment of individuality within a totalitarian state and tries to the freedom of the individual to live in his own way. The price for this attitude is homelessness in one's own country. Silvia foresees her future in her own way:

"I saw an infinite number of people who walked to the beat, sang to the beat and raised their hands in the same greeting. I also saw Andreas and myself, we were not far away, but alone. Nobody looked at us, and ours Voices were inaudible, as if there was no air to carry them. " (3)

Thoughts of emigration are repeatedly rejected

In the hints of her novel, the writer's and scientist's personal conflicts and political experiences are reflected, and ultimately also the impotence of that quiet form of opposition in a totalitarian state.

Similar to Silvia in the novel, Marie Luise Kaschnitz accompanies her husband to all places of his teaching activity: After completing his habilitation in Freiburg, he was appointed professor of archeology in Königsberg in 1932, which initially appeared to them as a place of "exile" ...

"A country without wine, ... but with beach grass ... and floating clouds over the field."

But then Marie Luise Kaschnitz is touched and enthusiastic about the way of life in East Prussia and the beauties of this vast country.
Thoughts of emigration are repeatedly rejected. In 1937 she follows her husband to Marburg. When the frankness of his statements to students and colleagues at the small university threatened to pose a threat, he accepted a call to the more anonymous Frankfurt am Main in 1941. They find an apartment in Frankfurt's Westend, where Marie Luise Kaschnitz will live until her death 40 years ago in October 1974.

Marie Luise Kaschnitz sees herself in the thicket of inner emigration as an opponent of National Socialism, but at the same time knows about the limits of her courage:

"However, it was enough for me to report the bad things.
I was never a fighter. "(4)

In 1953 Guido Kaschnitz took a leave of absence from Frankfurt University to take over the management of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome, where his career as a scientist and their marriage began 30 years ago. Three more happy years follow. Writers like Stefan Andres, Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann belong to the circle of friends. With numerous book publications, successfully broadcast radio plays and the award of the Georg Büchner Prize (1955), the poet experienced the climax of her literary work here in the mid-1950s.

The death of the man profoundly changes her life

In 1956, Frankfurt am Main became her permanent residence again. Because her husband decides to retire in order to complete his life's work, the structural history of the Mediterranean countries, at leisure. But in the late autumn of 1956 the deadly disease broke out: a brain tumor was found. Only his wife knows from the start that there is no longer any hope, even if an astonishing improvement occurs in the short term. Two years later, on September 1, 1958, Guido Kaschnitz dies. The death of the beloved man profoundly changes the poet's life.

From now on, your literary work is shaped by the open wounds of grief and separation, by the vulnerable world of the "gray roses". For a long time she only felt this decisive break in her biography as a loss: "Dein Allesvorüber / mein Immernochda" (5). The volume of poems "Your Silence - My Voice" becomes an eloquent and at the same time silent testimony of the widow.

"I have to deal with death
The black stallion,
it bursts with the shoulder
The safe walls ... "

"I wanted to write
Save my soul
I tried to make verses.
It did not work.
I tried to tell stories
It did not work.
You can't write
To save his soul.
The abandoned one drifts and sings. "

Marie Luise Kaschnitz stays in Frankfurt. Your home becomes a place of refuge and a place of dialogue with the dead. The path to self-reflection is arduous. In her autobiographical notes "Wohin denn ich" she finally finds her way back to an independent life.

"One day I came back ... If you want to know who is speaking here, which me, it is mine and again not, from whom is only my self speaking. I cannot provide a description ... one Contemporary, wide-eyed (so I can see you better), big-eared (so I can hear you better), strong and fragile like all of us and like all of us young and ancient. A sack full of memories that are not guarded, full of experiences that are not be used, a babbler who does not want to be silent, an old woman, and what could be worse, but also a singer, a dancer ... "(8)

It penetrates into a zone of emptiness

Marie Luise Kaschnitz lives through her own pain and transcends it, she penetrates into a zone of emptiness that can only be reached through personal grief, but lies beyond it:

"Don't stick to the pain threshold
Don't stop
Go a word further
One breath
Even beyond you
Grab yourself in the void
The Easter flower ... "

In 1960, the University of Frankfurt offered the poet the chance to take over a newly established guest professorship for poetics as the successor to Ingeborg Bachmann.
This marks the beginning of a new creative period for Marie Luise Kaschnitz. Her highly acclaimed lectures on "The Design of European Poetry from Shakespeare to Beckett" made her particularly popular with young people of the sixties. Many honors and prizes followed. She literally goes beyond the more personal and individual topics in the volume of poems "One word further" and now also addresses contemporary-political topics more clearly, for example in what is probably the strongest political poem, the cycle "Zoon politikon", on the occasion of Auschwitz Process has arisen.

The forgotten comes
On buttercups with spurs
They scratch my floor
A pattern, like that
Will be tailored to us
The nettle shirt
When the wall
Rose wallpaper opens up
And pushes out the bed drawer
From marbled Jewish heads
When sealed by the beautiful
Shiny screed pushes out
Nothing. Just a smoke
Smelly. So
We are dressed
In what is due to us
When the children get up ask
How could you just
In smoke and nettles
Especially on public holidays. "

These lines reveal how the forgotten and repressed guilt penetrates into the midst of decency. The past is not easy to come to terms with, there remain uncanny questions.
In her sketches and short stories, the poet repeatedly lets the unusual break into the "little things" of everyday life, which change everything and also reveal the abyss and thus tear conventions: "From here life is to be redesigned".

Marie Luise Kaschnitz remains calm

This also applies to aging. When she had to undergo a hip joint operation in 1968 and the easy step of a dancer was over, she went on reading trips again, demonstrating against the destruction of Frankfurt's West End and in 1970 publicly declared herself in favor of Willy Brandt's SPD. That leads to terrible reactions. Marie Luise Kaschnitz remains calm and condenses her poems in her volume "Kein Zaubersag" (1972), written between 1962 and 1972, to the bare essentials, to approaching the essentials of life, to dealing with her own age and remembering her Closeness to death.

"The older I get, the less sure I am saying the right thing right,
I can no longer make assertions, I have to feel, try to get closer. "(1961)

At the end of September 1974 Marie Luise Kaschnitz went to Italy for the last time, near Rome. She is working on a lecture "Rescue through Imagination", which she will give on October 12 for the 75th anniversary of Insel Verlag at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Despite the cool weather, she goes swimming several times a day. She comes to the hospital with pneumonia.

Your daughter can be with her day and night. She died on October 10, 1974 at the age of 73 in her beloved "Eternal City". In Bollschweil im Breisgau she is buried at her husband's side.
In her sense, there is a poem at the end. It is the everyday memory of a "resurrection" that spreads before death, that can celebrate life today with breath and with ease:

"Sometimes we get up
Let us rise to the resurrection
In the middle of the day
With our living hair
With our breathing skin

Only the familiar is around us.
Not a mirage of palm trees
With grazing lions
And gentle wolves.

The alarm clocks don't stop ticking
Their luminous hands do not extinguish.

And yet easy
And yet invulnerable
Arranged in a mysterious order
Anticipated in a house of light. "(11)

Music of this show:
(1) Ice Oasis, Piano Cycles - Little Journey, Christiane Dehmer
(2) Thinking, Piano Cycles - Little Journey, Christiane Dehmer
(3) Opening up, Piano Cycles - Little Journey, Christiane Dehmer
(4) Little Journey, Piano Cycles - Little Journey, Christiane Dehmer

(1) Not brave, in: No magic spell. Poems, Frankfurt a.M. 1972, 57 = GW 5, 463.
(2) Krefeld 1952 = GW 4, pp. 58-66.
(3) love begins. Roman, Berlin 1933 = GW 1, 67.
(4) places. Records, Frankfurt a.M. 1973 = GW 3, 434.
(5) GW 5, 316.
(6) Requiem, your silence - my voice. Poems 1958-1961, Hamburg 1962 = GW 5, 306.
(7) Writing, your silence - my voice. aao, 33 = GW 5, 320.
(8) Where am I going. Records, Hamburg 1963, 5 = GW 2, 381.
(9) Cycle: Report from Neumagen II, in: One word further. Poems, Hamburg 1965, 45 = GW 5.
(10) Zoon politikon I, In: Ein Wort weiter, Hamburg 1965, 65 = GW 5, 406.
(11) Resurrection, from: Your silence - my voice, Hamburg 1962 = GW 5, 306.

"The editorial and content-related responsibility for this article lies with Pastor Reinhold Truß-Trautwein, broadcasting representative for Deutschlandradio, broadcasting work in the community of Protestant journalism (GEP), for the media representative of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany."