A Greiffenberg printing project

Greiffenberg was not fond of winter. According to the subject index of Geistliche Sonnette, Lieder und Gedichte, she wrote seventeen poems about spring, but just two about winter: the first equates winter with adversity, the second celebrates winter’s departure. 

That second one caught our attention because of its title: “On the Departure (Praise God!) of Winter” (“Auf den/ Gott Lob! vergehenden Winter”). We already knew Greiffenberg as a woman of intense feeling, and that’s certainly the case here, where she addresses winter as the destroyer, arch-enemy of all the earth. For her–a poet who saw the world through the lens of her faith–the departure of winter was a clear metaphor for Christ’s defeat of death.

When I (Joanne) took a course called The History of the Book at Canadian Mennonite University in the 2020 winter term, I wanted to do something Greiffenberg-related for my creative project. I had already had a taste of letterpress printing and wanted to do more, so I made an illustrated pamphlet with two of Greiffenberg’s sonnets. The sonnet on the departure of winter led nicely into one of the spring sonnets. For each one, I printed the original and our translation on facing pages.

The Lino block illustrations are both spring-related: apple blossoms on the cover, and on the inside a phoenix (yes, I know, it looks like an eagle). The latter is a reference to the spring sonnet, in which spring is called the “yearly-renewing phoenix of the earth.”

I had to make some compromises on the spelling. The sets of type I was working with were meant for English text, and had none of the umlaut vowels (ä, ö, ü) or the “scharfes S” (ß), so I used anglicized spellings for these (ae, oe, ue for the vowels; ss for ß). 

If you click on a photo below, you’ll get a larger image with readable text. Both of these sonnets have been published in Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2023). Click here to read the winter sonnet in the original German, and here for the spring sonnet.