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By Henry B. Garland

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It left a weak Empire and a multiplicity of sovereign states; and this fragmentation obstructed, not only political development but also the growth of sizeable cities which could offer a soil for the fruitful unfolding of a living literature. This is certainly one reason why in the second half of the century German writing has often a heavyhandedness and a provincial narrowness which contrast unfavourably with France or England. The century had begun in a climate which leaned towards mysticism and, on a lower level, towards superstition.

4· The Later Middle Ages: I2JO-I500 The structure of the courtly world, as it is seen in literature, was fragile, composed of genuine ethical values and highly artificial conventions poised in delicate balance. The poetry of 32 the age which followed lost some of its high seriousness and inclined more and more frankly to entertainment. The old poems continued to command an attentive public, but the new generation turned to multiplicity of adventure and richness of adornment. At first the heroic epic seems to have been little affected, perhaps because it was the form which came closest to life.

Among the members of Die Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft was the Silesian Andreas Gryphius (1616-64), one of the best poets and the outstanding dramatist of the seventeenth century. Almost all Gryphius' poetry is of a sombre cast. The sonnets, which make up a great part of his output, reiterate the motifs of vanitas vanitatum and memento mori; they portray man ceaselessly beset by disease, assailed by war and cut off by death. Each New Year is for Gryphius an occasion for ostentatious, yet none the less sincere, melancholy.

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