Albert Einstein’s approximately 400 poems reveal a fascinating facet of his creative work that has so far received little academic attention. Reminiscent of Heinrich Heine, Christian Morgenstern and Wilhelm Busch, a lot of Einstein’s verse is funny and self-deprecating. Einstein enjoyed employing the old poetic form of the Knittelreim, a kind of rhymed doggerel that serves a comic purpose. There are some notable exceptions, however: In some poems Einstein addressed profound epistemological, political and religious topics, e.g. in his poems about Spinoza and Newton, his historical role models.
Einstein often wrote drafts of his poems in the margins of his physics writings thus raising a question about the connection between his scientific and artistic creativity. Often overlooked by exile research as well as by Einstein biographers, Einstein’s verse provides unusual insight into the cultural and scientific contexts of his work. The question what thoughts and sentiments Einstein conveys in his poetic texts gives rise to the additional question of that about which he remains silent because, along with the early Vienna Circle, he felt that he could or should not render them in a medium that lacked precision.
Dr Norman P. Franke is Conjoint Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and published the first scholarly study of Einstein's poetry in the Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesellschaft / Yearbook of the German Schiller Society (2007). Franke expanded his scholarship on Einstein as a poet by an essay (2010) on Albert Einstein's son Eduard, who also wrote poetry and died in 1965 in a mental institution in Switzerland.