The longing for the Blue Flower – precious, beautiful, always just out of reach – lies at the heart of literary Romanticism. This image first appeared in Novalis’s novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen, left unfinished upon the poet’s untimely death in 1801 at the age of twenty-eight, and is presented as tonight’s contribution to the Berlin Short Fiction Podcast in brief excerpt adapted into English by the American writer Henry Van Dyke in 1902.
The seemingly arbitrary abstraction of a Blue Flower as the essence of humankind’s deepest desire fits in well with Novalis’s poetic vision. Take, for instance, this excerpt from his Hymns to the Night as rendered by George MacDonald:
Must the morning always return? Will the despotism of the earthly never cease? Unholy activity consumes the angel-visit of the Night. Will the time never come when Love’s hidden sacrifice shall burn eternally? To the Light a season was set; but everlasting and boundless is the dominion of the Night. Endless is the duration of sleep. Holy Sleep, gladden not too seldom in this earthly day-labor, the devoted servant of the Night. Fools alone mistake thee, knowing nought of sleep but the shadow which, in the twilight of the real Night, thou pitifully castest over us. They feel thee not in the golden flood of the grapes, in the magic oil of the almond tree, and the brown juice of the poppy. They know not that it is thou who hauntest the bosom of the tender maiden, and makest a heaven of her lap; never suspect it is thou, opening the doors to Heaven, that steppest to meet them out of ancient stories, bearing the key to the dwellings of the blessed, silent messenger of secrets infinite.
The Blue Flower, by Henry Van Dyke [9.22]