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Arno Holz, Naturalist Poet, on German Technological Progress (1885)

Arno Holz (1863-1929) was an important representative of Naturalism in German poetry. Beginning in 1881, Holz worked first as a journalist in Berlin, then as an author. He joined the Berlin Association of Naturalists, “Durch,” where he met the dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946). In 1885, he published the collection of poems Buch der Zeit. Lieder eines Modernen [Book of the Times. Songs of a Modern Man]. For political reasons, the book had to be published in Switzerland. In 1889, Holz co-founded the theater association Free Stage [Freie Bühne], and one year later he started working as the editor of the association’s eponymous journal, Freie Bühne. The following excerpt from Buch der Zeit is an example of Holz’s critique of the social consequences of industrialization, urbanization, and technological advancement.

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Excerpt from Das Buch der Zeit [The Book of the Times] (1885)

The time for amorous adventures,
Is long gone for me by now!

No, only in the midst of crowds,
When catching sight of big cities,
And at the sound of telegraph wires,
Do my feelings pour forth into words.

Then my ear believes it hears the footsteps
Of forward marching columns
And soon I see a battle won,
Such as no general has ever secured.

But it aims not at any dynasty
Nor fights with sword and club –
Galvani’s wire and the voltaic pile
Are spraying sparks, directed by a genius.

Thus, to you, who bore me in pain,
To you, new age of blood and iron,
I lay down my heart and its melody
Wordlessly at your high altar!

You, too, are looking toward the dawning
And dreaming of some undiscovered worlds;
Will you requite to me that love for you
That burns so deeply in my heart?

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