Wilhelm Klemm, who became a poet and a publisher as well as a doctor, was born in Leipzig and began writing poetry while at the Thomasschule there. His early work was influenced by the Italian renaissance and French classicism as well as the German literary canon of the day. He completed medical studies (Munich, Erlangen, Kiel) in 1905, but after his father’s death in 1909 took over his book business. In 1912, he married Erna, daughter of the publisher Alfred Kröner.

During the war he served as a regiment doctor in Flanders, but was still able to publish his first poetry collection Gloria! Kriegsgedichte aus dem Feld (War poems from the field)  in 1915. His work also appeared in literary journals such as Der Jugend and Simplicissimus, later in Franz Pfermfert’s Die Aktion. Further published volumes were Verse und Bilder (1916), Aufforderung (1917), Ergriffenheit (1919), Entfaltung (1919), Traumschutt (1920) and Verzauberte Ziele (1921). His poems give a very realistic impression of war events and show how much he was affected by the war environment and the work he had to do at the front.

In 1921 he took over his father-in-law’s publishing firm and in 1927 purchased Dieterich´s bookshop. In 1932 he published an edition of Karl Marx´s early writings. But five years later he was expelled from the Writer’s Chamber by the national socialist authorities and forced to relinquish the management of Kröner Verlag. He then began editing the Dieterich Collection, a series of philosophical, cultural and literary volumes. After the 2nd World War, the Dieterich Collection appeared in two editions, in Leipzig/ DDR by Rudolf Marx and by himself in Wiesbaden, where he continued publishing until 1955, when he sold the collection to C. Schünemann Verlag in Bremen. Wilhelm Klemm died in 1968 in Wiesbaden.

As an author, Klemm had been forgotten for many years; in 1961 Limes Verlag republished the volume Aufforderung with a commentary by Kurt Pinthus, but only in 1979 did a detailed discussion of his work appear. Very recently, his collected works have been published in “Gesammelte Verse”, including all the poems from 1908 to 1968.

Wilhelm Klemm’s Poems

Writings and References

W. Klemm, Gesammelte Verse. Vignetten und Tuschzeichnungen des Autors, I. Klemm and J.V. Röhnert, Dieterich´sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Mainz, 2012.

J.V. Röhnert: Magische Flucht am Rand des Expressionismus. Zum spurenlosen Œuvre Wilhelm Klemms. In: Akzente. Zeitschrift für Literatur. Heft 2/April 2006 (S. 157-172). S. 169.

H.-J. Ortheil: Wilhelm Klemm. Ein Lyriker der “Menschheitsdämmerung”. Kröner, Stuttgart 1979. ISBN 978-3520704016.

P. Bridgewater, The German poets of the First World War, Croom Helm, c.1985 & New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.

G. Schulz, Klemm, Wilhelm, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 12 (1979), S. 33 [Onlinefassung]; URL: http://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd118563173.html

This entry was written by Penelope Monkhouse