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George's poetry was categorised by an aristocratic and remote ethos; his verse was formal in style, lyrical in tone, and often arcane in language, being influenced by Greek classical forms, in revolt against the realist trend in German literature at the time. Believing that the purpose of poetry was distance from the world - he was a strong advocate of art for art's sake, and was influenced by Nietzsche—George's writing had many ties with the French Symbolist movement. He was in contact with many of its representatives, including Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine, and his writing first became of note in the 1890s. George founded an important literary magazine called Blätter für die Kunst, around which a literary circle came to gather.
George was an important bridge between the 19th century and German Modernism, even though he was a harsh critic of the then modern era. He experimented with various poetic metres, punctuation, obscure allusions and typography.
George's best remembered collection of poetry was entitled Algabal ; the title is a reference to the Roman emperor Elagabalus. George was also an important translator; he translated Dante, Shakespeare and Baudelaire into German.
George was thought of by his contemporaries as a prophet and a priest, while he thought of himself as a messiah of a new kingdom that would be led by intellectual or artistic elites, bonded by their faithfulness to a strong leader. His poetry emphasized self-sacrifice, heroism and power, and he thus gained popularity in right wing and Nazi circles. A group of writers that congregated around him were known as the Georgekreis (George circle).
Stefan George left Germany and immigrated to Switzerland as the regime realized it could gain popularity by claiming George as a Nazi poet. Though George himself shunned such an association, the Nazis made George a national poet after his death. Critics considered his work to be proto-fascist, though in recent years interest in his work has been renewed, and his reputation has been somewhat salvaged.
Out of the Georgekreis arose Hugo von Hofmannsthal, one of Austria's most important literary modernists (who broke from George's influence), and also Claus von Stauffenberg, who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944.
George is also said to have had an influence on Franz Kafka.
- Secret Germany: Stefan George and his Circle (2002) Robert E. Norton
Selected German titles
- Algabal (1892)
- Das Jahr der Seele ('The Year of the Soul', 1897)
- Der siebente Ring ('The Seventh Ring', 1907)
- Der Stern des Bundes ('The Star of the Covenant', 1914)
- Das neue Reich ('The New Kingdom', 1928)
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