Geographie und Utopie : die Suche nach dem Ort in Günter Eichs Lyrik : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in German at Massey University

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This thesis probes the rôle and significance of Geography and Utopia in Günter Eich's poetry. Throughout his four main volumes of poetry a clear pattern of geographical contraction and expansion becomes apparent. In essence, the very wide and indefinite geographical concepts (such as the world, the wind, the clouds etc.) of his first snail volume 'Gedichte' contracts into the more specific, definite and localized names of individual places throughout Germany in tha first of his major volumes 'Abgelegene Gehöfte'. With the confinement theme of his 'imprisonment poems' the geographical contraction reaches its climax in an 'epicentre' pinpointed in a very small area around the Rhine. This geographical contraction interestingly closely parallels the poet's own personal 'contraction' (his physical confinement behind barbed wire) and his emotional-spiritual 'contraction' (withdrawal into a state of utter despair). From this generalized brough the geographical pattern moves back into an expansionary phase. From this point onwards (i.e. throughout the last three volumes) one notices a gradual expansion of geographical names to embrace the whole of Germany, then Europe and finally the wider world. However this movement of geographical names is not paralleled in the emotional-spiritual sphere. Instead it is this time counteracted by Eich's gradual withdrawal into his private world, seeking refuge in a self-created 'ivory tower', as symbolized by the 'Steingarten' in "Anlässe und Steingärten". The geographical expansion culminates notably in the ultimate distintegration of geographic names in his later poems, signifying the depth of Eich's apparent total disregard for and disinterest in this imperfect world. Günter Eich delivers a significant message about the nature and meaning of his poetry in a talk entitled "Der Schriftsteller vor der Realität" ("The writer before Reality"). Included in this is the statement (reproduced in the original German on page 1): "I write poetry to orientate myseif towards the truth. I regard them as trigonometrical points or as buoys which mark the course into an unknown area." Not only does Eich supply us with such a direct statement of his search for the true Reality (i.e. his 'Utopia' perhaps) but he uses geographical terminology to convey his meaning and - within the selected poems - a geographical 'explorer' theme in his unsuccessful attempt to complete it. Not finding this lasting 'Utopia', his true reality, through a dream-like regression into Nature, he goes in pursuit of it into 'this human world'. As his "trigonometrical points or buoys" he initially shows a preference for small isolated places, again indicating Eich's possible expectation of the nature of "the unknown area" he is relentlessly and almost obsessively seeking. Perhaps predictably, it is neither here nor anywhere else in 'this world' that he is able to find his Utopia, which presumably only death ultimately can reveal to him. 'This world', therefore, localized and pinpointed in terms of geographical places, presents itself more and more as a modern 'locus terribilis' - a reality in ruins, in contrast to the longed-for harmonious and united Utopia. Günter Eich comes closest to his Utopia through an apparent transcendence of the world through natural geographical heights and finally in his (self-created) 'ivory tower' world (symbolized by the very artificial and barren 'Steingarten', which at the same time is a reflection of what the world has become to him). Ironically it took a world-wide search (geographically-speaking) to enable him to come across these Japanese Stonegardens, again re-emphasizing the primary role of Geography and its link with Utopia in his poetry. The developed pattern of geographical names and places thus becomes a symbol of Eich's search for the 'actual Truth' the Utopia, which increasingly reveals itself as a 'U-topos', namely (and significantly) a place which does not exist here on earth. In fact this is startlingly illustrated by the final explicit disintegration of the geographical names he uses. Another inter-related observation is quite fascinating. Graphically represented, the geographical pattern of contraction and expansion can be seen in terms of a 'V'-formation. This structural form appears to symbolize 'the free flight of birds' (which parallels the notion of omniscience behind Eich's 'ornithological motif') and maps out a trigonometrical entity which again stresses the rôle and importance of Geography and its relationship to Utopia in the poetry of this ever-searching explorer-poet.
Criticism Interpretation, Günter Eich -1907-1972