Karl Marx’s Early Literary Experiments

From the Albums of Poems Dedicated to
Jenny Von Westphalen [1]

Written: in November 1836;
Source: Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol.1, International Publishers, 1975;
Transcribed: by jim.esch@launchpad.unc.edu.


From the Book of Love (Part I) [2]
Concluding Sonnets to Jenny


Take all, take all these songs from me
    That Love at your feet humbly lays,
Where, in the Lyre’s full melody,
    Soul freely nears in shining rays.
Oh! if Song’s echo potent be
    To stir to longing with sweet lays,
To make the pulse throb passionately
    That your proud heart sublimely sways,
Then shall I witness from afar
    How Victory bears you light along,
Then shall I fight, more bold by far,
Then shall my music soar the higher;
    Transformed, more free shall ring my song,
And in sweet woe shall weep my Lyre.


To me, no Fame terrestrial
    That travels far through land and nation
To hold them thrillingly in thrall
    With its far-flung reverberation
Is worth your eyes, when shining full,
    Your heart, when warm with exultation,
Or two deep-welling tears that fall,
    Wrung from your eyes by song’s emotion.
Gladly I'd breathe my Soul away
    In the Lyre’s deep melodious sighs,
And would a very Master die,
Could I the exalted goal attain,
    Could I but win the fairest prize —
To soothe in you both joy and pain.


Ah! Now these pages forth may fly,
    Approach you, trembling, once again,
My spirits lowered utterly
    By foolish fears and parting’s pain.
My self-deluding fancies stray
    Along the boldest paths in vain;
I cannot win what is most High,
    And soon no more hope shall remain.
When I return from distant places
    To that dear home, filled with desire,
A spouse holds you in his embraces,
And clasps you proudly, Fairest One.
Then o'er me rolls the lightning’s fire
Of misery and oblivion.


Forgive that, boldly risking scorn
    The Soul’s deep yearning to confess,
The singer’s lips must hotly burn
    To waft the flames of his distress.
Can I against myself then turn
    And lose myself, dumb, comfortless,
The very name of singer spurn,
    Not love you, having seen your face?
So high the Soul’s illusions aspire,
    O'er me you stand magnificent;
’tis but your tears that I desire,
And that my songs you only enjoyed
    To lend them grace and ornament;
Then may they flee into the Void!


From the Book of Songs [3]
To Jenny


Words — lies, hollow shadows, nothing more,
    Crowding Life from all sides round!
In you, dead and tired, must I outpour
    Spirits that in me abound?
Yet Earth’s envious Gods have scanned before
    Human fire with gaze profound;
And forever must the Earthling poor
    Mate his bosom’s glow with sound.
For, if passion leaped up, vibrant, bold,
    In the Soul’s sweet radiance,
Daringly it would your worlds enfold,
Would dethrone you, would bring you down low,
    Would outsoar the Zephyr-dance.
Ripe a world above you then would grow.

To Jenny


Jenny! Teasingly you may inquire
    Why my songs “To Jenny” I address,
When for you alone my pulse beats higher,
When my songs for you alone despair,
When you only can their heart inspire,
    When your name each syllable must confess,
    When you lend each note melodiousness,
    When no breath would stray from the Goddess?
’tis because so sweet the dear name sounds,
    And its cadence says so much to me,
And so full, so sonorous it resounds,
Like to vibrant Spirits in the distance,
    Like the gold-stringed Cithern’s harmony,
Like some wondrous, magical existence.


See! I could a thousand volumes fill,
    Writing only “Jenny” in each line,
Still they would a world of thought conceal,
Deed eternal and unchanging Will,
Verses sweet that yearning gently still,
    All the glow and all the Aether’s shine,
    Anguished sorrow’s pain and joy divine,
    All of Life and Knowledge that is mine.
I can read it in the stars up younder,
    From the Zephyr it comes back to me,
From the being of the wild waves’ thunder.
Truly, I would write it down as a refrain,
    For the coming centuries to see —


1 This section contains several poems from Marx’s three albums of poems written in the late autumn of 1836 and in the winter of 1836-37. According to his daughter Laura Lafargue and his biographer Franz Mehring, who had access to his manuscripts after his death, two of these albumn bore the title Book of Love, Part I and Part II, and the third, Book of Songs. Each had the following dedication: “To my dear, ever beloved Jenny von Westphalen.” The covers of the albums were later included by Marx in his book of verse dedicated to his father. Recently a copybook and a notebook belonging to Karl Marx’s eldest sister Sophie were discovered among the documents of Heinrich Marx’s heirs in Trier. Alongside verses by different people they contain some by the young Marx. Most of them were taken from other copybooks, but some were new.

Marx was very critical of the literary qualities of his early poems but he believed that they conveyed his warm and sincere feelings. Later on, his view of them grew even more critical. Laura Lafargue, for example, wrote, “My father treated his verses very disrepectfully; whenever my parents mentioned them, they would laugh to their heart’ content.”

2 This album contains 12 poems of which the ballads “Lucinda,” “Distraught” and “The Pale Maiden,” and the poem “Human Pride” were later included by Marx in the book of verse dedicated to his father.

3 This album is the bulkiest of the three dedicated to Jenny von Westphalen. It contains 53 poems of which “Yearning,” “Siren Song,” “Two Singers Accompanying Themselves on the Harp” and “Harmony” were included by Marx in the book of verse dedicated to his father.