Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

June 1989


Published in Monatshefte 81, No. 2 (Summer, 1989):pp. 175-185. Copyright 1989 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Used by permission. Journal home page:


The final poem of Die Gnade eines Frühlings, Johannes R. Becher's first book of verse, is entitled "Darstellung." The poet displays himself in front of "das Volk," who will judge him:

Er bebt. Sol1 seine Scham entschleiern . . .

"Alle meine Schamgebundenheiten
Wollen überwunden an mir niedergleiten!"--

Da ward es Licht!

The poet, by putting himself and his shame on exhibit-by the public confession of publishing his work-is bathed in a cleansing light and can overcome his guilt.

Forty years later, Becher reflected in his diary upon his youthful attraction to the confessional elements of Catholicism. He recalls his fascination with the Virgin Mary and quotes the portion of the "Hail Mary" which begs for intercession on the part of poor sinners: "Pray for us now and in the hour of our death" (GW XII: 21 3). His attraction to the acknowledgment of sin and to the necessity to confess should come as no surprise to those familiar with the autobiographical and often frankly confessional nature of much of Becher's work.

One single traumatic event in Becher's life begged more than any other for confession. It is an incident which stands between the adolescent, would-be poet Hans Becher and the concrete beginnings of Johannes R. Becher's career as a writer: his suicide pact with Fanny Fuss on Easter Sunday, 1910. Becher's need to come to terms with this horrible affair, in which he killed Fanny and nearly succeeded in killing himself, shapes all of Becher's earliest work. And for the remainder of his life and career he returns regularly to Fanny's death, alluding to it, portraying it, and reinterpreting it according to his current needs. To be sure, it is only one of many autobiographical episodes of a confessional nature that recur frequently in Becher's work--the theft of money from his grandmother, the suicide of his brother, and many examples of his difficult relationship with his father, complete with murderous fantasies, all come to mind. But the nearly successful suicide pact provides at the same time both the most extreme episode and the one which allows us best to observe the literary uses to which Becher put his poetic confessions.