Goethe’s Citrus, Nietzsche’s Figs, and Benn’s Olive: Poetic Reverie, Erotic Fantasy, and Botanic Agency

Martina Kolb


Against the critical backdrop of recent writings on time-honored human interactions with plants—such as Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire and Catherine Howell’s Flora Mirabilis—this article comparatively evaluates an intriguing spectrum of poetic-botanic intersections. With a focus on Goethe’s “Mignon’s Song” and Italian Journey, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Ecce Homo, and Gottfried Benn’s Rönne Prose and “Creative Confession,” this essay traces the cultural history of the respective botanic genus in its relationship with imaginative texts and literary genres. While concentrating on the presence, form, and function of three botanic items in three German poets (Goethe, Nietzsche, and Benn), this article also draws on various representations of these and other plants in biblical and mythical texts, while at the same time making writers such as Dante, Shakespeare, Freud, Rilke, Wolfskehl, Pound, Eliot, Montale, Neruda, and Edna St. Vincent Millay part of a discussion that is not only invested in Mediterranean botany and Italian travel, German culture, and the poetics of yearning, but also in translation and adaptation, etymology and nomenclature, tradition and the individual talent. (MK)

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