Madison Cawein and German Poetry

By Spencer Cawein Pate

Thanks to Greg Conn’s comment about the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, I’ve been exploring their website and newsletters in order to learn more about their Madison Cawein collections. Since they possess several cubic feet of materials related to Cawein (including portraits and photographs, all of the materials that went into Rothert’s The Story of a Poet plus some that didn’t, and rare illustrated sheet music with lyrics by Cawein), I think I’m going to have to make a trip back to Louisville so as to visit and research at the Filson.

But in one of their newsletters–the January 1977 issue of The Filson Club History Quarterly–I came across an interesting scholarly article by John Rutledge, entitled “Madison Cawein as an Exponent of German Culture.” As my own work on Cawein has focused on his stylistic debts to English-language Romantics and Transcendentalists, I think Cawein’s relationship to German poetry could be a very intriguing and fruitful possibility for further research. Rutledge’s essay explores Cawein’s critical reception, the influence of German culture on Louisville, Cawein’s knowledge of the German language and literature, German allusions within his own poetry, and his volume of poetic translations from German, The White Snake. (Rutledge claims that Cawein was a talented translator who generally produced faithful, high-quality English versions of the German originals by Uhland, Geibel, Bodenstedt, Heine, and Goethe.) I knew little about these topics, so I found the article to be quite illuminating and insightful. Rutledge’s essay is well-worth reading for anyone interested in Cawein’s work or German poetry.

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