Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Frederik Paludan-Müller (1809–1876)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by William Morton Payne (1858–1919)
AMONG the Danish poets who made their appearance in literature during the closing period of Oehlenschläger’s life, and who carried on the poetical tradition that his half-century of unremitting activity had so firmly established, Frederik Paludan-Müller is the most important. A son of the Bishop of Aarhus, he was born at Kjerteminde, February 7th, 1809 (that annus mirabilis of literary chronology), and was educated at Odense and Copenhagen. His life was singularly uneventful; being, after the flush of youth was over, almost that of a recluse. A journey of two years abroad, undertaken in 1838–40, upon the occasion of his marriage, offers the one conspicuous interruption to the monotonous story of his external career. The greater part of his life was spent in Copenhagen, and in his quiet country home at Fredensborg; and it was at the latter place that he died, on the 28th of December, 1876.  1
  What this life, so externally uneventful, must have been, viewed from within, may be faintly surmised when we examine the long list of Paludan-Müller’s writings in verse and prose. They include poems of many sorts, plays and tales; and are astonishing in their variety, their imaginative exuberance, their free rich fantasy, and the technical virtuosity of their execution. They move, for the most part, in an ideal world of the poet’s own creation; or rather of his own assimilation from the storehouse of mythology and literary tradition, since creative power in the highest sense may hardly be accorded him. The one noteworthy exception to the prevalent and persistent idealism of his work as a whole is to be found in ‘Adam Homo,’ the poem which is usually reckoned his masterpiece. In this work, which stands about midway in his career, he came down from the clouds in which his youthful fancy had disported itself, and took a firm grasp of the realities of modern society and the everyday world. The composition of this remarkable poem was, however, little more than an episode in his activity; and having done with it, his imagination once more took refuge upon the early higher plane. It is to be noted however that, Antæus-like, he had gained strength from his contact with earth; and that the works of the later period are distinguished from those of the earlier by an even finer idealism, a deeper sense of spiritual beauty, and a more marked degree of formal excellence.  2
  The works of Paludan-Müller’s first period include ‘Fire Romanzer’ (Four Romances); ‘Kjærlighed ved Hoffet’ (Love at Court), a five-act comedy in verse and prose, inspired by Shakespeare and Gozzi; ‘Dandserinden’ (The Dancing Girl), a long poem in eight-line stanzas; ‘Luft og Jord; eller Eventyr i Skoven’ (Air and Earth; or A Forest Tale), a second romantic comedy; and the poems ‘Amor og Psyche,’ ‘Zuleimas Flugt’ (Zuleima’s Flight), ‘Alf og Rose,’ and ‘Venus.’ These works were published between 1832 and 1841, and are characterized by delicate fancy, tender melancholy, a sweetness that is almost cloying, and an almost Swinburnian mastery of metrical form. They won for the poet a high place in the esteem of his fellow-countrymen; but their readers were hardly prepared for the abrupt change in both the manner and the matter of the poet that was displayed in ‘Adam Homo,’ the work that next followed.  3
  No European poet of the thirties could hope entirely to escape from the Byronic influence, and traces of that influence are perceptible in some of the earlier works above mentioned. In reading ‘Adam Homo’ (begun in 1841 and completed in 1848), it is impossible not to think of Byron, and particularly of ‘Don Juan,’ nearly all the time. The work is in ottava rima, and is by far the longest of Paludan-Müller’s poems. The author set himself the task of showing, says Dr. Brandes, “how a man of the masses, having neither the best nor the poorest of endowments, a man from youth up as full of ideal hopes and resolutions as any of his betters, can so demean himself as to squander his entire intellectual inheritance, forgetting the prayers of childhood and the aspirations of youth, and finally wrecking his life after the fashion of the veriest Philistine.” Adam Homo (how typical the name!) enters upon life as a naïve and ardent youth, carrying with him our best sympathies; he develops into a character so despicable that even the author cannot treat him fairly, and he ends in the slough of sheer stupidity. The story of his career is a brilliant but painful performance, in which episodes of satirical bitterness alternate with tender and graceful scenes. It is a work of powerful grasp, of minute ethical observation, and of so deep and subtle an irony that its readers find it difficult to realize that it can be the work of the poet of ‘Amor og Psyche’ and ‘Kalanus.’  4
  The purely poetic genius of the author, thus held in abeyance for a time, soon reasserted itself in the series of noble works that mark the closing years of his life. Even the composition of ‘Adam Homo’ was interrupted long enough for the production of such ideal works as ‘Tithon’ and ‘Abels Död’ (The Death of Abel). In 1854 the splendid powers of the poet, now fully ripened, burst forth in the drama of ‘Kalanus,’ which deals with the familiar story of the Indian mystic who thought to discern in Alexander the Great the reincarnation of Brahma; and who, undeceived, and learning that his deity is but a man, immolated himself upon a funeral pyre. Other works dating from the author’s later period are the poems ‘Ahasuerus,’ ‘Kain,’ ‘Pygmalion,’ and ‘Adonis,’ the lyrical drama ‘Paradiset,’ the prose play ‘Tiderne Skifte’ (The Times Change), the prose tale ‘Ungdomskilden’ (The Fountain of Youth), and the three-volume novel ‘Ivar Lykkes Historie’ (The Story of Ivar Lykke). The standard edition of his poetical writings fills eight volumes, and no other Danish poet since Oehlenschläger has made so weighty a contribution to the national literature.  5

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.