Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

Eichendorff was born in Silesia in East Prussia, and many of his poems evoke the Silesian forests which he knew so well from his youth. Unlike the other German Romantics, many of whom were Protestants but were fascinated by Catholicism, Eichendorff came from an impoverished aristocratic Roman Catholic family. He studied law at university in Breslau, Halle and Heidelberg from 1805-08, and then served in the wars against Napoleon from 1813-14 and 1815-16. In 1815 he married Luise von Larisch. Eichendorff did not support himself from his writings, but from his post in the Prussian civil service from 1816-1844.

Eichendorff's short story 'Das Marmorbild'; 'The Marble Statue' (1819) tells the story of a young man, Florio, who arrives in Lucca. At a feast he meets and falls in love with Bianka, but the feast is interrupted by the arrival of a sinister knight, Donati. Florio goes walking in the park at night where he encounters the statue of the goddess Venus. Later at a masked ball he meets a woman wearing Greek costume; it is as if the statue of Venus has come alive. Soon afterwards he is invited to the mysterious woman's castle, where he is saved from seduction when he hears an old Christian song outside the window. Florian flees and is reunited with Bianka.

Perhaps because of his Roman Catholic faith and relatively happy childhood, Eichendorff is one of the most anchored of the Romantics. His writings exude a sense of religious grace. For Eichendorff, the natural world conceals a divine spark, as the following poem suggests:

Wünschelrute (1835)

Divining Rod (1835)

A song sleeps in all things,

Which dream on and on,

And the world begins to sing,

If only you find the magic word.

Schläft ein Lied in allen Dingen,

Die da träumen fort und fort,

Und die Welt hebt an zu singen,

Triffst du nur das Zauberwort.


The first stanza of ‘Mondnacht’ expresses a sweet sense of longing between heaven and earth:

Mondnacht (1837)

Es war, als hätt der Himmel

Die Erde still geküßt,

Daß sie im Blütenschimmer

Von ihm nun träumen müßt.

Moonlit Night (1837)

It was as if heaven

Had silently kissed the earth,

So that she in shimmering blossoms

Must now dream of him.


The sense of erotic compulsion is conveyed here by rhyming ‘geküßt’ (kissed) and ‘müßt’ (must), but at the same time the use of the Subjunctive 2 gives the text a delicately provisional quality. This poem was set to music by Robert Schumann.

Eichendorff wrote several novels but his most famous prose work is the novella Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts; Life of a Good-for-Nothing (1826). A young man takes to the road and has a series of delightful adventures, punctuated by evenings singing with his friends around the campfire. As the ‘Good-for-Nothing’ sets out on his travels, he starts playing the violin and singing the following song:

Wem Gott will rechte Gunst erweisen,

Den schickt er in die weite Welt,

Dem will er seine Wunder weisen

In Berg und Wald und Strom und Feld.

He to whom God wants to show his favour

God sends him out into the wide world,

To him He will reveal his miracles,

In hill and wood and stream and field.


The novella is idyllic and bucolic, and has little of the intense interiority which characterises much German Romanticism.

In March 1832, after the death of his two-year old daughter Anna, Eichendorff wrote a sequence of ten poems, entitled ‘Auf meines Kindes Tod’; ‘On the Death of My Child’.

Further Reading on the poetry

Anna Carrdus, Classical Rhetoric and the German Poet 1620 to the Present (Oxford: Legenda, 1996), Chapter 4 on Eichendorff

Gerald Gillespie, ‘Hieroglyphics of Finality in Eichendorff’s Lyrics’, German Life and Letters 42 (1989), 203-18

Charlie Louth, ‘The Romantic Lyric’, in The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism, ed. by Nicholas Saul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 67-84

Georg Lukács, ‘Eichendorff’ [1940], in Lukács, German Realists in the Nineteenth Century, trans. by Jeremy Gaines and Paul Keast, ed. by Rodney Livingstone (London: Libris, 1993), pp. 50-68

G. Roger, ‘Joseph von Eichendorff’, in German Men of Letters, ed. by Alex Natan, vol. 1 (London: Wolff, 1961), pp. 59-78

Elisabeth Stopp, ‘The Metaphor of Death in Eichendorff’, Oxford German Studies 4 (1969), 67-89

Further Reading on the novels

Eric A. Blackall, The Novels of the German Romantics (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983), Chapter 11 on Eichendorff’s novels

English Translation

Eichendorff, Life of a Good-for-Nothing, trans. by J. G. Nichols (London: Hesperus, 2002)

Further Reading on Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts; Life of a Good-for-Nothing (1826)

Christine Cronjäger, ‘The Romantic Image of Nature in Joseph von Eichendorff’s Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts and Washington Irvine’s Rip van Winkle’, in The Image of Nature in Literature, the Media and Society, ed. by Will Wright and Steve Kaplan (Pueblo, CO: University of Southern Colorado, 1993), pp. 127-31

Brian Haman, ‘Reevaluating Eichendorff’s Romanticism: Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts as Metafictional Parody’, Monatshefte 107 (2015)

Tim Mehigan, ‘Eichendorff’s Taugenichts: Or, The Social Education of a Private Man’, German Quarterly 66:1 (1993), 60-70

Michael Perraudin, ‘“Das Bäumebesteigen nimmt … kein Ende”: Tree Climbing in Eichendorff’, German Life and Letters 44:2 (1991), 103-09

Ritchie Robertson, ‘Eichendorff: Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts’, in Landmarks in German Short Fiction, ed. by Peter Hutchinson (Bern: Peter Lang, 2003), pp. 45-60

Web Link


Das Marmorbild in German; click on a word for the English translation