Thursday, 12 November 2015

Carlyle and Novalis - The Blue Flower

As a warming up exercise Carlyle lays about him with his blunted and gapped claymore; a weapon which is comically overspecified for the destruction of iridescent soap bubbles.

 Not as if we meant, by this remark, to cast a stone at the old guild of literary Improvisators, or any of that diligent brotherhood, whose trade it is to blow soap-bubbles for their fellow-creatures; which bubbles, of course, if they are not seen and admired this moment, will be altogether lost to men’s eyes the next. Considering the use of these blowers, in civilized communities, we rather wish them strong lungs, and all manner of prosperity : but simply we would contend that such soap-bubble guild should not become the sole one in Literature ; that being indisputably the strongest, it should content itself with this preeminence, and not tyrannically annihilate its less prosperous neighbors. For it should be recollected that Literature positively has other aims than this of amusement from hour to hour; nay perhaps that this, glorious as it may be, is not its highest or true aim.

It is the young Carlyle writing in the Foreign Review (1829) his assessment of Novalis's Writings. Edited by Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel). Fourth Edition. 2 vols. Berlin, 1826. He had not yet reached the stage of being a ‘singing razor’ cf.
singing razor
Never mind, he gives good value with 50 odd pages including translations from Flower Pollen and The Disciples at Sais and sundry fragments.

Here’s the one about the famous blue flower from Heinrich von Ofterdingen:

" The old people were already asleep ; the clock was beating its monotonous tick on the wall; the wind blustered over the rattling windows; by turns, the chamber was lighted by the sheen of the moon. The young man lay restless in his bed; and thought of the stranger and his stories. 'Not the treasures is it,' said he to himself, ' that have awakened in me so unspeakable a desire; far from me is all covetousness; but the Blue Flower is what I long to behold. It lies incessantly in my heart, and I can think and fancy of nothing else. Never did I feel so before: it is as if, till now, I had been dreaming, or as if sleep had carried me into another world •, for in the world I used to live in, who troubled himself about flowers ? Such wild passion for a Flower was never heard of there. But whence could that stranger have come ? None of us ever saw such a man; yet I know not how I alone was so caught with his discourse: the rest heard the very same, yet none seems to mind it. And then that I cannot even speak of my strange condition ! I feel such rapturous contentment; and only then when I have not the Flower rightly before my eyes, does so deep, heartfelt an eagerness come over me: these things no one will or can believe.

In a dream Heinrich is visited by the spirit of the Blue Flower:

" Intoxicated with rapture, and yet conscious of every impression, he floated softly down that glittering stream, which flowed out from the basin into the rocks. A sort of sweet slumber fell upon him, in which he dreamed indescribable adventures, and out of which a new light awoke him. He found himself on a soft sward at the margin of a spring, which welled out into the air, and seemed to dissipate itself there. Dark-blue rocks, with many-colored veins, rose at some distance ; the daylight which encircled him was clearer and milder than the common; the sky was black-blue, and altogether pure. But what attracted him infinitely most was a high, light-blue Flower, which stood close by the spring, touching it with its broad glittering leaves. Round it stood innumerable flowers of all colors, and the sweetest perfume filled the air. He saw nothing but the Blue Flower; and gazed on it long with nameless tenderness. At last he was for approaching, when all at once it began to move and change ; the leaves grew more resplendent, and clasped themselves round the waxing stem ; the Flower bent itself towards him; and the petals showed like a blue spreading ruff, in which hovered a lovely face. His sweet astonishment at this transformation was increasing, — when suddenly his mother's voice awoke him, and he found himself in the house of his parents, which the morning sun was already gilding."

There is a coarseness in Carlyle which arises out of his never having passed through the ‘gate of resignation’. His mystical apprehension is Vulcanite and doesn’t quite understand the surrender of Novalis. It’s a Shiva/Shakti polarity. Sophie von Kuhn was the Anima or Shakti rupa of Novalis.
My beloved is an abbreviation of the universe, and the universe is an extension of my beloved.
When you love her, you love life and accept that it has a terminus and after that more life and another death. The ordinary love that Novalis found after the death of Sophie is a puzzle to Carlyle. In Irish lore those that beat the coffin and cry ‘Why did you leave me’ will be remarried within the year.

The other mistake of Carlyle’s is the characterization of Novalis as the German Pascal. There was the love of Mathematics and Science but the crispness and clarity of the Frenchman is quite other than the vague palpations of Novalis. Carlyle admits that much of the writing is opaque to him as it should be given that it was per speculum et in aenigmata for its author also.

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