The German poet and author Novalis (1772-1801) was the most important poet and imaginative writer of the early German romantic movement. Both his poetry and his prose writings express a mystical conviction in the symbolic meaning and unity of life.
Poet, aphorist, theoretician, and student of the natural sciences, “Novalis” was the pseudonym of Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg, who helped formulate the program of Early German Romanticism and penned its most enduring literary works. Novalis was one of the great German romantics; his chief work was the novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802), unfinished at the time of his early death from tuberculosis. It tells the story of a legendary minnesinger, whose wanderings and search for a “blue flower” became symbols of German romantic poetry. Novalis’s grief at the death (1797) of his young love, Sophie von Kühn, found expression in a volume of beautiful and deeply religious lyrics, Hymns to the Night (1800). The Hymns’ popularity was rivaled by that of the posthumous Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802), which Novalis called “my political novel.” Quintessentially Romantic, this bildungsroman (‘novel of education’) fuses medieval legends with fairy tales, dreams, and visions. It contains “Klingsohr’s Fairy Tale,” an allegory of universal renewal with alchemical, scientific, and political allusions. Novalis influenced, among others, the novelist and theologian George MacDonald, who translated his Hymns to the Night in 1897. More recently, Novalis, as well as the Early Romantic (Frühromantik) movement as a whole, has been recognized as constituting a separate philosophical school, as opposed to simply a literary movement.