Recently the New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini put together a list of the top ten composers of all time. German composers fared well, capturing the two top spots (Bach and Beethoven). Altogether there were 3 German and 2 Austrian composers in the top ten. (The list can be viewed here).
Tommasini was triumphant with his top ten effort, but when Dean Rader of the San Francisco Chronicle attempted to duplicate the effort with the top ten poets of all time the results were less than satisfactory. Not one German poet (or German-language poet) made the cut. Nor is there one French or Russian poet on the list, while three Americans made the top ten. Most surprising was Rader's top pick: the number one greatest poet of all time is Pablo Neruda (beating out Shakespeare!). Neruda?? You must be kidding!
Dean Rader's list can be seen here.
But Rader has compelled me to create my own top ten list of German (language) poets. In compiling this list - which I don't believe is very controversial - I used Dean Rader's own method:
"I rather informally carried three interrelated criteria in my head as I built the list--how thoroughly a poet's work has permeated our culture and become part of its fabric, the degree to which a poet has influenced other poets, fiction writers, artists, screenwriters, and critics, and the ability of a poet to make: to craft out of the chaos of emotion and language, something artful."
Based on these criteria, here is my list. I hope to elaborate on some of these picks next month, as April is National Poetry Month in the US:
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Friedrich Hölderlin
- Rainer Maria Rilke
- Friedrich Schiller
- Paul Celan
- Eduard Mörike
- Georg Trakl
- Gottfried Benn
- Bertolt Brecht
- Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
I welcome all comments and challenges to this top ten list.