Is Black a Colour of Despair? (Poetry of Paul Strauss in the Context of German, Czech and Slovak Modernism)

Mária Bátorová

The study is concerned with Paul Strauss's poetry which was written in the '30s in German language. It was Strauss's bilingualism that helped him deal with works of his German and Czech modernist contemporaries. His first collection of poetry Die Kanone auf dem Ei (The Gun on the Egg) was apparently inspired by global and local historical processes. In his second and third collection of poetry called Schwarze Verse (Black Verses) and Worte aus der Nacht (Words from the Night) respectively, the reflection of the world of inner experience became prominent. The fear of mother's death, which haunted him from the time of his childhood, is strongly pronounced. The uneasiness he felt after her death was enhanced by another existential uneasiness -- the revelation of his Jewish roots during WWII, although he was already Christianised at that time. The theme of Worte aus der Nacht is the search for a way out of the existential crisis.

It is not difficult to determine Paul Strauss's place in the literary context of the '30s. It is possible to use the explanation of the contemporary context proposed in M. Kundera's preface to Die Prager Moderne (Prague Modernism). One is tempted to prove Kundera's theses on Strauss's works. It is also supported by all techniques of traditional literary comparatistics, including genetic relations.

Similarly to Rilke, in Strauss's poetry one can find the first phase of poetic expression of the aesthetic ideal. Strauss encountered Rilke's work in its final phase, as a whole. In Strauss's times, i. e. between the two World Wars, the status of poetic expression is naturally confronted with a different reality. Rilke's Dinggedicht , which is related to Husserl's phenomenology, is concerned with a new view of looking at objects of the real world. The central theme of Rilke's relation to fright and beauty can also be seen in Strauss's poetics.

Poetry means mainly a relation to oneself and by means of it to the world to Paul Strauss, as it does to Rilke and Valery. Strauss registers the outside world of things through his own inner experience. The motive of death, which is considered essential to Rilke's poetry, is the principal theme in Strauss's poetry, the initial impulse to write. The motive of death is also present in Franz Werfel's works, but not as an existential entity, as part of speculations about one's existence as is the case with Rilke and Strauss. Strauss is close to Werfel in motives of pain and childhood.

One can also find common themes or motives in Rilke's and Strauss's poetry: death, God, time, loss, pain. Strauss came from Vienna to Prague at the beginning of the '30s (1932--37). He brought with himself a compact bound form, Rilkian "impressionism" and eflectiveness, Werfelian expressionism. To sum up, one can conclude that Strauss's collections of poetry, on account of their form, language and poetics, definitely belong into the context of Central European lyrical poetry.

Keywords: Paul Strauss. Rainer Maria Rilke. Franz Werfel. Expressionism. Poetism. Impressionism. Unknown Poetry of Slovak Modernism. Beginnings of Slovak Metaphysical Discursive Poetry Written in German Prague. Modernism. German, Czech and Slovak Literary Context.