Matthias Claudius (15 August 1740 – 21 January 1815) was a German poet and journalist, otherwise known by the penname of “Asmus”.
Claudius was born at Reinfeld, near Lübeck, and studied at Jena. He spent the greater part of his life in the town of Wandsbeck, where he earned his first literary reputation by editing from 1771 to 1775, a newspaper called Der Wandsbecker Bote (The Wandsbeck Messenger) (Wandsbeck until the year 1879 still written with "ck". Today only with "k".), in which he published a large number of prose essays and poems. They were written in pure and simple German, and appealed to the popular taste; in many there was a vein of extravagant humour or even burlesque, while others were full of quiet meditation and solemn sentiment. In his later days, perhaps through the influence of Klopstock, with whom he had formed an intimate acquaintance, Claudius became strongly pietistic, and the graver side of his nature showed itself. In 1814 he moved to Hamburg, to the house of his son-in-law, the publisher Friedrich Christoph Perthes, where he died on 21 January 1815.
Claudius's poem Death and the Maiden was used by composer Franz Schubert in 1817 for one of his most celebrated songs, which in turn became the basis for the 1824 string quartet of the same name.
Claudius's collected works were published under the title of Asmus omnia sua secum portans, oder Sämtliche Werke des Wandsbecker Boten (8 vols., 1775–1812; 13th edition, by C. Redich, 2 vols., 1902). His biography has been written by Wilhelm Herbst (4th ed., 1878). See also M. Schneidereit, M. Claudius, seine Weltanschauung und Lebensweisheit (1898).
- "Abendlied " or "Der Mond ist aufgegangen" ("Evening Song" or "The moon has risen")
- "Der Mensch lebt und bestehet", set to music by Max Reger
- "Die Sternseherin Lise" (Lise the astrologer)
- "Die Liebe" (Love)
- "Der Tod (Death)
- "Ein Wiegenlied bei Mondschein zu singen" (A lullaby to sing in moonlight)
- "Täglich zu singen" (To be sung every day)
- "Kriegslied " (Song of war)
- "Der Frühling. Am ersten Maimorgen" (The Spring. On the first morning in May)
- "Der Säemann säet den Samen" (The sower sows the seeds)
- "Der Tod und das Mädchen" (The Death and the maiden), set to music by Schubert
- "Wir pflügen und wir streuen" (We plough the fields and scatter - sung in Germany and England as a harvest festival hymn)
Extract From A Letter To My Friend Andrew: On Prayer
To distort one's eyes in prayer does not seem to me necessary; I hold it better to be natural. But then one must not blame a man on that account, provided he is no hypocrite. But that a man should make himself great and broad in prayer, — that, it seems to me, deserves reproach, and is not to be endured. One may have courage and confidence, but he must not be conceited and wise in his own conceit; for if one knows how to counsel and help himself, the shortest way is to do it. Folding the hands is a fine external decorum, and looks as if one surrendered himself without capitulation, and laid down his arms. But the inward, secret yearning, billow-heaving, and wishing of the heart, — that, in my opinion, is the chief thing in prayer; and therefore I cannot understand what people mean who will not have us pray. It is just as if they said one should not wish, or one should have no beard and no ears. That must be a blockhead of a boy who should have nothing to ask of his father, and who should deliberate the whole day whether he will let it come to that extremity. When the wish within you concerns you nearly, Andrew, and is of a warm complexion, it will not question long; it will overpower you like a strong and armed man. It will just hurry on a few rags of words, and knock at the door of heaven. Whether the prayer of a moved soul can accomplish and effect anything, or whether the Nexus Rerum does- not allow of that, as some learned gentlemen think — on that point I shall enter into no controversy. I have great respect for the Nexus Rerum, but I cannot help thinking of Samson who left the Nexus of the gate-leaves uninjured and carried the whole gate, as every one knows, to the top of the hill. And, in short, Andrew, I believe that the rain comes when it is dry, and that the heart does not cry in vain after fresh water, if we pray aright and are rightly disposed. Prose writers of Germany, by Frederic Henry Hedge, Matthias Claudius (Asmus) 1740-1815, On Prayer, Published 1870 p. 183-184
On Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther 177/4
The Sorrows of Young Werther Leipzig. 1774.
Don’t know whether it's history or poetry. It is all very natural, and has a way of drawing the tears from one's head right movingly. Well, love is a strange thing! It will not be played with like a bird. I know it, how it goes through body and life, and beats and rages in every vein, and plays tricks with the head and reason. Poor Werther! He had else such fine conceits and thoughts. Had he but taken a journey to Paris or to Pekin! But no! He would not leave the fire and the spit, and went round and round it till he went to pieces. And there's the misery, that one can have such talents and gifts, and yet be so weak. Therefore they ought to make a turf-seat by his grave under the Linden-tree by the church-yard wall, that one might sit down upon it and lay his head in his hand, and weep over human weakness. But when thou hast finished weeping, good gentle youth! when thou hast finished weeping, lift up thy head with joy, and place thy hand against thy side! For there is such a thing as Virtue. That too goes through body and life, and beats and rages in every vein. She is said not to be attainable without much earnestness and conflict, and therefore not to be much known or loved. But he who has her has a rich reward in sunshine and frost and rain, and when Friend Hain comes with his scythe. Prose writers of Germany, by Frederic Henry Hedge, Matthias Claudius (Asmus) 1740-1815, On Sorrows of Young Werther, Published 1870 p. 183-184
- The very soul of a writer should go into his style, and a man puts his whole personality into the style of his conversation, though limited by the exception which Matthias Claudius noted when he said that if any one conjured a book its esprit should appear-unless there is no esprit in it.
- Soren Kierkegaard The Present Age, 1846, Dru 1962 p. 76
- Jahresschriften der Claudius-Gesellschaft, Kiel: Stamp media 1992ff.
- Asteroid 7117 Claudius was named after him.