Summary, analysis and interpretation
The poem “Neue Liebe, neues Leben“ by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, which was written in 1775, is about Goethe’s love for Lilli Schönemann, who constricts his freedom against his will.
The poem consists of three stanzas, each one is composed of eight lines. It is made up of trochees with four stressed syllables. The first four lines are written in tail rhyme (abab), while the others are based on rhyming couplets. The first and third line have got female cadences1 (two stressed syllables), the second and fourth line have got male cadences.
The first stanza begins with two rhetorical questions in the first two lines. The first word “Herz” in line 1 already suggests that the poem is about love. The anaphora2 “was” as well as rhetorical questions, which constitute a parallelism, stress the poem’s subject. By means of the verb “bedrängen” (to hassle sb.) in line 2 the author highlights the fact that the narrator’s heart is not joyful. He directly addresses his heart, personifying it by asking it numerous questions. A first explanation for the state of his heart follows: “ein fremdes, neues Leben (line 3). The next line puts emphasis on the impression that his heart is hassled, the term ‘heart’ stands for Goethe himself. Instead of asking these questions his heart, he should ask them himself. The fourth line “ich erkenne dich nicht mehr” underlines the fact that there had been changes in his life, which led to troubles and repugnancy. Unlike the other lines (present tense), line 5 and 6 are written in the past tense, they can be seen as flashbacks describing what is gone since he has met his new love: “alles warum du dich betrübtest” (line 6), namely everything that was a burden to him. However, also “Fleiß” and “Ruh” (line 7, diligence and rest) are gone. When taking a closer look what actually has disappeared, it becomes obvious that all good and all bad (“liebtest” line 5, “betrübtest” line 6) is absent, all physical as well as the feeling of rest and silence. The sigh “Ach” in line 8 expresses Goethe’s regret about his losses. The exclamation mark turns the final line of the first stanza into an accusation: “Wie kommst du nur dazu!” (How dare you!)
At this point a short digression becomes necessary: Goethe met the banker’s-daughter Lilli Schönemann the first time in Frankfurt in 1775. When they became engaged, he had to face refusals by both families. It was a relationship beyond social borders, which soon made Goethe feel restricted. After one year the engagement broke.
Line 5 and 7 can be associated to Goethe’s earlier life, which changed completely after his engagement. This engagement to a lady of upper class also explains the for Sturm und Drang rather untypical regularity in rhyme and metre.
In the second stanza Goethe still talks to his heart. The verb “fesseln” (line 9) (to snackle) shows that his heart’s bond to the beloved one is overwhelming and superior. Over four lines a rhetorical question is raised asking about the validity of this relationship, which seems to make Goethe feel rather unsatisfied and unhappy. He names several possible reasons for his feelings: “Jugendblüte” (line 9), “liebliche Gestalt” and “Blick voll Treu und Güte” (line 11). These positive descriptions of Lilli are a contrast to the expression “mit unendlicher Gewalt gefesselt” (line 9 and 12) and form an antithesis3. Her flush of youth, her appearance and her glance are personifications4. The anaphora “diese” (line 10f.) stresses his feelings, too. The infinite force with which his heart is bond to Lilli is expressed by means of a hyperbole5. Goethe seems to have no influence on this relationship, he even seems to not agree with it.
This hypothesis is also supported by the following lines. In line 13 and 14 he describes how he has tried to stop this relationship. The tricolon “entziehen”, “ermannen”, “entfliehen” (deprive, to take courage, to escape) perfectly highlight this. However, all effort to stop this love makes him return to it: “im Augenblick […] zu ihr zurück” (line 15f.). Goethe’s sigh in line 16 puts emphasis on the impression that he is completely powerless and has no chance to escape.
This feeling of non-disengagement is mentioned in the third stanza as well. The alliteration6 “wider Willen” (line 20) shows that all this happens involuntary, it is only hold by a “Zauberfädchen” (line 17) (a magic thread). Now the narrator sees the abilities of Lilli as magic and curse at the same time attributing them to supernatural forces. Her power is only described as a fine and thin thread, which, however, cannot tear. The girl just manages to hold him, an accomplished man. This can only happen by means of supernatural forces as mentioned in line 21: “Zauberkreise”. The expression “muss” (have to) and “auf ihre Weise” (according to her will) stress that the bond between them happens without his agreement. He longs for the good old times, as indicated by the sigh in line 23. The last line consists of an anaphora “Liebe” and a plea: “Lass mich los” (let me go). This plea emphasises Goethe’s feelings and his regrets that he has to adjust himself.
Finally, the title of the poem summarises its main subjects. It consists of an anaphora and an alliteration. A new love also brings along a new life. It also requires adjustment. As already mentioned, this poem is untypical for the literary period of ‘Sturm und Drang’. However, some characteristics of it fit into this rebelling period: there are numerous personifications and love is depicted by images of nature (“Jugendblüte” line 9). A great number of dashes, commas, exclamation and question marks make the poem seem alive and dynamic. The predominant egoism is a feature of ‘Sturm und Drang’ poetry, too. Goethe describes his own dilemma, his performance as marionette in the hands of his supernatural beloved without ever mentioning her feelings. The use of female and male cadences emphasises his impression of missing freedom of movement as well. The rhyming couplets in the second and third stanza fit to the use of cadences and to the stanzas’ contents. For the descriptions of his attempts to escape in lines 13 and 14 female cadences are used, the same in lines 21 and 22 when the narrator talks about the “Zauberkreise” that surrounds her.