Morgenstern's poetry, much of which was inspired by English nonsense rhymes, is immensely popular, even though he enjoyed very little
success during his lifetime. He made fun of scholasticism, e.g. literary criticism in "Drei Hasen", grammar in "Der Werwolf",
narrow-mindedness in "Der Gaul", and symbolism in "Der Wasseresel". In "Scholastikerprobleme" he discussed how many angels could
sit on a needle. Still many Germans know some of his poems and quotations by heart, e.g. the following line from "The Impossible
Fact" ("Die unmögliche Tatsache", 1910):
For, he reasons pointedly / That which must not, can not be. (German: "Weil, so schließt er messerscharf / Nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.")
Imbedded in his humorous poetry is a subtle metaphysical streak, as e.g. in "Vice Versa", (1905):
A rabbit in his meadow lair / Imagines none to see him there. / But aided by a looking lens / A man with eager diligence / Inspects
the tiny long-eared gnome / From a convenient near-by dome. / Yet him surveys, or so we learn / A god from far off, mild and stern.
(German: "Ein Hase sitzt auf einer Wiese / des Glaubens, niemand sähe diese. / Doch im Besitze eines Zeißes / betrachtet voll gehaltnen
Fleißes / vom vis-a-vis gelegnen Berg / ein Mensch den kleinen Löffelzwerg. / Ihn aber blickt hinwiederum / ein Gott von fern an, mild
The ongoing joke about the fictitious species Rhinogradentia, based on Morgenstern's nonsense poem Das Nasobem, is testament to his
Morgenstern's best known works include the "Galgenlieder" (Gallows Songs, 1905), eight of which were used in a song cycle by Jan
Koetsier for soprano and tuba, and "Palmström" 1910; he also translated various works, including those of Henrik Ibsen. His philosophical
and mythical works were largely influenced by Nietzsche, and Rudolf Steiner, father of anthroposophy.
Morgenstern died in 1914 of tuberculosis, which he had contracted from his mother, who died in 1881.
In the 1933 "Handbuch der Judenfrage" ("Handbook of the Jewish Issue"), Morgenstern was listed as a "Jewish mixture". After legal
intervention, brought about by the lawyer of the publisher of Morgenstern, Reinhard Piper, the "Handbook" was withdrawn, as Morgenstern
had no Jewish ancestors.
Morgenstern's most philosophical volume is a collection of aphorisms published posthmously in 1918 entitled Stufen: Eine Entwickelung in
Aphorismen und Tagebuch-Notizen (Stages: A Development in Aphorisms and Diary Notes). It has given rise to a number of celebrated
quotations. These include:
"Home isn't where our house is, but wherever we are understood."
"I shall excavate the strata of my soul."
"I’m a man of limits: forever physically, emotionally, morally and artistically on the brink of plunging into the abyss. Yet I manage
to keep my balance and possess presence of mind."
"I bear no treasures within me. I only possess the power to transform much of what I touch into something of value. I have no depths,
save my incessant desire for the depths." (Translated by David W. Wood)