Dewey Discoveries: 831

By David Nilsen

Es ist also Leben, alles, es ist der Erkenntnis Ton in den Sphären. Don’t you agree?

It’s time for another Dewey Discoveries, and this time we’re looking at 831: German Poetry.

If you didn’t have a chance to catch the previous posts in this series, Dewey Discoveries gives us an opportunity to become more familiar with the books on our shelves here at GPL by looking at all the titles under a specific Dewey decimal call number. Last time we looked at 228: Revelation (Apocalypse).

800-899 in the Dewey Decimal system are reserved for literature, which covers everything from literary criticism and history to actual written literary works, excluding fiction. Poetry, theater, letters, essays, etc all fall under the literature umbrella. To avoid every work of poetry, drama, or criticism ever written from all being jumbled together in one pot, the 800s are further broken by language and/or country of origin. 810-819 are for American literature, 820-829 are for English literature, 830-839 are for German literature, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately if your language does not have a European origin you are unceremoniously grouped together in the 890s. Alas. Within language/nationality groupings types of literature are predictably arrayed – 8×1 is poetry (831 is German Poetry, for example), 8×4 is essays, etc. In delving into this section I also learned about something called the cutter system, which was used during the 1980s in an attempt to simplify cataloging. Our library director gave me a very thorough explanation and I nodded and pretended it made total sense.

So. Onto the books under 831, of which GPL currently has nine.


Our oldest book in 831:
The Life of the Virgin Mary by Rainer Maria Rilke (831 R). Translated by C. F. MacIntyre. I try to never read Rilke’s poetry as translated by a man, but alas, that is what we have to work with with this 1947 edition. This book of poems covering the annunciation and nativity of Christ is a fervent work, and the perfect book of poetry to read on a late December night if you are so inclined.

You, the unafraid, if you could know
how the future’s shining even now
on your upgazing faces. Much will come
to pass in this strong light. I will trust you
with it, for you are close-mouthed. Unto true
believers all things speak here. Fire and rain,
the flight of birds, the wind, and what you are –
all speak, none predominant, growing vain,
battening itself. You do not constrain
the Things within the breast’s interstices
to torture them.
– from Annunciation Above the Shepherds, page 15

WalllessOur newest book in 831:
Wallless Space by Ernst Meister (831.914 Meister). Translated by Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick. Meister lived from 1911 till 1979, and fought on the German side in World War II, an experience that deeply affected his worldview. His writing was characterized being both bleak and oblique, delving into a twisted branch of existential dread. Wallless Space was his final work, and this posthumous bilingual edition was released in September of this year. The German quote that began this post is from Wallless, and is translated as follows:

It’s life, then, that’s
everything; it’s
the sound of understanding
in the spheres.

First book by call number:
Selections from German Poetry by Vladimir Rus (831 R). Beyond Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I adore possibly above all other poets, I am woefully unfamiliar with German poetry. If you are similarly ignorant of German poets and want to rectify the situation, this is a good place to start, though The Oxford Book of German Verse from the 12th to the 20th Century edited by Ernest Stahl (831.008 O1o) is more comprehensive. A broad but curated selection of poets from various eras fills this book. I was rather amused that Martin Luther is included for his translation of Psalm 90. That doesn’t seem to exactly fit under the umbrella of German literature, but who am I to say?

Last book by call number:
Wallless Space by Ernst Melster (831.914 Meister). Just for kicks, here’s one more quick excerpt:

A butterfly
rests itself
on death’s
loose eyelash.

I like my German poetry books to include some abstract nude art for good measure. Got anything?
And how. I, Eternal Child: Paintings and Poems by Egon Schiele (831.912 S32i), translated by Anselm Hollo, should do the trick. Schiele was a cutting-edge German painter and wrote some lovely poetry as well. This oversized book includes twenty-three full color paintings and twenty-five translated poems.

LettersFourth & Sycamore recommends:
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (831 R573S). Translated by Stephen Mitchell. Every writer or artist should read this book early and often. It is one of the dearest books to this writer’s heart, one that I reread regularly. Here is an oft-quoted (and for good reason) excerpt from the opening letter from Rilke to a young poet who has asked for his help:

“There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

We also have Rilke’s The Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke (831 R457S) from the same translator.

Our selection of German poetry may not be exhaustive, but there are still some lovely books to be found at GPL under the 831 call number. Rilke alone is worth the time to track this section down. And if you need help finding them, that’s what librarians are for.


You can find all of these books in the Greenville Public Library Non-Fiction Room.

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