Thursday, January 1, 2015

Georg Heym (1887-1912) : German Expressionism's Rebelious Answer to Edgar Allan Poe

On that fateful day, on the 16 of January 1912, Georg Heym's desperate cries for help were suddenly heard echoing through the woods on both sides of the frozen river Havel. His good friend Ernst Balcke had just dissapeared into the cold murky waters of the river as the icy surface suddenly cracked and gave in while they were skating. With the scates still attached to his feet, Heym dived repeatedly under the huge floating blocks of ice surrounding him, looking for his friend. In one final attempt, he took literally a final breath, dived deep down and literature lost one of the greatest German expressionist writers. From a very young age, Heym questioned social conventions showing a fiery and rebellious attitude. He was often expelled from schools and throughout his life he never shied from asserting his personality and individuality. His sensitive nature soon found expression through the medium of poetry. In 1911, one year before that fatal scating accident, he managed to publish his poetry collection "Der Ewige Tag" (The Eternal Day). After his death, a collection of short stories was also found among his papers. It took more than a year for a publishing house to take the risk to publish this collection under the title "Der Dieb" (The Thief). In these short stories, Georg Heym tackles the themes of obsession, madness, social upheaval, murder and disease, inviting the reader to embark on an expressionistic descent into darkness. The symbolic and lyrical depictions of the characters and themes in these stories were in fact born from an acute conscience of the deplorable conditions that prevailed in big cities like Berlin in the beginning of the 20th century. They are true reflections of an age of brutal change, poverty and decadence where shadows can take the strangest of angles and the horrific and ugly specters of war,famine and disease are just around every corner. When you read these stories you can sense the influence of the French poètes maudits, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, you can imagine the drawings and paintings of George Grosz, Edward Munch and Otto Dix come to life, you become the somnambulant in the Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. At the other side of the Atlantic ocean, sixty years earlier, Edgar Allan Poe, would have certainly recognized in the person of Georg Heym, a fellow spirit, another master of the macabre.

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