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The Echo of After-Poetry: Hans Bethge and the Chinese Lyric

Hutchinson, Ben (2020) The Echo of After-Poetry: Hans Bethge and the Chinese Lyric. Comparative Critical Studies, 17 (2). pp. 303-317. ISSN 1744-1854. E-ISSN 1750-0109. (doi:10.3366/ccs.2020.0364) (KAR id:82657)

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The publication, in 1908, of Hans Bethge’s Die chinesische Flöte marked a highpoint in the reception of Chinese poetry in modern Europe. Bethge’s ‘Nachdichtungen’ (‘after-poems’) of poems from the Tang dynasty through to the late 1800s were extraordinarily popular, and were almost immediately immortalized by Gustav Mahler’s decision to use a selection from them as the text for Das Lied von der Erde (1909). Yet Bethge could not read Chinese, and so based his poems on existing translations by figures including Judith Gautier, whose Livre de Jade had appeared in 1867. This article situates Bethge’s reception of Chinese poetry – and in particular, that of Li-Tai-Po (Li Bai) – within the context of European chinoiserie, notably by concentrating on his engagement with a recurring imagery of lyrics and Lieder. Although he was deaf to the music of Chinese, Bethge was extremely sensitive to the ways in which Li-Tai-Po’s self-conscious reflections on poetic creation underlay his ‘after-poems’ or Nachdichtungen, deriving his impetus from images of the rebirth of prose – songs, birdsong, lyrics, Lieder – as poetry. The very form of the ‘lyric’ emerges as predicated on its function as echo: the call of the Chinese flute elicits the response of the European willow. That this is necessarily a comparative process–between Asia and Europe, between China, France, and Germany – suggests its resonance as an example of the West-Eastern lyric.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.3366/ccs.2020.0364
Uncontrolled keywords: Nachdichtungen, reception of poetry, Hans Bethge, Li-Tai-Po (Li Bai), Lied
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN851 Comparative Literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Benjamin Hutchinson
Date Deposited: 28 Aug 2020 10:19 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 14:14 UTC
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