ON THE AMBIGUITY OF BEING

Known for his “funny lyricism” the poet Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern did not always lead a cheerful and funny life. He was born on 06 May, 1871 in Munich as a descendant of and named after the famous painter Christian Morgenstern (1805 - 1867). The screenshot from Archion shows his baptismal record. His parents were also at home in the world of painting. In summer, the family wandered about in the countryside as his father Carl Ernst Morgenstern (1847 – 1928) earned his living as a landscape painter. This did not make school life easier for Christian who permanently had to swap between city and village schools. On the other hand, it allowed him to gather experience that proved to shape him for his entire lifetime. This is reflected in his nature lyric. When he was nine years old, his mother Charlotte, daughter of the landscape painter Josef Schertel and also familiar with painting, died of tuberculosis. Presumably infected by his mother, Christian also suffered from this disease in his later years. After many further stations at different educational institutions, among others in Hamburg, where he had found accommodation with his godfather, the art dealer Arnold Otto Meyer, he joined the grammar school Maria Magdalena in Breslau in 1884. There, his father had been appointed director of the landscape class and of the class for graphic arts at the royal art school. Further school changes shaped his career until he finished grammar school in 1892. At an early stage he started to write essays and poems for school newspapers. Thus, he described himself: “I am a painter to the last drop of blood. - And this now strives to escape into the realm of words, of sound; a strange metamorphosis.”

Click at the pictures to see the church record.

He studied law, among other places in Breslau and Munich, where tuberculosis first haunted him. Since then, he was at times confined to bed, and cures became a necessity. He busied himself a lot with Nietzsche and cultural criticism, with theosophy and anthroposophy, and above all with the literary work of well-known authors. Since 1894 he tried his luck as a freelance writer, publishing cultural reports and literary criticism. Christian Morgenstern also worked as a translator. His first volume of poetry appeared in 1894/95. As his father disliked his son’s way of life the two of them broke up and did not talk to each other for years. Morgenstern kept working a lot for publishers and editors. In 1908, he met his later wife Margareta Gosebruch von Liechtenstern whom he married in 1910. Only four years later, on 31 March 1914, Christian Morgenstern died after his state of health had deteriorated more and more, in Meran-Obermais (Tyrole). 

His literary work is characterized by ambiguities, serious and humoristic poetry, and by theology, philosophy and the spirit of his time. In the early 20th century, different currents meet, reinvent themselves and keep developing: Naturalism and expressionism, impressionism, art nouveau, symbolism, neo-romanticism and many more. Morgenstern is open-minded, embraces artistic, philosophical and theological currents and allows them to act in himself. In particular the lectures of the anthroposoph Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925) shape and insprire him. His most characteristic works include the volumes of poetry “Melancholie” (Melancholy, 1906) and “Galgenlieder” (Gallows Songs, 1905).