Hermann Löns (A short introduction to the poet of the Heath) ~ Tomas Axelzon

by Einar on November 2, 2011

And if things should end, then leave me alone

All by myself on the deserted heath,

Not to hear and see any more,

But to wither away like dead animal bone.

The grey heath moss my deathbed shall be,

The crow sings my funeral litany,

The death bell is tolled by the storm,

I shall be buried by beetle and worm.

And on my grave no stone shall stand,

No grave mound heaped from the sand,

No wreath shall lie in the place I died,

And no tear shall fall at the final rite.

I want to hear and se nothing more,

Only to waste away, like the grass and leaves.

I do not want a stone or mound,

Only to pass away without trace or sound!

- Evening Song by Hermann Löns

Hermann Löns is most famous as heidedicher (“The poet of the Heath”) for his novels and poems celebrating the people and landscape of the North German moors, particularly the Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony. The literary output was a part of a profound reaction against the soullessness of encroaching industrialisation, urban life, cultural and economic materialism, and he is still hailed as one of the first voices of the ecological movement. Hermann Löns is well known in Germany for his folksongs. He was also a journalist, writer, hunter, natural historian and conservationist. He was a great walker, an acute and practised observer of nature and an ardent shooter of game. For him, nature was not just an idyllic retreat from the urban life, but also a place for the hard struggle of survival.

Hermann Löns was born in Kulm, West Prussia (nowadays Chełmno in Poland), on 29 august 1866, as the first child (of 14) to schoolteacher Freidrich Löns and his wife Clara, born Cramer. In his short autobiography Von Ost nach West, he later professed that “even as a very small child, it was my greatest pleasure to watch the flies on the window, and at age five a dead mouse lured me more than a piece of cake.” He went to school and university in Münster and Greifswald. Interested in the biology of Molluscs, he studied medicine and natural science but did not finish his studies. Instead he started to work as a journalist during the 1890s in Hannover. For a short time he worked in Bückeburg and it was around this time he began writing poems. In the early 1900s he changed to short stories and novels, inspired by pre-Christian folklore and history, a continuation on the vital life of the folkish culture and their traditions. Thus, he used the ancient house mark and clan emblem the Wolfsangel as part of his signature as well as the symbol of the peasants in his famous novel Der Wehrwolf.
In july 1912, Löns wrote to his friend Traugott Pilf, that he was “currently reading a lot of Tacitus, Caesar, Prohop, in order to become more closely acquainted with German prehistory. The Greenland and Färoe sagas are splendid, the discovery of America, and Egill the Skald, poet, murderer, miser, and fine fellow.”
When the First World War broke out, at the age of 48 he volunteered for service in the German Army, and was shot dead on 26 September 1914 at Loivre near Reims in France just three weeks after enlisting. As the German author Ernst Jünger (who later in WWI served in the same unit as Löns) remarks in his wartime chronicle Corps 125, Löns must have had an easy time dying.

He wrote many sketches and stories of heath, forest and wild life, including Mein grünes Buch (1901), Was da kreucht und fleugt, Ans Wald und Heide, and Mümmelmann, Der letzte Hansbur (all 1909), Dahinten in der Heide (1910), Das Zweite Gesicht (1911), and Die Häuser von Olenhof (post., 1917). As a novelist he belonged to the trend of Heimatkunst, a literary movement in Germany 1890-1910. He had a deep love for his heimat, homeland, and his writing style have been praised for its directness, colour and intensity of expression. His lyric poetry (Mein goldenes Buch, 1901; Der Kleine Rosengarten, 1911) has sometimes a folk-song-like character, and some of his poems are song as volkslieder - folksongs that refers to the widest possible dissemination to and through a social group and can be differentiated by musical, linguistic, social and historical characteristics. Common traditions, language, culture and religion identify them. His writing are collected in Sämtliche Werke (8 volumes, 1924) and Nachgelassere Schriften (2 volumes, 1928). His rediscovered war diary appeared as Leben ist Sterben, Werden, Verdenben in 1986. Ernst Jünger likened Löns’ prose to a woodcut.

English editions of Hermann Löns’ works:

Harm Wulf: A Peasant Chronicle. Translation by Marion Saunders. New York: Minton, Balch & Co., 1931. (First English edition of Der Wehrwolf)

The Warwolf: A Peasant Chronicle of the Thirty Years War. Translated by Robert Kvinnesland. Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2006. (Second English edition of Der Wehrwolf)

The Red Brook. Translation and introduction by Markus Wolff. Sandusky: Europa, 2001. (English edition of Die Rote Beeke)

Tomas Axelzon (born 1971) is writer, independent scholar  and an amateur ornithologist who lives with his cat in a cabin out in the countryside, southern Sweden. Tomas moved there after he spent 12 years living in Malmö which he felt was like ”choking of his throat” . He spends most of his time hiking in the woods, or sits by the fireplace with a glass of whiskey and a good book. His household Gods (to name a few) are: Ernst Jünger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ezra Pound, Martin Heidegger, Pentti Linkola and Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson.

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