born on 17/6/1810 in Detmold, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
died on 18/3/1876 in Cannstatt, Berlin, Germany
He was born in Detmold, Principality of Lippe. He had to leave secondary school at an early age and was trained as a salesman. He worked in Amsterdam from 1823-1836. In 1837 he started working as a bookkeeper in Barmen. Already while working in Amsterdam he started translating from French. Later on, he started writing poems for the Musenalmanach (edited by Adelbert von Chamisso and Gustav Schwab) and the Morgenblatt (ed. Cotta).
His first collection of poems was published in 1838 ("Gedichte"). In 1839 he became a professional writer. His early poems were inspired by Victor Hugo's Orientales, which he also partly translated into German; they often dealt with exotic subjects. The poem "Der Mohrenfürst" for example tells the story of a black prince who was a fierce warrior. He is defeated in battle, sold as a slave and ends up as a drummer in a circus, only the lion's skin he wore that now decorates the drum still reminding him of his previous life. This poem was set as a song by Carl Loewe.
Freiligrath was a friend of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1842, when Longfellow was taking a rigorous water cure at Boppard on the Rhine, a fellow patient introduced him to Freiligrath at the latter's home in St. Goar. Freiligrath had a special interest in English and American poetry. There followed many meetings and outings in Germany where this topic was discussed, and Longfellow presented Freiligrath with copies of his books Hyperion and Ballads and Other Poems. The friendship developed further in their correspondence.
Due to political repression (censorship), and the encouragement of fellow poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Freiligrath later became more political. "Ein Glaubensbekenntnis" was published in 1844 and was a huge success. He had to leave Germany and was contacted by Karl Marx in Belgium. In 1844 Freiligrath came to Switzerland, in 1845 "ça ira!" was published. After some time in London Freiligrath came back to Germany and worked for the "Neue Rheinische Zeitung" (general editor: Karl Marx, editor of cultural pages: Georg Weerth). In 1847, Franz Liszt set Freiligrath's poem "O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst" to musicthe song was later arranged by Liszt for solo piano as his "Liebestraume No. 3," which subsequently became one of his most famous piano pieces. In 1851 he had to leave Germany again and he became the director of the London branch of the Schweizer Generalbank.
Back in Germany after the amnesty of 1868, Freiligrath finally became a nationalist, even publishing a patriotic poem "Hurra, Germania!", inspired by Germany's annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. He also indicated that German National Flags colors (which at the time stood only for the nation, not any political entity), the black was for gunpowder, the red for blood and the yellow the glow given off by the fire. He died in 1876.
Among the first writers to translate Freiligarth into English was the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan.
- James Taft Hatfield, “The Longfellow-Freiligrath Correspondence,” Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 48, No. 4 (December 1933), pp. 1223-1291.
- 2.0 2.1 Lebenserinnerungen bis zum Jahre 1850: Selections by Carl Schurz, edited with notes and vocabulary by Edward Manley, Allyn and Bacon: Norwood, Massachusetts, 1913, p. 200 (note to p. 18)
- The Projekt Gutenberg-DE entry on Freiligrath (German)
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