Platen

August von Platen (1796-1835)

August von Platen – full name Karl August Georg Maximilian, Graf von Platen-Hallermünde – was the son of a minor Bavarian aristocrat who worked as a head forester. Platen attended cadet school in Munich and royal page-school, where he became friends with the crown prince, later Ludwig I of Bavaria (1786-1868). Platen joined the army in 1813 to fight against Napoleon but his regiment did not see any action.

In 1818 Platen attended the University of Erlangen, where he studied Oriental languages, history, forestry and philosophy (the latter subject with Schelling). There, he became close friends with the chemist Justus Liebig (1803-1873). In the spring of 1822 Liebig left Erlangen and moved to Paris to escape the political repression in German universities. One of Liebig’s letters to Platen is included in Deutsche Menschen (German People), an anthology of letters edited by Walter Benjamin. For more details, click here (and scroll down to letter 16).

In 1824 Platen visited Venice and overstayed his leave from the military; this led to his arrest. However, when Ludwig I became king in 1825, he granted Platen indefinite leave. Platen left Germany in 1826 and spent the rest of his life in Italy.

Platen’s greatest poetic rival was Heinrich Heine. There was a bitter, damaging feud between the two men, which took place in print. Platen mocked Heine’s Jewishness; Heine retaliated with a homophobic tirade against Platen in Die Bäder von Lucca; The Baths of Lucca (1830). W.D. Williams calls this text ‘the most vicious and spiteful attack ever made by one German writer on another’ (see reading list below, p. 144).

Platen’s most famous works are:

(1) his ghazals, poems inspired by the medieval Persian poet Hafiz, and by Goethe’s West-östliche Divan; West-Eastern Divan.

(2) his Venetian Sonnets, classical masterpieces imbued with modernist ambivalence. In these poems, the expression of homosexual desire is embedded in the description of a cityscape and checked by the strict form of the sonnet. This sonnet cycle was an influence on Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig; Death in Venice.

Platen’s poetry includes:

Ghaselen (1821)

Neue Ghaselen (1823)

Sonette aus Venedig; Venetian Sonnets (1824) [see links below]

Die Abbassiden; The Abbassids (composed 1829-30)

Polenlieder; Polish Songs (1831)

His plays include:

Der gläserne Pantoffel; The Glass Slipper (1824)

Die verhängnisvolle Gabel; The Fateful Fork (1826)

Der romantische Ödipus; The Romantic Oedipus (1829)

For English translations of individual poems, please click on the links below:

Los des Lyrikers; The Lyricist’s Lot

Venedig XIII; Venice XIII (1824)

Venedig XIV; Venedig XIV (1824)

English Translations

Platen, Selected Poems, trans. by Edwin Morgan (West Linton: Castlelaw, 1978); reprinted in:

Edwin Morgan, Collected Translations (Manchester: Carcarnet, 1996), pp. 307-21

Further Reading

Richard Dove, ‘Sound and Sense in the Classical Poetry of Platen’, Modern Language Review 79:3 (1984), 620-37

S. S. Prawer, German Lyric Poetry: A Critical Analysis of Selected Poems from Klopstock to Rilke (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 156-60

Jeffrey L. Sammons, ‘Platen’s Tulip Image’, Monatshefte 52:6 (1960), 293-301

W.D. Williams, ‘August von Platen’, in German Men of Letters, ed. by Alex Natan, vol. 5 (London: Wolff, 1969), pp. 131-52