Becher, Johannes Robert

Becher, Johannes Robert

(yōhän`əs rō`bĕrt bĕkh`ər), 1891–1958, German poet and essayist. After an early association with the Expressionist movement, Becher turned to Communism. His anti-imperialist poetry, notably Der Leichnam auf dem Thron [the corpse on the throne] (1925), led to exile from Nazism (1935–45) in the USSR, where he produced such volumes of poetry as Wiedergeburt [rebirth] (1940) and Deutschland ruft [Germany calls] (1942). After the war he settled in East Germany, founded the literary review Sinn und Form, and was appointed Minister of Culture (1954). His postwar writings (including Macht der Poesie [poetic power, 1955] and Das poetische Prinzip [poetic principle, 1957]) stressed socialist humanism and the artist's responsibility to society

Becher, Johannes Robert

 

Born May 22, 1891, in Munich; died Oct. 11, 1958, in Berlin. German writer, art theoretician, and public figure.

The son of a court official, Becher studied at the universities of Munich, Jena, and Berlin. His first publication was a hymn to the memory of H. Kleist (1911). Becher’s poems and stories were published in the collection The Gentleness of One Spring in 1913. The novel Earth was published in 1912; the publicistic books De profundis Domine and Decay and Triumph were published in 1913 and 1914, respectively. At that time Becher’s creative work was clearly expres-sionistic.

Between 1914 and 1918, Becher became an active opponent of war and German militarism. In 1917 he joined the Independent Social Democratic Party, and in 1918 he joined the Spartacus League. Becher was a member of the Communist Party of Germany (CPG) from the time it was founded (1918). He greeted the October Revolution passionately in lyrical poems and publicistic articles. From the beginning of the 1920’s, Becher was a contributor to the central organ of the CPG, Rote Fahne (The Red Banner), a member of the Central Committee of the CPG, and a Communist Party deputy to the Reichstag. His narrative poem At Lenin’s Tomb (1924), the collection of poems The Corpse on the Throne (1925), and his journalistic novel Lewisit, or the Only Just War (1926) led to the legal prosecution of Becher on a charge of treason. An international campaign in defense of Becher was carried on by M. Gorky, H. Barbusse, and R. Rolland.

In 1927, Becher traveled to the USSR for the first time. In 1931 he published the narrative poem The Great Plan, which was devoted to socialist construction. After the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in Germany, Becher emigrated (1933); during 1935^5 he lived in the USSR. He was editor in chief of the German edition of the journal International Literature. In 1943, Becher participated in the founding of an antifascist national committee called Free Germany. Becher’s development during these years proceeded from expressionistic rhetoric to a revival of classical poetics and realism in the poetry collections The Seeker of Happiness and the Seven Sins (1938), Rebirth (1940), Germany Calls (1942), Thanks to Stalingrad (1943), the autobiographical novel Farewell (1940; Russian translation, 1942), and others.

After returning to his homeland in 1945, Becher was a statesman in the new, socialist Germany. He directed the Kulturbund and the journals Aufbau and Sinn und Form. In 1953 he was elected president of the Academy of Arts of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Beginning in 1956, Becher was minister of culture and a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. In 1952 he was awarded the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Between Nations.

Becher wrote the collections Return to the Homeland (1946), The People Wandering in the Darkness (1948), New German Folk Songs (1950), Happiness Is Approaching (1951), German Sonnets (1952), and Love Knows No Rest (1957). He is the author of the national anthem of the GDR. Becher’s articles on problems in the theory and history of art have been important for the development of Marxist aesthetics in the GDR and other countries. His articles include “ . . . Diary for 1950” (1951), “In Defense of Poetry” (1952; Russian translation, 1959), “A Poetic Profession of Faith” (1954), “The Power of Poetry” (1955), and “The Poetic Principle” (1957).

WORKS

Gesammelte Werke, vols. 1–5, 7. Berlin, 1966–68.
Bekenntnisse, Entdeckungen, Variationen: Denkdichtung in Prosa. Berlin-Weimar, 1968.
In Russian translation:
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1956.
Proshchanie. Moscow, 1958.
REFERENCES
Birkan, P. Oruzhiem slova: Esteticheskie vzgliady i tvorchestvo I. Bekhera. Leningrad, 1959.
Fradkin, I. M. “Izmenchivyi i postoiannyi.” In I. M. Fradkin, Literatura novoi Germanii. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1961.
Pavlova, N. S. “Poeziia Bekhera 20–kh gg..” In Genezis sotsialisticheskogo realizma ν literaturakh stran Zapada. Moscow, 1965.
Turaev, S. V. “Bekher: Traditsiia i put’ k zrelosti.” In Khudozhestvennyi opyt literatur sotsialisticheskikh stran. Moscow, 1967.
Haase, H. Dichten und Denken. Halle an der Saale, 1966.
Hinckel, E. Gegenwart und Tradition: Renaissance und Klassik im Weltbild J. R. Bechers. Berlin, 1964. (Dissertation.)
Birr, E. Johannes R. Becher:Zum 10. Todestag am 11 Okt. Berlin, 1968.

E. V. LEPKO

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