A review by Paulamaria Blaxland-de Lange
In this dark time, it was with great pleasure that I received the request to review the publication of Karl König’s Stories, Poems and Meditations.
The last verse of a poem for the children of Lake Farm on the cover reads:
“We love the Earth below
And the Heaven above
We adore the brilliant Stars
And the Mother Earth
Who carries us.”
From the outpouring of an anguished soul to make sense of his experience to many a stroke of descriptive power this book is a worthy compendium alongside all the other work and achievements of this remarkable man, who—born in September 1902 and passing on again in March 1966—truly was a child of his time, and who carried the sad destiny of two world wars deeply in his heart.
To be a poet or a doctor was an important question for him. We can be glad that he chose the latter, for one can be a poet while being a healer, indeed poetic insight enhances ever how one looks on the world and the other. Even at his most scientific he cannot but express himself with poetic power and social feeling.
In the introduction Alfons Limbrunner writes:
“And now there is also – like the icing on the cake perhaps – artistic and literary work that was published only in small parts, in rudimentary form and mainly for his closest friends in earlier decades…”
A diary entry by the eighteen-year-old Karl König testifies to this:
“Science must be full of artistry and spirit, otherwise it will become godless and stale without truth and without grasping the world contexts. That is the great thing. Understanding the whole context, the great mystery. Everything is one.”
Richard Steel chooses a poem written by Karl König when he was seventeen in which he writes:
“Give me the meaning.
The meaning of life I want to have.”
And further on:
“I want… I want…
Oh, let me want! …
No No, we are only allowed to serve.
And barricade my heart from others
And thus severed with my emptiness
Joylessly stutter to the heavens.”
It is astonishing that at around the same age he makes his decision: “Now I will simply stay an artist by nature … And out of this came my first intention to become a doctor. Perhaps I will still write poems, but they will only be for myself.”
The book gives an idea of Karl König’s youth, his family, his teachers, especially the poet and teacher Johann Pilz and his friends Alfred Berger and his family and his journey from Judaism to Christianity. As he wrote poems throughout his life, the book has a biographic quality right from early days in Vienna to his last months in Lake Constance.
In his editor’s note, Richard Steel writes beautifully out of his perusal of the many diaries and manuscripts and his deep appreciation for his subject’s life, striving, achievements and humanity.
Many of the poems and verses were written in German, some of them already translated, some of them capably translated by the editor.
He writes of Karl König’s first meetings with the destiny of Kaspar Hauser and its consequent influence on him and his work, of his studies of the Goetheanum windows, of his earliest stories and ideas for plays, ending with a line from a poem written in 1924 – “Finding strength in the midst of desperation”:
“Come, brother human, let us dare to live again,
Upright, towards new sight of designation.”
The following section of Meditations cover the widest range of sense, feeling and thought, some of which bring tears to the eyes, some bringing beauty and clarity of thought and observation: the Goetheanum Windows, Goethe, from Old to New Testament, of Love and Sacrifice, of the call of the Angels, of Christ and of Lucifer, of Mary and of Peace, of the World and of Spirit.
This section also is like a labyrinth, leading to the certain goal: together “preparing the way”:
“Thus we unite and strengthen
In the work we have begun
Of which the Good shall become
So is assigned to us in spirit.
And may the call from soul to soul
Sound through our working bond.”
The part named “Poems” starts with König’s late teens, written in 1919, full of melancholy and already Christian, the first verse beginning:
“In my breast there sits a woe
Which haunts me day and night” …
“A longing for happiness,
And joy for great and noble love.”
And at Whitsun 1921 ending with:
“Everything is shed from my self
Far away are the grounds of my past
Gloriously wakened, I look to the sun,
Looking upward I bestride the road,
That leads anew to eternal life
To you, O Lord.”
And from his dedication to Albert Steffen’s Pilgrimage to the Tree of Life in 1926:
“The Christ himself will near
To greet your journey’s end
And in the highest dance of spheres
You to his very feet commend.”
The poem “Calling Up” seems written even more for our present time:
“Angel, you who watches at my side,
O you, I call you
In the immense need of our time.
Find unhindered, O you my angel
The way into my heart.
Wrestle unceasingly, O my angel
With the chains of my earthly bondage” ….
Or the extra-ordinary verse he writes in 1938 in London, which could also well have been written now, reminding me of Rudolf Steiner’s and Sergei Prokofieff’s description of the Philosophers in Athens who wore the Palla in reverence to the Divine Sophia or Christian Morgenstern’s verse of gratitude for the elements of Earth and the washing of the feet, a verse without name: “Untitled,” starting with:
“In the quietness of the heart,
In the peace of the world” …,
and ending with:
Once more in her blue cloak.
She holds the child in her arms,
And the soul sings the unending song
Of the ever-returning rebirth of the rose.”
It was the Palla or veil of the Sophia that protected Middle Europe, so that it could become the ground in which the first shoots of esoteric Christianity could come to the Earth.
The poet’s aching cry “To Germany,” describing poignantly what Rudolf Steiner also said about the German people becoming wanderers in the future, like the wandering Jews, carrying the idealism, love and strength of their folk in their hearts in service of the whole world rather than their own nations; poignant as Dr. König was born into both these folk souls, which so despairingly and disastrously met during the century of his life.
The meditations appear not as if written for edification or instruction, but as the outcome, the result of meditation itself, which gives them the power to strike and move us and bestows on them their freshness and immediacy and also their universality.
One can sense in the background Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and some of his meditations given to doctors.
There is much beauty in these meditative verses, and the profound sense for esoteric Christianity and the penetration of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy sounds through these especially, sometimes in pure intimacy, sometimes loud and clear.
Richard Steel speaks in his chapter “One Last Poem” at length and nothing needs adding, suffice it to say
that both the poem itself and Richard’s intimate reading and writing about it give it an added joy to read. König’s love of music, his experience of listening to Mahler’s Second Symphony, his work on his “Animal
Brothers”, his struggles with his heart, his work on embryology and the Raphael Madonna show something of what this remarkable man felt and achieved, his sheer humanity and breadth of vision. Despite the
darkness surrounding his allotted span, love and light jump off the page alongside and even despite it.
Stories such as the Monk’s Dream written in 1943, sound like true Imaginations in the telling. Also, as child of his time König was steeped in the philosophical thinking that was the Middle European precursor and gift to esoteric Christianity, in the scientific writings of Goethe and the poetic German Soul as expressed in Schiller, Goethe, Novalis and Christian Morgenstern.
In A Highland Story (1959), König describes his soul’s journey from King to Shepherd written under his pseudonym A. Shepherd.
Late in his life, and also under this name he publishes One Morning 1352 BC, written as if describing an experience of being the niece of the Pharaoh and Royal Keeper of the Herons who sees a Cross added onto the image of the kingly heron’s crown and which König himself then adds to the reproduction from the tomb of Inkerkha in Luxor, used to accompany the story in the Cresset in 1964. In a dream she hears the Pharaoh speak after his death:
“The cosmic Word has vanished
The Logos does not speak
Within the holy space” ……
“The time has come and is at hand
When gates and doors of our
Have to be closed forever.”
Dr. König continues to write in a most intimate way of his own inner experiences in “Also a Christmas Story”, the story written in 1946/7 which has come to mean so much to those committed to Camphill, in which during his accustomed walk to find inner peace, he crosses the threshold in the woods, where he meets friends and children whom he knew in life and who now lead him to their ‘house’ in what he thinks must be ‘the land of the dead’ and which they call ‘the land of Truth and Life into which the paths of all people lead.’ He meets the ten women bearing a cross which becomes a cloud to carry souls to their next metamorphosis and the grey women’s transformation to the rainbow substance of the ten Goetheanum windows; he sees the image of the Child of Europe on the wall, and witnesses the preparations for the building of the Bond.
“Oh, have faith, my heart!
Oh, have faith.
Nothing shall you lose,
Yours is, yes yours,
Everything you experience,
All your suffering too!”
May all of us hear it, now.
I would warmly like to recommend this book for all readers, not just for those familiar with the subject.