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Platen, August von (1796-1835)  

The poems of Count August von Platen are expressions of Platonic love, idealism, beauty, friendship, and longing.

Platen was born on October 24, 1796, in Ansbach, Bavaria, the son of an impoverished nobleman. He attended the Military Academy at Munich (1806-1810) and the Royal Institute of Pages (1810-1814), resulting in his commission as a lieutenant in 1815 in a regiment against France during the time of Napoleon; he, however, engaged in no action.

After a leave of absence in 1818, Platen studied at the University of Würzburg, transferring a year later to Erlangen, where he studied under the idealist philosopher of Romanticism, Friedrich Schelling, and made the acquaintance of many of the leading writers of the time including Goethe. Platen was extremely erudite, mastering a dozen languages, including literary Greek and Latin, French for social status, Persian for poetic reasons, and even English.

In 1821, Platen published Ghaselen, his first major collection of poems. In this work, he adopted the "ghasel," modeled after the Persian poet Hafiz's (1326-1390) verse. In 1824, Platen traveled to Italy, and in Venice, created Sonnets from Venice (Sonette aus Venedig, 1825), which are Petrarchan in form.

His Songs of the Poles (Polenlieder, 1831), expressing sympathy for the Poles in their rebellion against tyranny, are among the great classical poems of their time. His drama The Glass Slipper (Der gläserne Pantoffel, 1824) is a comedy with fairy tale elements.

An admirer of Michelangelo and Italian art, Platen visited Florence, Rome, Naples, Syracuse, and Sicily. While in Naples in the 1820s, he formed a friendship with the poet and painter August Kopisch, all the while perfecting the content and form of his poetry. By 1826, he had moved permanently to Italy, supported by a pension from his friend, King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Focusing his sexual urges into the artistic and creative realms, Platen transformed his passion for same-sex relations from the physical to the intellectual. On occasion, a friendship lasted only a year or so--for example, his intense relationship with a young painter, Rühl--but it nevertheless served to heighten his creative powers.

His controversial, multilingual, autobiographical narrative, which contains an explicitly erotic homosexual theme, was not published until the end of the nineteenth century, under the title Diary (Die Tagebücher, 1896-1900).

In his poetry, Platen employs a recurrent homoerotic image borrowed from Persian poetry, the tulip, which is a spiritual symbol for masculine love. Platen's longing for love and friendship is a persistent motif in his work.

He addressed seven sonnets to "Cardenio," an Erlangen student, who is described as a young, tall, dark, and handsome man with full lips. Platen addressed an additional twenty-one sonnets to another Erlangen student, "Karl Theodor German." Embodying themes of Platonic love, friendship, longing, idealism, and beauty, Platen's sonnets express unrequited love for men.

Platen's homosexuality is the subject of a vicious attack by Heinrich Heine in The Baths of Lucca (Die Bäder von Lucca, 1829). Edward Carpenter, however, expressed his appreciation for Platen in his Ioälus, An Anthology of Friendship (1902).

Among German writers who admired Platen is Thomas Mann, who praised him in a lecture in 1930; Platen's poem "Tristan" (1825) inspired Mann's novella Tristan and Isolde (1903). In 1985, the homosexual, avant-garde writer Hubert Fichte, published a noteworthy tribute to Platen, describing the poet as a "creative master like Whitman, Rimbaud, and Genet."

Although no biography of Platen has yet been written in English, his life is engaging while his art is captivating.

Clarence McClanahan


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Atkins, Stuart. "A Humanistic Approach to Literature: Critical Interpretations of Two Sonnets by Platen." German Quarterly 25 (1952): 258-276.

Bumm, Peter. August Graf von Platen: Eine Biographie. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1990.

Carpenter, Edward. Ioälus, An Anthology of Friendship. New York: Pagan Press, 1982.

Dove, Richard. The "Individualität" of August von Platen. Bern: Peter Lang, 1983.

Fichte, Hubert. "Deiner Umarmungen süsse Sehnsucht." Die Geschichte der Empfindungen am Beispiel der französischen Schriften des Grafen August von Platen-Hallermünde. Tübingen: Konkursbuchverlag, 1985.

Heine, Heinrich. "The Baths of Lucca." The Works of Heinrich Heine. Trans. Charles G. Leland. New York: AMS, 1990.

Mann, Thomas. "August von Platen." Leiden und Grösse der Meister: Neue Aufsätze. Berlin: Fischer, 1933.

Sammons, Jeffrey L. "Platen's Tulip Image." Monatshefte 52 (1960): 293-301.


    Citation Information
    Author: McClanahan, Clarence  
    Entry Title: Platen, August von  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 15, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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