Friedrich Rückert

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While Friedrich Rückert created poems that stand as masterworks of German literature, some might argue that of equal artistic importance was the inspiration he provided to the many masterly composers…
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While Friedrich Rückert created poems that stand as masterworks of German literature, some might argue that of equal artistic importance was the inspiration he provided to the many masterly composers who set his poetry to music. The list is imposing: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Hindemith, Berg, Bartók, Wolf, and a host of lesser figures. Among the more famous Rückert poems set to music are Schubert's Du bist die Ruh, Schumann's Widmung, and Mahler's collections of Kindertotenlieder and Rückert-Lieder. There are over 120 major and countless minor song settings of Rückert's poems. But Rückert must be remembered for his contribution to the literary world as well. Of great significance are his collections The Wisdom of the Brahmins, published in six volumes, from 1836-1839, and Dawn of Love, a 400-plus collection of love poems, published in 1844. Rückert was also a dramatist but had far less success in the endeavor. In addition, he was a translator of Middle-Eastern and Asian poetry and, incredibly, was fluent in 30 languages.

Friedrich Rückert was born in Schweinfurt, Germany, on May 16, 1788. He studied at Wurzburg and Heidelberg Universities, and produced his first significant collection, German Poems, in 1814 under the pseudonym Freimund Raimar. He worked for the Stuttgart Morgenblatt (1816-1817), and for much of this period wrote Napoleon, a Political Comedy in Three Parts (1815-1818).

After spending a year in Rome (1818) he returned to Germany to live in Coburg for a time. Further collections soon appeared, including Eastern Roses (1822) and a six-volume set, Collected Poems (1834-1838). Meanwhile, he took a post at Erlangen University as professor of Oriental languages (1826). He was beginning to attract attention for some of his translations of poems, particularly for "Die Makamen des Hariri" (1826) and "Nal und Damajanti" (1828), the former of Arabic origin and the latter from India.

In 1841 he was appointed professor at Berlin University in Oriental languages. Rückert turned to drama around this time, producing four plays, including Saul and David (1843) and Christofero Columbo (1845), but left little impression. Rückert resigned his Berlin professorship and moved to Neuses, near Coburg. He remained active on the literary scene in his last years producing such works as the Danish-war inspired A Dozen Fight Songs for Schleswig-Holstein, in 1864. Rückert died at Neuses on January 31, 1866. His complete poetry was published in 12 volumes in 1868-1869.