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Rückert was born at Schweinfurt on the May 16th 1788, the eldest son of a lawyer. He was educated at the gymnasium of his native place and at the universities of Würzburg and Heidelberg. For some time (1816-1817) he worked on the editorial staff of the Morgenblatt at Stuttgart. Nearly the whole of the year 1818 he spent in Rome, and afterwards he lived for several years at Coburg (1820-1826). He was appointed a professor of Oriental languages at the university of Erlangen in 1826, and in 1841 he was called to a similar position in Berlin, where he was also made a privy councillor. In 1849 he resigned his professorship at Berlin, and went to live on his estate Neuses near Coburg. He died on the January 31st 1866.
When Rückert began his literary career, Germany was engaged in her life-and-death struggle with Napoleon; and in his first volume, Deutsche Gedichte, published in 1814 under the pseudonym Freimund Raimar, he gave, particularly in the powerful Geharnischte Sonette, vigorous expression to the prevailing sentiment of his countrymen. In 1815/1818 appeared Napoleon, eine politische Komödie in drei Stücken (only two parts were published), and in 1817 Der Kranz der Zeit.
He issued a collection of poems, Östliche Rosen, in 1822; and in 1834/1838 his Gesammelte Gedichte were published in six volumes, a selection from which has passed through many editions. Rückert, who was master of thirty languages, made his mark chiefly as a translator of Oriental poetry and as a writer of poems conceived in the spirit of Oriental masters. Much attention was attracted by a translation of Hariris Makamen (1826), Nal und Damajanti, an Indian tale (1828), Rostem und Suhrab, eine Heldengeschichte (1838), and Hamasa, oder die ältesten arabischen Volkslieder (1846). Among his original writings dealing with Oriental subjects are Morgenländische Sagen und Geschichten (1837), Erbauliches und Beschauliches aus dem Morgenland (1836/1838), and Brahmanische Erzählungen (1839). The most elaborate of his works is Die Weisheit des Brahmanen, published in six volumes in 1836/1839. This last and the Liebesfrühling (1844), a cycle of love-songs, are the best known of all Rückert's productions. In 1843/1845 he issued the dramas Saul und David (1843), Herodes der Große (1844), Kaiser Heinrich IV. (1845) and Christofero Colombo (1845), all of which are greatly inferior to the work to which he owes his place in German literature. At the time of the Danish war in 1864 he wrote Ein Dutzend Kampflieder für Schleswig-Holstein, which, although published anonymously, produced a considerable impression.
After his death many poetical translations and original poems were found among his papers, and several collections of them were published. Rückert had a splendour of imagination which made Oriental poetry congenial to him, and he has seldom been surpassed in rhythmic skill and metrical ingenuity. There are hardly any lyrical forms which are not represented among his works, and in all of them he wrote with equal ease and grace.
He continues to exert a strong influence on Oriental studies in Germany (c.f. Annemarie Schimmel).
A comprehensive but by no means complete edition of Rückerts poetical works appeared in 12 vols. in 1868/1869. Subsequent editions have been edited by L. Laistner (1896), C. Beyer (1896), G. Ellinger (1897). See B. Fortlage, F. Rückert und seine Werke (1867); C. Beyer, Friedrich Rückert, ein biographisches Denkmal (1868), Neue Mitteilungen über Rückert (1873), and Nachgelassene Gedichte Rückerts und neue Beiträge zu dessen Leben und Schriften (1877); R. Boxberger, Rückert-Studien (1878); P. de Lagarde, Erinnerungen an F. Rückert (1886); F. Muncker, Friedrich Rückert (1890); G. Voigt, Rückerts Gedankenlyrik (1891).
- Hans Wollschläger und Rudolf Kreutner (Ed.): Historisch-kritische Ausgabe in Einzelbänden, Schweinfurt 1998ff.; thus far 4 vols. in 5 parts (as of July 2004):
- Die Weisheit des Brahmanen, 2 vols., 1998.
- Gedichte von Rom, 2000.
- Liedertagebuch I/II, 1846-1847, 2001
- Liedertagebuch III/IV, 1848-1849, 2002.
- Liedertagebuch V/VI, 1850-1851, Erster Band, 2003.
- Hans Wollschläger (Ed.): Kindertodtenlieder [1993 also as insel taschenbuch 1545].
- Hartmut Bobzin (Ed.): Der Koran in der Übersetzung von Friedrich Rückert, 4th ed., Würzburg 2001.
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