2 Universal Poetry

The focus of early romantic ideas is on poetry, which as song in particular is closely related to music. In the discussions led by literati and philosophers, the poetic performance embodies the highest level of ambitions toward the Gesamtkunstwerk. In contrast, the visual arts are afforded a subordinate role: they may inspire the external senses but do not reach the inner mind. Novalis formulated it this way in a fragment: One should never see painting or sculpture without music — whereas music should be heard in beautifully decorated rooms. But poetry should never be enjoyed without the plastic arts and music at the same time ... and the resulting mixture of everything beautiful and vivifying in many different kinds of overall effects.[3]

Poetry is ultimately nothing more than an inner painting and music.[4]

In his Geschichte der europäischen Literatur (1803/1804), the philosopher Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) defines the status of poetry as the art of the arts, in accordance with the Greek thinker Simonides; architecture, sculpture, and painting are only silent poetry.[5] Thus one of the primary tasks of romantic progressive, universal poetry is to reunite all the separate pieces of poetry and put poetry in touch with philosophy and rhetoric.[6] With respect to a new epoch of sciences and artists, Schlegel speculates that it would no longer be anything extraordinary for several complementary minds to create communal works of art.[7]

The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775–1854) also confirms this evaluation of poetry. At the end of his considerations in Philosophie der Kunst (1802/1803), he describes as the most perfect synthesis of all the arts ... the combination of poetry and music through song, of poetry and painting through dance, even resynthesized the most composed theater occurrence is, such like the ancient drama was, of which only a caricature has remained for us: the opera.[8]

Schelling sees the embedding of the ideal drama in public life in the church service: The only kind of genuinely public action, that of the new age, and this later on also remained only very narrow and constricted.[9] With that, the early romantic notion of the autonomous individual determined by his feelings is transformed into a collective metaphysical experience. Schelling theoretically substitutes the ancient drama as the highest totality for early romantic poetry and thus anticipates one of Richard Wagner’s central postulates.