Rudolf Borchardt

Rudolf Borchardt was born in 1877 in Königsberg, in Eastern Prussia, and died in 1945 in the Tyrolean village of Trins, in southern Austria. Borchardt's presence in Tyrol in 1945 resulted from his forced evacuation from Italy—where he had lived near Lucca since 1903, except for the period of the First World War during which he served in Berlin and Alsace as an officer in the German army. (Borchardt not only was an anti-Nazi, but as well, in earlier years, had made no secret of his family's Jewish origins: he dates his family's conversion to Evangelism to the first third of the nineteenth century, though partly it may have taken place in the 1870s.) Borchardt writes in his autobiography that the story of his life was the story of the collapse of German tradition, and he somehow shaped the desperate idea that he himself might rescue it. He was educated in archaeology, theology, and classical and oriental philology at universities in Berlin, Bonn and Göttingen, and one of the decisive turning points in his literary career was his meeting in 1898 with Stefan George and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Borchardt while alive was both famous and obscure. He was intensely involved with the ins and outs and conflicting directions of German literary life, especially in the period before the 1930s, as is seen in his copious correspondence with Hofmannsthal, Benedetto Croce and Martin Buber, among others. His thinking was always conservative—he was a part of what was known as "the conservative revolution," though he himself preferred to write about the need for a "creative restoration"—and the terms on which he looked at life, history, and literature had little to do with those of the thinking of his contemporaries. He was less in opposition to any one part of his times than indeed to the whole of them.

Borchardt's work includes poetry, drama, novellas, speeches, and several volumes of prose essays on a vast variety of subjects, in addition to Borchardt's translations, the most celebrated of which is his version of Dante's Divina Commedia, written in a personal re-invention of the Middle High-German speech which would in fact have been contemporary with Dante's Tuscan vernacular. He also translated the Homeric hymns, Pindar, Plato, Horace and Tacitus., as well as a good deal of poetry by Provence's troubadours, various nineteenth-century English poets, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Of all of Borchardt's writings, the work most frequently republished has been Der leidenschaftiche Gärtner, now at last issued in English as The Passionate Gardener.

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