This essay was first published in the journal Die Horen in three parts, from 1795-96. It was first published in book form in 1800.
On one level this essay presents a model of history. We admire the ancient Greeks for their closeness to nature, but modern individuals have lost this closeness to nature because of technological and cultural advances. The task of modern culture is to restore our harmony with nature, but since it is impossible to turn the clock back to the naive harmony of antiquity, we must go forwards and try to approach nature whilst still retaining the use of our advanced reason.
On another level this essay is an attempt to analyse two different character types, Goethe and Schiller himself. The ‘naive’ poet is modelled on Goethe, presented here as a type of natural, instinctive genius. The ‘sentimental’ poet is modelled on Schiller himself: modern, intellectual and tormented by his distance from nature as a result of his own moral and rational self-consciouness.
Friedrich von Schiller, Naive and Sentimental Poetry, and On the Sublime: Two Essays, trans. by Julius A. Elias (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1967)
Paul de Man, Aesthetic Ideology, ed. by Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1996)
David Pugh, Dialectic of Love: Platonism in Schiller’s Aesthetics (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996)
Lesley Sharpe, Schiller’s Aesthetic Essays: Two Centuries of Criticism (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1995)