Journeys to the East: Shelley and Novalis

Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


Among the cast of characters in the fifth of Novalis’s (Friedrich von Hardenberg’s) Hymns to the Night (1800) is a mysterious “Singer” who travels Eastward from Greece, first to Palestine where he sings to the baby Jesus, then on to “Indostan” where, “drunk with love,” he spreads the glad tidings through words that transcend mortal speech. Around a decade and a half later, the hero of Percy Shelley’s Altzstor (1816), similarly a nameless “Poet,” travels from Europe ever eastward through “the wild Carmanian waste, / And o’er the aerial mountains” to the “Vale of Kashmir” in northern India where he dreams of a “veiléd maid” who communes with him in a melding embrace that likewise exceeds articulation. Along with their participation in the general discourse of Romantic Orientalism, both texts share the fantasy of a pilgrimage to a Romanticized East that functions as the site for the fulfillment of a very Western dream of overcoming distance, alienation, misunderstanding, and loss through a form of communion that exceeds the limitations of linguistic signs— paradoxically employing Otherness as a vehicle for sameness.


Linguistic Sign Pure Activity Romantic Poet Intellectual Intuition Sensory Drive 
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  1. 7.
    On the influence of Herder and Schiller on Hymn 5, see Max Kommereil, “Novalis: Hymnen an die Nacht,” Novalis: Beiträge zu Werk und Persönlichkeit Friedrich von Hardenbergs, ed. Gerhard Schulz (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1970), 188Google Scholar
  2. Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel, “Einleitun der Herausgeber,” Novalis: Sehriften,Vol. 1 (Stuttgart: W. Kohlckhohn Verlag, 1960)Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Volney, in Ruins of Empire (1791), calls Ethiopia the “cradle of the sciences”(qtd. in Donald Reiman, Shelley’s Poetry und Prose [New York: Norton, 2002], 77).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Larry H. Peer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Colorado CollegeUSA

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