Poems Without Frontiers

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Nikolaus Franz Niembsch, Edler von Strehlenau 1802 - 1850

Lenau adopted his pseudonym from the last syllables of his honorific title that he inherited upon the death of his grandfather in 1822.

He was born in the eastern borders of the then Austrian empire in the now renamed Lenauheim in Romania to a government pension official, who died in 1807. His mother remarried in 1811, however, and Lenau attended university courses in Vienna and Bratislava studying law, medicine and philosophy over several years without matriculating.

His sensitive disposition was disturbed by his mother's death in 1829 compounding his uncertain way of life; but a legacy from his grandmother enabled him to devote himself to a career in poetry.

He moved to Stuttgart in 1831 where he became acquainted with the major writers of the day. He then sought to satisfy his wanderlust spirit by emigrating to America in 1832 but found life uncongenial and returned to Germany the following year to live in Stuttgart and Vienna.

He had meantime published several poems and now published his first collection, Gedichte, followed by epics including Faust and Savonarola but he returned to lyric poetry in Neuere Gedichte. Shortly after his engagement to Marie Behrends in 1844, however, he showed signs of mental disorder leading to suicide attempts and was committed to an asylum at Winnenthal, Stuttgart, and later at Oberdöbling, Vienna, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Lenau's reputation rests mainly upon his lyric poetry for which he is recognized as a leading exponent of works representative of the Weltschmerz (world weariness) period. Numerous works have been set to music by the leading composers.