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Poets

Friedrich Klopstock

(1724- 1803)

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock  was a German poet. His best known work is his epic poem Der Messias (“The Messiah”). His service to German literature was to open it up to exploration outside of French models.

Klopstock was born at Quedlinburg, the eldest son of a lawyer. Both in his birthplace and on the estate of Friedeburg on the Saale, which his father later rented, he spent a happy childhood; and more attention having been given to his physical than to his mental development, he grew up strong and healthy and became an excellent horseman. In his thirteenth year, he returned to Quedlinburg and attended the Gymnasium there, and in 1739 went on to the famous classical school named Schulpforta. Here he soon became an adept in Greek and Latin versification, and wrote some meritorious idylls and odes in German. His original intention of making Henry the Fowler the hero of an epic was, under the influence of Milton's Paradise Lost with which he became acquainted through Bodmer's translation, abandoned in favor of a religious epic.

While still at school, he had already drafted the plan of Der Messias on which most of his fame rests. On 21 September 1745 he delivered, on quitting school, a remarkable "departing oration" on epic poetry—Abschiedsrede über die epische Poesie, kultur- und literargeschichtlich erläutert—and next proceeded to Jena as a student of theology, where he elaborated the first three cantos of the Messias in prose. Having found life at this university uncongenial, he transferred in the spring of 1746 to Leipzig, where he joined the circle of young men of letters who contributed to the Bremer Beiträge. In this periodical the first three cantos of Der Messias in hexameter verse were anonymously published, in 1748.

A new era in German literature had commenced, and the identity of the author soon became known. In Leipzig he also wrote a number of odes, the best known of which is An meine Freunde (1747), afterwards recast as Wingolf (1767). He left the university in 1748 and became a private tutor in the family of a relative at Langensalza, where unrequited love for a cousin (the "Fanny" of his odes) disturbed his peace of mind. For that reason he gladly accepted in 1750 an invitation from Bodmer, the translator of Paradise Lost, to visit him in Zürich, where Klopstock was initially treated with every kindness and respect and rapidly recovered his spirits. Bodmer, however, was disappointed to find in the young poet of the Messias a man of strong worldly interests, and a coolness sprang up between the two friends.

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