Night, you are holy, Night, you are great, Night, you are beautiful,
Night of the great mantle,
Night, I love you and greet you, and I glorify you, and you are my big daughter and my creature.
O beautiful night, night of the great mantle, daughter of the starry mantle,
You remind me, even me, you remind me of that great silence there was
Before I had opened up the floodgates of ingratitude,
And you announce to me, even me, you announce the great silence there will be
When I had closed them.
From “Night,” translation by Julian Green
It takes an unusual sort of person to put words in God’s mouth. Charles Pierre Peguy was a Socialist who broke with Jean Jaures over the question of France’s entry into the war. Peguy’s father had fought in the Franco-Prussian War and died from the wounds he received. But Peguy was no more a knee-jerk Nationalist than he was a card-carrying Roman Catholic. He was an ardent Dreyfusard when to defend Dreyfus was to insult the honor of French army, and by implication, the honor of France. Once he made the leap from agnosticism to belief in the Catholic religion, he wrote masterpieces like “Night” and “The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc,” but he never received the sacraments. When the war broke out, Peguy was 41 and could have served in the reserves. Instead he enlisted. When Lieutenant Peguy and his regiment came under fire at Villeroy, he stood up to rally his hesitant men and was shot in the forehead. It was September 4th, the day before the opening shots of the Battle of the Marne.
Now the army leaves me alone.
Who still pays attention to me. They got used
To my strange civilian eyes long ago.
On maneuvers, I am half-dreaming.
And as we march I compose poems.
From “Monday in the courtyard of the barracks,” translation by Robert Levine
Alfred Lichtenstein hardly fit the carefully crafted Allied image of “the blonde Prussian beast.” He was both Jewish and a committed bohemian pried from his natural surroundings by war. An early adherent to Expressionism, he created a fictional alter-ego, the hunchbacked poet Kuno Kohn to air his most personal feelings, feelings perhaps not suited to his “day job” as a Doctor of Law in Wilhelmine Germany. Lichtenstein didn’t live long enough to provide much of a biography. Shortly before the war he was involved in a minor literary fracas when certain critics accused him of copying the style of Jakob van Hoddis, one of the fountainheads of the Expressionist movement. Expressionist was at least a partial heir to the older school of German Romanticism and Lichtenstein represented the “Black” side of the movement with much of its angst and little of its idealism. In keeping with his downbeat outlook, Lichtenstein didn’t especially want a war for glory, but when it came he went and fought and died on September 25th near Vermandovillers.
In my opinion, art does not come from the will, nor as Schonberg says, does it come from necessity; it comes from ability….
August Macke, quoted in August Macke 1887-1914 by Anna Meseure
It seems as if World War I was designed to eradicate the German Expressionist movement. One day after the death of Alfred Lichtenstein, a minor poet of the movement, the war claimed one of its major talents, the artist August Macke. Coming of age during a period of extreme ferment in the arts, Macke did what many another young artist would do—cycling in turn through Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Orphism before finding his true vision—an art that straddled the abstract and the figurative, producing what looked almost like stained glass; an impersonal art in which faceless figures moved through garden, parks and city streets. It was a unique vision of an artist’s Eden in which Form took on aspects of Music. If you flip through any book of Expressionist Art, you can pick out Macke’s paintings immediately. They don’t resemble anyone else’s.
Although Macke’s fellow artists, especially his friend Franz Marc who like Macke was a member of the Blue Rider Group, sensed the coming apocalypse, Macke worked on in a happy Eden of his own devising. Called to the colors on August 8th, Macke seems not to have had a difficult time adjusting to military life. He was made a lieutenant and, on September 20th was awarded the coveted Iron Cross. Everything seemed to come easy for Macke, whose motto could well have been “No sweat.” But his charmed life ended on September 26th when he fell in action near the village of Perthes-les-Hurles. He was 27years old and German art has never recovered from his loss.