“When Geometric Diagrams”…
When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things,
When people who go about singing or kissing
Know deeper things than the great scholars,
When society is returned once more
To unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
And when light and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The true history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.
English version by Robert Bly
Original Language German
from News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, Edited by Robert Bly
Novalis was the pen name of Friedrich Leopold, Baron von Hardenberg. He took the name from “de Novali” which was an old family name.
As his title suggests, the future Baron von Hardenberg was born into a noble German family in lower Saxony. He was sent to a religious school as a boy, but he balked at the strict atmosphere. He later lived with his uncle who introduced him to the French literature and rational philosophy.
In the 1790s, the ideas of the French Revolution spread among idealistic intellectual circles throughout Europe, greatly inspiring the young Novalis. He was also deeply moved by reading the mystical philosophical writings of Goethe.
When Novalis was a young man, he fell in love with a teenaged girl named, appropriately enough, Sophie (the goddess of wisdom, the feminine embodiment of the divine in Western gnostic traditions). His experience of love for the young woman was so deep that it became a transformative, one could say “mystical” experience for the young Novalis. But, sadly, Sophie died two years later.
This loss inspired his Hymns to the Night collection of prose and poetry and aphorisms in praise of the sacred encounters with nature, night, sleep, and the magnetic connection between the masculine and the feminine.
He died at the age of 29 of tuberculosis.
Novalis was one of the early German Romantics, and he is sometimes referred to as “the prophet of the Romantics.”