The work is based on the legend of the famous Minnesinger of the 13th century. Heinrich von Oterdingingen. The external eventual canvas is only a necessary material shell for the depiction of the deep internal process of the poet’s becoming and Henry’s comprehension of the life ideal, portrayed allegorically by Novalis in the guise of a “blue flower”. Heinrich’s dreams, his parables, fairy tales and myths bear the basic semantic load.
The novel consists of two parts. The first, completed, is called “Waiting.” Twenty-year-old Henry, a disciple of the chaplain, has a dream that he wanders through the dark forest, goes out to the mountains and finds a blue flower in the cave. A blue flower is a symbol of German romantic poetry, in other words – pure poetry and a perfect life. He can not see his dream to the end, because his mother comes into his room and wakes him up.
A little later Henry leaves Thuringia, his father’s house, and with his mother goes to Augsburg, to her homeland. They travel together with merchants who also go to southern Germany. Henry, destined to become a great poet, listens with trepidation to the stories of his fellow travelers about the poets and about their power over the souls of all living beings. The merchants acquainted him with two legends. One of them talks about how once, in the distant past, a famous poet and singer was threatened with death by the owners of the ship, greedy for his treasures, on which he sailed on the sea. However, his songs so shocked sea animals that they saved his life and returned the treasures selected from him. In another legend we are talking about the court of the enlightened, patronizing poetry of the king and his daughter, who once left her parents’ house and hid from her father for a year, living in the forest with her beloved. A year later, her beloved, with her songs and playing the lute, took her father’s heart so deeply that he granted them both forgiveness and took his and his newborn grandson to their arms.
A few days later the travelers stop at the castle of the old warrior and are witnessing preparations for a new crusade. In his own domain, Henry meets a young, brought from the East captive Zuleima. She languishes far from her homeland and mourns her joyless fate.
After leaving the castle, Henry and his companions soon stop in the foothill village, where he meets an old miner. He tells them about his life, about metals and minerals, hidden in the bowels of the earth. Under his leadership, they visit the whole gallery of caves in the mountains, where they find the remains of prehistoric animals and get acquainted with the hermit von Hohenzolern, who, after a glorious and rich in military exploits of youth, retired from people for rest, knowledge of the inner life of his soul and studying history. The hermit shows them his books. In one of them, Henry sees a cave, himself, and next to him – a hermit and an old man, but everyone is dressed in unusual clothes and the inscriptions are made in an incomprehensible language. Gradually he finds on other pages an eastern woman, his parents and many other people he knows.
Having become acquainted with the time of his journey through the country with some secrets of the history and depths of the earth, Henry von Ofterdingen finally arrives to Augsburg, to his grandfather, the old Schwanig. In the house of his grandfather Henry meets the poet Klingsor, a great man, whose image he already saw in the hermit’s book, and his daughter Matilda. Between young people, at first sight, love is born, and soon they become a bride and groom.
Klingson directs the spiritual maturation of young Heinrich. He talks with him about poetry, about his inner world and about the most expedient and natural “use” of his soul forces. Calls upon him to develop the mind, as well as to comprehend the regularity of events occurring in the world and the “essence” of any matter, any phenomenon, so that his soul eventually becomes attentive and calm. It is also necessary that the soul be sincere, and the sincere soul is like the light, it is as penetrating, powerful and imperceptible as light.
Henry tells Klingsor about his... journey, and all his speech, her order and imagery show that the young man was born to be a poet.
According to Klingorsor, in poetry there is nothing unusual, it is “the basic property of the spirit of man.” In the evening, during the feast, Klingsor, at Henry’s request, tells the guests a symbolic tale of the victory of poetry over rationality and other enemies. This story anticipates what should be discussed in the second part of the novel. The fairy tale tells about the kingdom of Arcturus and about the beautiful Frey, his daughter, about Eros and his dairy sister Baschne, and also about their godmother Sophia.
The second part of the novel is called “Accomplishment.” It begins with the fact that Henry, in the guise of a stranger, in the state of indifferent despair, into which he fell after Matilda’s death, wanders through the mountains. In front of him lies Augsburg, in the distance a mirror of a terrible mysterious stream glitters. On the side, he seems to see a monk kneeling in front of an oak tree. It seems to him that this is an old chaplain of the court. However, coming closer, he realizes that before him is just a cliff, over which the tree bent. Suddenly the tree begins to tremble, the stone – muffled deafly, and from under the ground joyful singing is heard. From the tree there is a voice that asks Henry to play the lute and sing a song and promises that then there will be a girl who he should take with him and not let go of himself. Henry recognizes in him the voice of Matilda. In the foliage of a tree, a vision of his beloved appears in front of him, who looks at him with a smile. When the vision disappears, with him all the suffering and cares go away from his heart. There is nothing left but quiet languor and sadness. The pain of loss and the feeling of emptiness are passing around. Henry begins to sing and does not notice how a girl approaches him and takes him away with him. She introduces him to the old man, whose name is Sylvester, he’s a doctor, but Henry seems to have an old man in front of him.
It turns out that a long time ago the old man was visited also by Henry’s father, in which Sylvester saw the makings of a sculptor and introduced him to the precious heritage of the ancient world. However, his father did not listen to the call of his true nature, and the surrounding reality allowed him too deep roots. He became just a skilled artisan.
The old man wants Henry to return to his hometown. However, Henry says that he learns his homeland better, traveling to different countries, and in general people who travel a lot differ from others by a more developed mind and other amazing properties and abilities. They are talking about the importance of the prevalence of a single force, the strength of conscience is necessary to all that exists; about the cause of evil, which, according to the old man, is rooted in general weakness; about interpenetration and a single “essence” of all worlds and feelings in the universe.
Novalis did not have time to complete this second part, in which he wanted to express the very essence of poetry. He did not have time to formulate his idea that everything in the world: nature, history, war, everyday life – everything turns into poetry, because it is a spirit that enlivens everything in nature. In the second part, Henry was to become more fully acquainted with the surrounding world. He was to go to Italy, participate in hostilities, at the court of the emperor to meet with the son of Frederick II and become his close friend, to visit Greece, to travel to the East, up to Jerusalem, then return to Thuringia and together with Klingson to take part in the famous poetic tournament. The continuation of the novel was to turn into a mythological and symbolic narrative, in which everything: animals, plants and stones – had to talk and undergo magical transformations. Mathilde, already after his death, in the guise of various women, often had to meet Henry, who at last had to wreck the “blue flower” from his dream.