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Richard Dehmel, "Sermon for the People of a Metropolis" (1906) and "The New Dignity" (1903)

One of the most popular German poets of the Wilhelmine era, Richard Dehmel (1863-1920) offers a critical view of urban life in “Sermon for the People of a Metropolis.” The poem suggests that cities breed social disunity and political agitation, while nature offers a refuge from urban alienation, as well as a greater sense of integration. In “The New Dignity,” Dehmel presents man as the measure of all things.

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I. “Sermon for the People of a Metropolis” (1906)

Yes, the big city makes one small.
I look up with suffocated desire
through a thousand corporal fumes to the sun;
and even my father, who looks like a magician
between the giants of his pine and oak forest, is just a countrified
little old man between these swaggering walls.
O let yourselves be moved, you in the thousands!
Once I saw you on a starlit winter night
between the dreary rows of gas lit street lamps
like a gigantic army worm
seeking escape from your affliction;
but then you crept into a rented hall
and listened to words reverberating through smoke and beer stench
about freedom, equality, and the like.
Rather head out and watch the trees grow:
they are firmly rooted and allow themselves to be cultivated,
and each one leans differently to the light.
You, of course, have feet and fists,
for you no forester has to make space,
So head out, get yourselves land! Land! Move!
Forward march!—

Source: Richard Dehmel, “Predigt ans Großstadtvolk” [“Sermon for the People of a Metropolis”] (1906), Aber die Liebe: Meine Verse [But Love: My Verse]. Berlin, 1906, p. 171.

Original German poem reprinted in Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel, Die Berliner Moderne 1885-1914 [Berlin Modernity, 1885-1914]. Stuttgart, 1987, pp. 344-46.

Translation: Richard Pettit

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