Wednesday, 2 May 2012


“Everything beloved is the centre point of a paradise.” - Novalis
Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, is the plant for today’s birthdays.  It symbolises courage and resistance and in the language of flowers means: “I declare against you”.  An old name for the herb is athanasia (Greek for “immortality”). In the past it was used to preserve corpses which may be associated with this older name.  Consequently, the herb was sacred to St Athanasius. The herb was used to flavour many Easter dishes (cakes, omelettes and the Paschal lamb) and was representative of Lent as a bitter herb.  Astrologically, it is under the dominion of Venus.

Novalis (1772 - 1801) was the pen name of Friedrich Leopold, Baron von Hardenberg. He took the name from “de Novali” which was an old family name. The future Baron von Hardenberg was born into a noble German family in lower Saxony. He was sent to a religious school as a boy, but he was stifled by the strict atmosphere and he never adjusted to its severe discipline. He later lived with his uncle who introduced him to the French literature and rational philosophy. He then went to Weissenfels, where his father moved, and entered the Eisleben gymnasium. In 1790-91 he studied law at the University of Jena, where he met Friedrich von Schiller and Friedrich Schlegel. Novalis completed his studies at Wittenberg in 1793.

In the 1790s, the ideas of the French Revolution spread among idealistic intellectual circles throughout Europe, greatly inspiring the young Novalis. He was also deeply moved by reading the mystical philosophical writings of Goethe. Goethe’s book “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship”, which he read in 1795, influenced him deeply; he considered it the Bible for the “New Age”. In 1795-96 he studied the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. At the age of 21 he moved to Tennstädt and took up job in civil service.

When Novalis was a young man, he fell in love with a teenage girl named, appropriately enough, Sophie (Sophia is a personification of the goddess of wisdom, the feminine embodiment of the divine in Western gnostic traditions). His experience of love for the young woman was so deep that it became a transformative, “mystical” experience for the young and impressionable Novalis, whose reading had made him receptive to the concept of ideal love. Sadly, Sophie von Kühn died two years later of tuberculosis.

In 1798 Novalis published a series of philosophical fragments, “Fragmenten”. The loss of his beloved caused an infinitude of pain and sorrow for the hapless young lover, but it also served as strong inspiration and source of creative energy. His “Hymnen an die Nacht” (Hymns to the Night - 1800) was the resultant work. This is a collection of prose, poetry and aphorisms in praise of the sacred encounters with nature, night, sleep, and the magnetic connection between the masculine and the feminine.

Novalis died at the age of 29 of tuberculosis, the same disease that claimed Sophie. He is considered one of the early German Romantics, and he is sometimes referred to as “the prophet of the Romantics”.

Hymns to the Night – No 6
Longing for Death

Into the bosom of the earth,
Out of the Light's dominion,
Death's pains are but a bursting forth,
Sign of glad departure.
Swift in the narrow little boat,
Swift to the heavenly shore we float.

Blessed be the everlasting Night,
And blessed the endless slumber.
We are heated by the day too bright,
And withered up with care.
We're weary of a life abroad,
And we now want our Father's home.

What in this world should we all
Do with love and with faith?
That which is old is set aside,
And the new may perish also.
Alone he stands and sore downcast
Who loves with pious warmth the Past.

The Past where the light of the senses
In lofty flames did rise;
Where the Father's face and hand
All men did recognize;
And, with high sense, in simplicity
Many still fit the original pattern.

The Past wherein, still rich in bloom,
Man's strain did burgeon glorious,
And children, for the world to come,
Sought pain and death victorious,
And, through both life and pleasure spake,
Yet many a heart for love did break.

The Past, where to the flow of youth
God still showed himself,
And truly to an early death
Did commit his sweet life.
Fear and torture patiently he bore
So that he would be loved forever.

With anxious yearning now we see
That Past in darkness drenched,
With this world's water never we
Shall find our hot thirst quenched.
To our old home we have to go
That blessed time again to know.

What yet doth hinder our return
To loved ones long reposed?
Their grave limits our lives.
We are all sad and afraid.
We can search for nothing more --
The heart is full, the world is void.

Infinite and mysterious,
Thrills through us a sweet trembling --
As if from far there echoed thus
A sigh, our grief resembling.
Our loved ones yearn as well as we,
And sent to us this longing breeze.

Down to the sweet bride, and away
To the beloved Jesus.
Have courage, evening shades grow gray
To those who love and grieve.
A dream will dash our chains apart,
And lay us in the Father's lap.


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