On the Horizon: Franz Werfel: Reporter of the Sublime
In a review of Franz Werfel’s poems, 1908-1945, Erich Kahler wrote (COMMENTARY, February 1948): “Franz Werfel was a bad author and a great poet. . . . His novels and plays show neither the spontaneous purity of a naive nature nor the achieved purity of an artistic conscience. . . . The poems [however] reveal his inner history, that childlike quality, that openness to the world. . . .”
But Franz Werfel’s greatness lies precisely in the unbroken unity of his statement. In his last collection of poems, on which he was working at the time of his death, he included incredibly vulgar verses from his early work; while parts of his novels, the conversation with the bath master in Barbara, Stephen’s journey in The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, the “most important moment of his former life” in Der Stern der Ungeborenen (“The Star of the Unborn”), and nearly all his short stories, particularly Das Trauerhaus (“The House of Mourning”), have a ballad-like force and density that will preserve them from old age and death.
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