Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"Read Kleist in November": John Ashbery and Heinrich von Kleist

In "The Spacious Firmament", John Ashbery refers to Heinrich von Kleist: "I stand holding a bunch of keys, / burn up my motto, read Kleist in November." In the Northern Hemisphere, November  can be a figure of melancholy, but the connection with Kleist is dark: on 21 November 1811, Kleist and his friend Henriette Vogel (who was dying of cancer) went to the Wannsee in Berlin, where Kleist first shot her and then himself. Ashbery's next lines wonder whether "I cannibalize others' lives, / the lives of others' words": the key to not "cannibalizing" Kleist's life and words, then, is to not make them a motto that one has to burn. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 December)


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