Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Freiligrath, Ferdinand (1810–1876)
Author:
Grünzweig, Walter
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Whitman's first German translator encountered Whitman's poetry in English exile. A revolutionary poet and personal friend of Karl Marx, Ferdinand Freiligrath was well known internationally as a translator of first-rate authors. He translated just ten poems from William M. Rossetti's Poems by Walt Whitman (1868), and his selection reflected German interest in the recently concluded Civil War. The poems appeared in the special weekly edition of the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany's leading dailies. None of the poems would have been particularly shocking to German readers, either aesthetically or thematically, because his translation smoothed Whitman's formal edges, thus adapting his poetry to conventional standards.

Freiligrath's introduction to Whitman is of greater significance because it was frequently reprinted. He emphasizes Whitman's formal experiments: "Are we really come to the point, when life, even in poetry, calls imperatively for new forms of expression? Has the age so much and such serious matter to say, that the old vessels no longer suffice for the new contents?" (qtd. in Grünzweig 14–15).

For the Whitman community and especially William O'Connor, Freiligrath's interest in Whitman was a source of great satisfaction. The article was translated and published in several American magazines. In a letter to Freiligrath, O'Connor recommended that he ignore Rossetti's incomplete edition and use the original which would enable him "to estimate the Poem in totality" (qtd. in Grünzweig 16). Although there are several incomplete translations of Whitman poems among Freiligrath's manuscripts, no more translations appeared in print.

Freiligrath is at the beginning of a long canon of leftist German admirers of Whitman. His brief interest in Whitman has had lasting effects by contributing to Whitman's construction as a political poet.

Bibliography

Freiligrath, Ferdinand. "Walt Whitman." Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung (Wochenausgabe) 17 (1868): 257–259. Translations in 24 (1868): 369–371 and 25 (1868): 385ff.

Grünzweig, Walter. Constructing the German Walt Whitman. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1995.

Springer, Otto. "Walt Whitman and Ferdinand Freiligrath." American-German Review 11:2 (1944): 22–26, 38.


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