Stefan George and the Return to Political Reality (Part I)

HomeArticlesStefan George and the Return to Political Reality (Part I)
Stefan George 2

In a letter to the literary scholar Robert Heilman in 1961 Eric Voegelin expressed his agreement with the view that good literature does not merely imitate or interpret reality but is a constituent of reality. In this regard he referred to Aristotle’s observation that the poet gives us deeper insights into human nature than the historian because, while the historian records reality “in the state of potentiality”, the poet “imaginatively creates the ‘nature’ of things”. The poet treats “the ’true’ reality of actualized nature”. To do this the artist must view the “raw material” that he treats in the light of its “relation to the ‘nature’ of things”. In order to do this the artist must have a “love of true reality”.1

Reality is symbolized in myth, religion, art, and in other forms of cultural expression and is symbolized and critically reflected in philosophy.2 “Openness to reality” is an experience in which the human being becomes aware that his or her deeper self is rooted in the dynamic (act) ground of being. In a paper about a poet it may be permissible to illustrate the nature of the “deeper self” with reference to Coleridge’s well-known poem, the “Ancient Mariner”. Following the mariner’s killing of the bird that came each morning to the mariner’s “hallo”—each encounter in the cosmos takes place under the sign of the holy— the mariner’s long journey back to participation in being— reality— begins when he overcomes the murderous egotism of the closed self and opens his heart to the creatures playing on the Sargasso Sea:

“O happy living things! no tongue

Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware:

Sure my kind saint took pity on me,

And I blessed them unaware.


The selfsame moment I could pray;

And from my neck so free

The Albatross fell off, and sank

Like lead into the sea.”

The mariner says: “[L]ove gushed from my heart”. With this act of the deeper self (“I blessed them unaware” , i.e. without regard to the amor sui), the mariner rejoins the ordered cosmos. Traditionally the order of the cosmos and our relationship to the ground of being, and therewith to our fellow creatures, has been expressed in the symbol of love (eros, philia, agape); love understood as a quality at the center of the soul that leads to a deeper and deeper knowledge of value and therefore of being. There exists a hierarchy of loveable qualities. At the height of this hierarchy stands the human being who has learned to see himself, his fellow human beings and the world in the light of divine being: “[A]ll loving, contemplating, thinking and willing is intentionally united in deo”.3 This is the life of reason.

Where the life of reason is overthrown the errant desire of the perverted ordo amoris calls forth distorted images of life. This is what is meant in this paper by the term “loss of reality”. To recover reality the soul must be led back to the proper ordo amoris: In Christian terms to God and “in deo” to all creation; in Platonic terms the soul must ascend from the narrow self, centered in the world of passion, to its true center in the transcendent ground of being.

It is the thesis of this paper that the early works of Stefan George demonstrate a Platonic “love of reality”. Plato is present in George’s depiction of the ascent of the soul to the ground of being in his first book of poetry, HYMNE (1890), and platonic thought is the basis of George’s critical discussion of the Eros tyrannos in PILGERFAHRTEN (1891) and in ALGABAL (1892). After examining two poems from HYMNE, the poems “Weihe” (“Initiation” or “Consecration”) and “Ein Angelico” (“Fra Angelico”), and the poem “Mahnung” (“Warning”) from PILGERFAHRTEN, I will look at ALGABAL in more detail.

In the first section of this paper I will examine poems of Stefan George against the background of a Platonic understanding of reality. In the second section I will try to support the findings of the first section by arguing against those who deny the presence of Plato in George’s early work. In the third section I will examine George’s notes on the intentions of the arts journal he founded in 1892 and demonstrate their relationship to the Platonic understanding of reality that I explored in section one. In the fourth section I refer to an early reception of George’s work from an unlikely quarter for corroboration and support of my thesis. In a short “conclusion” I sum up the results of this study. I will proceed in the following steps:

I. Stefan George: Hymns, Pilgrimages, Algabal

II. Stefan George’s Platonism

III. Stefan George’s Intentions

IV. Stefan George in the „Sozialistische Monatshefte“

V. Conclusion

I. Stefan George: Hymns, Pilgramges, Algabal

George’s first published volume of poetry, HYMNS4, opens with the poem “Weihe” (“Initiation” or “Consecration”) which describes the nature of the poet’s preparation for, and pursuit of, his calling.


Hinaus zum strom ! wo stolz die hohen rohre

Im linden winde ihre fahnen schwingen

Und wehren junger wellen schmeichelchore

Zum ufermoose kosend vorzudringen.


Im rasen rastend sollst du dich betäuben

An starkem urduft, ohne denkerstörung,

So dass die fremden hauche all zerstäuben.

Das auge schauend harre der erhörung.


Siehst du im takt des strauches laub schon zittern

Und auf der glatten fluten dunkelglanz

Die dünne nebelmauer sich zersplittern?

Hörst du das elfenlied zum elfentanz?


Schon scheinen durch der zweige zackenrahmen

Mit sternenstädten selige gefilde,

Der zeiten flug veliert die alten namen

Und raum und dasein bleiben nur im bilde.


Nun bist du reif, nun schwebt die herrin nieder,

Mondfarbne gazeschleier sie umschlingen,

Halboffen ihre traumesschweren lider

Zu dir geneigt die segnung zu vollbringen:


Indem ihr mund auf deinem antlitz bebte

Und sie dich rein und so geheiligt sah

Dass sie im kuss nicht auszuweichen strebte

Dem finger stützend deiner lippe nah (GA: II, 12).6

In the first stanza the poet is called to find his place in the “stream of life”: “Hinaus zum strom!” But to mature the poet also requires a hortus conclusus where he is protected by the “stately reeds” (“die hohen rohre”) that fly their flags “in the gentle winds”. The poet is aware of the importance of his calling and identifies with the proud (“stolz”) reeds that tower above the young waves’ “flattering choir” (schmeichelchore).

The second stanza tells us that the poet is to let himself be overwhelmed (“betäuben”) by the earth’s strong primal scent (“urduft”). Experiencing the world for himself, concretely and in its depth, his mind is to be freed of second hand notions (“fremde hauche”). The poet is engaged in both a waiting, passive, listening as well as in an active watching: “das auge schauend harre der erhörung”.

The third stanza asks the poet what he now “sees and hears”:

Siehst du im takt des strauches laub schon zittern

Und auf der glatten fluten dunkelglanz

Die dünne nebelmauer sich zersplittern?

Hörst du das elfenlied zum elfentanz?

The branches move rhythmically in the breeze and the poet discerns the thin wall of fog breaking above the dark water. He has insight into the luminosity that is present in the dark waters too because, in William Blake’s words, the poet is able to see “eternity in a grain of sand”, i.e. that each thing in the world is aglow with the spirit of the cosmos. Consequently, the voice of the first stanza that enjoined the poet: “Hinaus zum strom!”, now asks the poet if he hears the music of the cosmos:

“Hörst du das elfenlied zum elfentanz?”

The poet, having attained to the noumenal realm has gained the power of metaphor that is needed in order to depict the things of the world in their true light7:

“Der zeiten flug verliert die alten namen

Und raum and dasein bleiben nur im bilde.“8

The poet has ascended to this height through an act of love (eros) and since love is not a one-sided act, but requires a partner, it is symbolized by the muse who descends to meet him: “Nun bist du reif, nun schwebt die herrin nieder….Zu dir geneigt die segnung zu vollbringen”9. The muse is not part of the world and meets the poet in the middle region of the spirit between the perishing and the eternal things.

The poetic activity raises the materials found in the world in harmony with and in analogy to the poet’s ordo amoris. (I referred to this process above: The artist views the “raw material” that he treats in the light of its “relation to the ‘nature’ of things”.) Thus in the poetic act the poet does not imitate the things of the world, but presents them in their true light as part of the expression of his own participation in the ground of being. One of the last poems in HYMNS depicts the poetic act.

“Fra Angelico” describes the painter’s “The Crowning of the Virgin Mary”, a common subject in the 13th century based on the legend of the Virgin Mary being received by Christ following the Assumption as the first among God’s creatures. Kneeling she takes the crown from his hands. They are joined by saints and angels.

The habit of several figures reveals that they are Dominicans and the founder of the order is also depicted.10

George saw this painting during his first visit to Paris in 1889. The sonnet reads:

Auf zierliche kapitel der legende

– Den erdenstreit bewacht von ewgem rat’

Des strengen ahnen wirkungsvolle sende –

Errichtet er die glorreich grosse tat:


Er nahm das gold von heiligen pokalen,

Zu hellem haar das reife weizenstroh,

Das rosa kindern die mit schiefer malen,

Der wäscherin am bach das indigo.


Der herr in glanze seines königtumes

Zur seite sanfte sänger seines ruhmes

Und sieger der Chariten und Medusen.


Die braut mit immerstillen kindesbusen

Voll demut aber froh ihren lohne

Empfängt aus seiner hand die erste krone.“ (GA: II, XX)

1.True to the legend that graces the story that eternal providence watches over earthly strife the painter has brought forth a “glorious act” (“grosse tat”):

2.He has taken the gold from the holy chalices, added the yellow of ripening wheat to that of women’s hair, and to the pink of children coloring with slate, he has added the indigo of the woman washing at the stream.

3.The Lord is in the glory of his pure kingdom, beside him are the gentle singers of his fame.

4. The Virgin, full of humility and with calm and childish bosom, gratefully accepts the first crown out of Christ’s hands.

George’s intentions are clear: In the chalice—receptacle of the Holy Communion— art reaches its pinnacle and the child’s simple efforts to draw on stone symbolize the role of human art as the micro-cosmic re-enactment of divine creation.


In Stefan George’s next book of poetry, PILGERFAHRTEN, the political implications of the reality of human nature and the ordo amoris of the well ordered soul come into focus. It appeared in 1891, one year after HYMNS. The subject of the opening poem,”The Recluse Goes Forth” ( “Seidlergang”), is the pilgrim who has left his retreat but who is spiritually unable to return to society. The love he finds himself unable to give or accept leads him to regard the objects of his desire with contempt. Of the women who attract him he says: “Ich hasse sie und brenne sie zu greifen”( “I hate them and burn to take them”) (GA: II, 55). Naturally what he finds contemptible is his own egotistical lust, but he projects his self-derision onto others.

Other poems depict the lives of women in loveless relationships who do not flee in order to enter into more satisfying ones but instead consort with “lovers” who do not value them 11 (GA: II, 64). The state of the soul of one such victim is described as “icy” (GA: II, 64). Another is described as peering through the bars of her garden gate like a prisoner (GA: II, 65). And a third says to her loveless companion in adultery: “Ich liege vor dir niedrig und gebrochen” (“I lie before you debased and broken”) (GA: II, 64).

George explores the complementary vice to being the victim in a loveless relationship, that of being a tyrant. And he also explores the tyrannical soul in public life. In “Mahnung (“Warning”) the despot has followed the “horde” that clamored for him to seize power. The destruction he engages in, murder and pillage “consecrate every lust and murder” (“Nun weihe jede lust und jeden mord”). This “Weihe” of destruction is the perversion of the “Weihe” in HYMNS which depicted the consecration of the poet. The perverted ordo amoris retains its powers but employs them in acts of destruction. As in the poems that explored the loveless private relationships of female victims, here too the image of ice is invoked to describe the despotic closed soul:

“Dein wille rasend wie der gischt am fels

Erfreut sich am verheerischen nord

Und spotet klarer luft und klaren quells“ (GA: II, 66)

George’s translators have rendered the first two lines: “As mad surf against the cliffs your mind/ Exults in an icy and destroying gust.12 The tyrannical soul rejects the light of reason that brings order to human passions. Therefore the third line reads: the despot “spotet klarer luft und klaren quells” (“scorns the clear air and the clear wells”).

The female victims of loveless relationships that were depicted in the earlier poems turn up again, now amidst scenes of blood and destruction and as the despot’s conquests. “Entführte weiber weinen ihren gram” (“the ravished women wail their sorrow”). At the despot’s feet the conquered stammer an oath of allegiance: “Vor deinen Schuen stammelt man den eid” (GA: II, 67).

However, the despot is as lonely as his victims: “Und einsam gibts du dir ein wildes spiel” (“and lonely you move through a savage scene”).13 Finally, in the last stanza, the idea of conquest itself is called into question. The master of slaves is also the slave of disordered passion and the poet speaks the “warning” that gives the poem its title:

„Is this, indeed, the land for which you warred?

Oh, disregard the voice that lured and lied!

And do not say that sorrow was your guide,

Nor cast aside the raiment of a lord”!14

The man who has preferred to rule over slaves instead of entering into friendship with equals has “cast aside the raiment of a lord”. Why has he done this? For the same reason that the women sought affairs outside unhappy marriages; the sorrow (“leid”) of the loveless soul feeds the illusion that it can cheer itself with lust.


The poem “Warning” presages the theme of George’s next book of poetry, ALGABAL, which explores the political dimension of the perverted ordo amoris. The book is made up of a cycle of poems partly based on the vita of the youthful Roman emperor Elagabalus whose short reign between 218 and 222 ended with his murder by the Praetorian Guard. ALGABAL is made up of four sections comprising 22 poems. IM UNTERREICH (“UNDERWORLD”) contains 4 poems, TAGE (“DAYS”) 10, ANDENKEN (“MEMORIES”) 7, and the book closes with a section of just one poem, VOEGELSCHAU (“AUGURY”).

Im Unterteich

If in “Weihe”, the first poem of HYMNS, the poet prepared himself to meet the muse in the light of day, in the first poem of ALGABAL we are confronted with a figure who hides from the day. The first two stanzas tell us that the emperor is not attracted to the surface landscape and beaches (“landschaft am strande”) but has withdrawn into the completely artificial environment of halls and grottoes constructed underground.

In this underground world there are white walls of an “eternal winter” and others made of “hundred colored ores” in which, in candle light, “shimmering jewels” appear as “water drops”. Rivers take on the colors of the garnet and ruby caverns through which they run and on “deep green” seas mechanically propelled skiffs move without oars.

In the sixth and final stanza the poet depicts the state of the soul and the motives of the person who has created this artificial world:

“Der schöpfung wo er nur geweckt and verwaltet

Erhabene neuheit ihn manchmal erfreut,

Wo ausser dem seinen kein will schaltet

Und wo er dem licht und dem wetter gebeut“ (GA: II, 91).

Only the creation that Algabal has called into life („geweckt“) and administers („verwaltet“) can „sometimes”(!) („manchmal’) give him pleasure.

The second poem depicts the “Saal des gelben gleisses”, or the great glittering yellow hall with its chandelier sun. The room shines with topaz and amber. The tiles are made of gold and the room is filled with the “looted store of entire cities and kingdoms” (“Gesamter städte ganzer staaten beute”) (GA: II, 93).

The third poem describes a hall that is made to look winter-white with pearls, diamonds, ivory and alabaster. The last stanza recounts Algabal’s discovery of an object from his childhood which startles him into the memory of his once innocent life. As a result of this experience he avoids his excesses for a short time:

“Da lag die kugel auch von murra-stein

Mit der in früher jugend er gespielt,

Des kaisers finger war am tage rein

Wo tränend er sie vor das auge hielt“ (GA: II, 95).

But if for a moment the globe („kugel“) shaped ball reminds him of the fullness and order of his early life, Algabal has advanced too far down the path of corruption to change, and in the fourth and last poem he regains his stubborn resistance to life and celebrates the fact that the garden he has built and the birds in it are completely artificial:

“Mein garten bedarf nicht luft und nicht wärme,

Der gartem den ich mir selbst erbaut

Und seiner Vögel leblose schwärme

Haben noch nie einen frühling geschaut“ (GA: II, 96).

With the garden that “never saw a spring” (“nie einen frühling geschaut”) and that requires “neither air nor warmth” ( “nicht luft und nicht wärme”), Algabal has isolated himself from the natural world. The four poems of Im Unterreich depict the emperor’s disordered desires and his use of technology to create an artificial paradise in order to hide from life and death.


In the second section, Tage, we see the emperor in his relationship to other human beings. It should be the daylight world of action, but Algabal who pursues the illusion of complete control is incapable of sustained rational action and thus, among some normal acts of state, Tage presents the reader with scenes like the following:

The entry of a slave to the courtyard where the emperor is feeding doves, causes the birds to take flight. Appalled by what he has done, the slave commits suicide. Algabal turns away in scorn as he sees the “patch of crimson” spread from the mortally wounded body. In the evening, in recognition of the slave’s act of self-destruction for this slight interruption of Algabal’s pleasure, he has the slave’s name engraved into his wine cup.

Algabal warns the members of his family who want more power for themselves that he will take action against them, and we are presented with the scene of the emperor descending marble steps where, stepping over a “corpse without a head”, he lifts the hem of his long garment so that it will not be clotted with his dead brother’s blood.

When the emperor signals the end of a debauchery by leaving the hall, he orders sluices in the ceiling to be opened from which rose petals fall to smother the remaining celebrants.

Unable to sleep Algabal assuages his troubled mind with the music of flutes and by contemplating suicide.

He reflects on his hatred of the people, who he calls the “the mob”, and who he punishes with execution for the smallest infractions. He realizes that this treatment of others is a reflection of his own self hate: “It is an anger that I have for myself”. But self-criticism does not detain him long and he soon concludes that his subjects get what they deserve:

“And if I scourge them until they bleed

They have their bread and their gladiator games”15

He recalls battle scenes, rivers of blood, and women’s tears and asks whether in all that weeping any of the tears were felt (GA: II, 108)?

As in the poem’s first section when the discovery of the ball that he had played with as a child induced more serious thoughts for a short time, the contemplation of his young male companion, Agathon, moves him briefly to thoughts on mortality.

In the next poem, death again enters the emperor’s mind when the augurs warn him of a pending revolt by the palace guard. He reflects that he will take his own life before they can kill him and thus rob them of that satisfaction.

In the last poem Algabal is murdered.

Die Andenken

The third section is entitled Die Andenken (Memories).

In the first poem Algabal recalls his childhood, when he lived in innocent expectation of what the future would bring. This thought is followed by his recognition that his misfortunes began the day he left the altars of his own country and he wishes that he could once again be a boy.

In the second poem he considers what he has lost. With the image of a butterfly he reflects on the soul that has been chilled by frost and asks doubtfully whether it is really dead or perhaps only sleeping.

In the third poem he recalls his elevation to the throne and how his subjects worshipped him and reflects on the necessary decay of fame.

In the fourth poem he recounts his marriage to a priestess he had chosen for her seemingly perfect beauty and regal demeanor. But then recalls with bitterness that he found a blemish on her body that destroyed his illusion of perfection; he therefore divorced her and sent her back to the temple.

In the fifth poem he evokes the memory of two lovers he watched while they slept and who he poisoned before they woke again to the world that was such a disappointment to him:

“You are reprieved! My coming was benign,

For no awakening shall abate the rapture

Which only dreams so perfectly recapture….”16

In the last poem he reflects on the artificial life he leads and his need to stimulate himself with drugs in order to combat ennui, and he admits to himself that he has traded human love for a “pillar’s marble breast”.


The last section of the book, Auguary, consists of one poem. Here George, speaking in his own voice, recapitulates the atmosphere of the three previous sections of ALGABAL and ends the book with the prospect of a soul in the state of openness:



Once I saw the swallows winging,

Swallows snow- and silver-white,

In the wind I saw them clinging,

Windy weather, hot and bright.


Saw the jays alight and glimmer,

Parakeet and colibri

Through the trees of wonder shimmer

In the wood of Thusferi.


Saw the ravens flap and slacken,

Daws of black and somber grey

Over adders, near the bracken

Where the magic forest lay.


Now again I see the winging

Snow and silver swallows veer,

In the wind I see them clinging,

Windy weather, cold and clear.17

Once Algabal saw the swallows in the fetid air and saw other birds alight in the dark and enchanted forest. In the last stanza the white swallows appear again, this time in the sobering “cold and clear” wind.18 The first three stanzas sum up Algabal’s development: from his entanglement in the chthonic powers in Unterreich, through the brutalities of Tage, to the recognition of the essential poverty of his life in Andenken. Finally, the poem’s last stanza offers a glimpse of the world of light.


What do George’s early poems tell us of his “return to political reality”? Let me briefly recall the steps of the path we have traced from HYMNE and PILGERFAHRTEN to ALGABAL.

At the beginning of this paper I referred to Eric Voegelin’s statement that the hallmark of the literary artist is the “love of true reality”, love understood as the soul’s orientation to the ground of being (eros, philia, agape). An individual’s life is guided by his or her ordo amoris. In the first poem of HYMNS, “Weihe”, I traced the ordo amoris of the ascent of the soul from the world of senses to the ideal world– the broad theme of Plato’s Symposium. In this regard it is appropriate to speak of a “broad Platonism” because some of the elements that we find in “Weihe”, while ultimately rooted in such dialogs as the Symposium, Timaeus, and Phaedrus have also lived in other texts in a more than 2,000 year history of the reception of Plato in European literature. And “Weihe” is structured by the same fundamental understanding of the soul that we find— to take just one example from one literature and one period— in the English Renaissance poet John Milton:

“O Adam, One Almighty is, from whom

All things proceed, and up to him return,

If not deprav’d from good, created all

Such to perfection, one first matter all,

Endued with various forms, various degrees

Of substance, and, in things that live, of life;

But more refin’d, more spiritous and pure,

As nearer to him plac’d, or nearer tending,

Each in their several active spheres assigu’d,

Till body up to spirit work, in bounds

Proportion’d to each kind. So from the root

Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves

More aery: last the bright consummate flower

Spirits odorous breathes: flowers and their fruit,

Man’s nourishment, by gradual scale sublim’d,

To vital spirits aspire: to animal:

To intellectual!—give both life and sense,

Fancy and understanding; whence the soul

REASON receives, and reason is her being,

Discursive or intuitive.”19

As we saw in “Fra Angelico”, the process of poetic creation mirrors the poet’s ordo amoris. And the poet whose soul ascends to the divine source “from whom all things proceed” is able to represent the true order of things in art.

If in HYMNS George demonstrated the creative order of the soul that is also mirrored in art, in PILGERAMAGES he explored the destruction caused by the soul that has lost its orientation. In “Warning” George examined such a soul “deprav”d from good” with regard to the disorder it brings into the sphere of politics.

Finally, in ALGABAL George explored the tyrant’s soul in detail. In the first section we saw the underground world that Algabal created in a vain flight from reality in pursuit of the illusion of “complete” control. Or, as Plato says in the Republic20: “The deranged person undertakes to rule not only over other human beings, but also the gods” (573A?B).21 Consequently, despite the divertissements of a hall filled with the “looted stores… of kingdoms” and other toys, reality continued to break into the emperor’s private world.

The second section of ALGABAL showed how the emperor confronted the real world and other people. The slave who disturbed him killed himself for having committed the “crime” of accidentally demonstrating to Algabal that he was not in control of all events. Only for a short time, when a ball (“kugel”22) reminded Algabal of the wholeness of his life as a child, did he desist from his excesses. But he soon took them up again, including such an act as killing his fellow revelers by smothering them in a deluge of roses. Algabal’s “career” followed the pattern of the tyrannical soul described by Plato: “Once a tyranny is established by love” [i.e. here by the perversion of the ordo amoris—W.P.] “what he had rarely been in dreams, he becomes continuously while awake. He will stick at the terrible murder … or deed” (574b.). Algabal’s “Tage” became the scene where the monstrosities of his underground dreams were realized. However, as Plato points out, the tyrant has no friends, only slaves and is himself a slave to disordered desire. Consequently, he is the “most wretched” of men (576a-b).23 The tyrant’s soul is always impoverished because it is “insatiable” (578a).

The third next section described the disorder that took place when the emperor tried to take his dream world into the real one. Algabal sent his wife back to the temple from which he took her because a small flaw on her skin showed that she was not perfect. He poisoned two sleeping lovers so that they would not awake to the world he hated. But finally he had to acknowledge that his worship of a “pillar’s marble breast”, had turned him to stone. These ruminations brought him to acknowledge the disorder of his soul which up to that time he had tried to hide from himself.

The fourth and final section which consists of one poem reflected on the course of the entire narrative which began in the dark underground region of Algabal’s soul and mounted to the self-recognition and disillusionment of the third section. The poem ended by pointing to the sober light of reason, what Algabal had not possessed and the absence of which had sealed his destruction.

The course of the poems in ALGABAL, the incidents and their consequences, and the delineation of the protagonist’s soul, show that George fulfilled the requirement that Plato has laid down for the kind of person it takes to be able to diagnose spiritual disorder: one who has established the right ordo amoris in his own soul.

Such a person sees through the tyrant’s façade and recognizes its perverse nature (577a). In ALGABAL Stefan George has clearly depicted and been able to criticize the Eros tyrannos24 because his soul was formed by the Eros that leads to the ascent to the ground and by the Agape that leads to the community of equals.25



1 Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin, A Friendship in Letters, 1944-1984, ed. by Charles R. Embry (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2004). Here 210f.

2 See Eric Voegelin, “What is Political Reality“ in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol 6, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, trans. by M. J. Hanak, ed. with an Introduction by David Walsh (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 341-412, especially 345ff.

3 Max Scheler, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik, in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2, ed. Maria Scheler (Bern: Franke Verlag, 1966), 396.

4 References to George’s poems will be made to the Collected Works (Gesammtausgabe) published in 18 volumes by Georg Bondi in Berlin between 1927-1934. I will cite this edition in the main text abbreviated as: GA: vol, page.

5 An English translation will be found in the Appendix at the end of this paper.

6 An English translation appears below in the Appendix.

7 Cf. The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol 16, Order and History III, Plato and Aristotle, ed. with an Introduction by Dante Germino (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 329f.

8 “The course of time loses the old names/ and space and existence are only present in the image [metaphor].”

9 “Now you have attained maturity, now the muse descends… and favours you with her blessing”.

10 Cf. „The Coronation of the Virgin“, Louvre Museum, Paris: Accessed July 12, 2012.

11 „Wenn aus der gondel sie zur treppe steig“ („When from the gondola she mounts the stairs.“) and „Ich darf so lange nicht am tore lehnen.“ („Too long I lean against the gate and gaze“.) GA: II, 64/65. English translation in: Stefan George, The Works of Stefan George, Rendered into English by Olga Marx and Ernst Morwitz, 2nd revised and enlarged edition ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974), 32.

12 Ibid., 33.

13 Ibid., 33. „War so denn wirklich dein erstritten land?/O überhörte jenen lockungschrei/Und sag nicht dass dein leid dein führer sei/Und wechesl nicht ein würdiges gewand“ (GA: II, 67).

14 George, Works, 34.

15 “Und träf ich sie mit ruten bis aufs blut: Sie haben korn und haben fechterspiele“(GA: II, 107).

16 The Works (1974), 56.

17 Ibid., 57f. (GA: II, 123).

18 It is the opposite of the despot in “Warning” who looked with contempt on the clear air and the untroubled fountains, who “spotet klarer luft und klaren quells.“

19 John Milton, Paradise Lost. Book V, 469. Quoted, and with the emphasis “REASON”, by S. T. Coleridge in Chapter XIII of Biographia Literaria,“On The Imagination, or esemplastic Power”.

20 The quotations from Plato have been taken from Alan Bloom’s translation of the Republic. I cite the Stephanus pagination. Online at:

Accessed July 12, 2012.

21 Naturally we are not dealing with the “gods” in a traditional sense, even if ALGABAL is based on the vita of a Roman emperor. In Unterreich we have the modern ersatz religion of technical control and mastery over nature.

22 In Neo-Platonism the sphere symbolizes the wholeness and perfection of the universe. In subsequent years the George-Circle adopted the symbol and spoke of the “spherical-human” (“Kugelmensch”) as the individual who embodies human attunement to the cosmos. Cf. Friedrich Gundolf, George (Berlin: George Bondi, 1921) 27f. For the “Kugel” in Neo-Platonism, see Werner Beierwaltes, Proklos: Grundzüge seiner Metaphysik, 2 ed. (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1979), esp.184ff. (The symbol of the “Kugelmensch” was first introduced by Plato in Aristophanes’ speech in the Symposium.)

24 On the „Eros tyrannos“ see, Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. III, 177ff.

25 For a discussion of the role of Eros and Agape in the poet’s life, see Kurt Hildebrandt, „Agape und Eros bei George“ in “Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte“, 28 (1954), 84-101.

This is part one of two parts, with part two available here; also see “Eric Voegelin and the Stefan George Circle.”

William Petropulos

Written by

William Petropulos is Research Fellow at the Voegelin Centre for the Study of Politics, Culture and Religion at the University of Munich. He is editor of Eric Voegelin's Collected Works, Volume 32: The Theory of Governance and Other Miscellaneous Papers (Missouri Press, 2004).