Anna Louisa Karsch (1722-1791)

Anna Louisa Karsch was a peasant poet - the first German woman peasant poet to be published - who was immensely popular in the mid 18th-century, and for good reason. Her poems are intelligent, ironic, and beautiful. Many of them are available on http://www.wortblume.de/

Many of her poems express her love for the proud ‘Milon’, but other poems address a wide range of themes including politics, religion, nature and social satire. In ‘Ein Gebet an den Mars’ (‘A Prayer to Mars’, 1762) she asks the god of war to leave the earth once and for all.

In this poem addressed ‘To Herr Uz’, she tells a fellow poet that her works appeal to people from all walks of life:

An Herrn Uz, den Verfasser der lyrischen Gedichte

Du, der, vom Weine berauscht, die Lust der Erde besungen,

Mir gab Apollo kein lyrisches Spiel

Bespannt mit Saiten von Gold, doch sind mir Lieder gelungen,

Süßklingend sang ich der Seele Gefühl.

Mich hört der eiserne Held, mir horcht der ernste Gesandte,

Herunter kommend vom Stuhle des Herrn,

Auch höret meinen Gesang, wer sonst die Muse verkannte,

Des Geizes Priester, vernehmen ihn gern.

Mir gab Dein liebender Freund der Felsenspringerin Laute,

Oh, ihn nur zu denken wird süßer Gesang

In der ganz sapphischen Brust; der Liebes-Götter Vertraute

Ward ich und habe die Herzen in Zwang!

Mich fühlt der wankende Greis, die abgelebte Matrone,

Mich horcht der Jünglinge klopfendes Herz.

Das Mädchen fürchtet den Pfeil! er rauscht im sapphischen Tone

Laut, wie im Uzischen Liede voll Scherz.

Source (with kind permission):


To Herr Uz, the author of lyrical poems

You who, intoxicated by wine, have sung the the joy of the earth,

I was given no lyric instrument by Apollo

Strung with golden strings, and yet my poems have turned out well,

Sounding sweet I sang the soul’s feelings.

I am heard by the iron hero, I am heard by the solemn emissary

Stepping down from the chair of his master,

My song is also heard by those who would otherwise be deaf to the muse,

Even the priests of avarice like to hear it.

I was given a mountain-climber’s lute by your loving friend [Apollo],

Oh just the thought of him became sweet song

In the wholly Sapphic breast; I became the confidante of the love gods

And people’s hearts are in my power!

I am felt by the trembling old man, the clapped out matron,

I am heard in the boys’ beating heart.

The girl fears the arrow! It swishes in a Sapphic tone

Loudly, as in those songs of Uz full of jest.

The second stanza lists the important persons who appreciate her work; there is an element of satire here as merchants and bankers are referred to as ‘priests of avarice’, suggesting that money has become a religion. In the third stanza the rhyme ‘Gesang’ (song) / ‘Zwang’ (force, compulsion) emphasizes the power of her poetry. The final stanza claims that she has universal appeal: she appeals to the young and the old of both genders.

In this next poem she suggests that her heart beats with the sound of her lover’s name, which is like the pealing of bells:

Mein Herz und ich

Deckt noch der Schlaf dein Auge zu,

Mein Liebster? O, um süßer dich zu denken,

Laß ich die Trunkenmacherin, die Ruh,

Aus ihrem Kelch mich minder tränken.

Du wachst vielleicht, durch Glockenschlag

Aus sanfter Ruh, aus süßem Schlaf gestöret,

Ich wache, weil mein Herze Nacht und Tag

In sich laut deinen Namen höret.

Source (with kind permission):


My Heart and I

Does sleep still cover your eyes,

My darling? O, to think of you more sweetly,

I let Restfulness, she who makes us drunk,

Give me a little less from her cup.

You will perhaps be woken by the sound of bells

From gentle rest, shaken from sweet sleep,

I stay awake, because night and day

My heart hears your name loudly inside it.

The first stanza suggests that thinking is a form of drunkenness that is sweeter than sleep. Because of the iambic metre, ‘ich’ in line 3 is stressed, emphasizing that she colludes in her own insomnia. The second strophe contains a reproach: her lover, who is addressed, seems to have no trouble sleeping, whereas she remains sleepless out of love. By likening her lover’s name to the sound of church bells, she endows the emotion of love with a religious force, or rather, in her heart romantic love has become a force more powerful than religion.

Further Reading

Claire Baldwin, ‘Anna Louisa Karsch as Sappho’, Women in German Yearbook 20 (2004), 62-97

Anthony J. Harper and Margaret C. Ives (eds.), Sappho in the Shadows. Essays on the work of German women poets in the age of Goethe (1749-1832), with translations of their poetry into English (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000)

Margaret C. Ives, 'Anna Luisa Karsch (1722-1791): a brave woman goes to war', in Sappho in the Shadows: Essays on the Work of German Women Poets in the Age of Goethe (1749-1832), ed. by Anthony J. Harper and Margaret C. Ives (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000)

Susanne Kord, Women peasant poets in eighteenth-century England, Scotland, and Germany: milkmaids on Parnassus (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003)

Susanne Kord, ‘Visionaries and Window Shoppers: Anna Louisa Karsch between Bourgeois Aesthetic Theory and Lower-Class Authorship’, Lessing Yearbook 35 (2003), 189-221

Susanne Kord, ‘Publish and Perish: Women Writers Anticipate Posterity’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 76:2 (2007), 119-34

Julie D. Prandi, ‘Sexual Imagery in the Verse Epistles of Robert Burns and Anna Louisa Karsch’, Comparative Literature Studies 43:1-2 (2006), 153-70