He received his early education at the Gymnasium of his native town, of which his uncle was rector, and in 1617 attended the high school--"Schonaichianum"--at Beuthen, where he made a special study of French, Dutch and Italian poetry. In 1618 he entered the university of Frankfort-on-Oder as a student of literae humaniores, and in the same year published his first essay, Aristarchus, sive De contemptu linguae Teutonicae, a plea for the purification of the German language from foreign adulteration.
In 1619 he went to Heidelberg, where he became the leader of the school of young poets which at that time made that university town remarkable. Visiting Leiden in the following year he sat at the feet of the famous Dutch lyric poet Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655), whose Lobgesang Jesu Christi and Lobgesang Bacchi he had already translated into alexandrines. After being for a short year (1622) professor of philosophy at the Gymnasium of Weissenburg (now Karlsburg) in Transylvania, he led a wandering life in the service of various territorial nobles.
In 1624 he was appointed councillor to Duke George Rudolf of Liegnitz and Brieg in Silesia, and in 1625, as reward for a requiem poem composed on the death of Archduke Charles of Austria, was crowned laureate by the emperor Ferdinand II who a few years later ennobled him under the title "von Boberfeld." He was elected a member of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft in 1629, and In. 1630 went to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Hugo Grotius. He settled in 1635 at Gdansk, where Ladislaus IV of Poland made him his historiographer and secretary. Here he died of the plague on the 20th of August 1639.
Opitz was the head of the so-called First Silesian School of poets, and was during his life regarded as the greatest German poet. Although he would not to-day be considered a poetical genius, he may justly claim to have been the "father of German poetry" in respect at least of its form; his Buch von der deutschen Poeterey (1624) put an end to the hybridism that had until then prevailed, and established rules for the "purity" of language, style, verse and rhyme.
Opitz's own poems are in accordance with the rigorous rules which he laid down. They are mostly a formal and sober elaboration of carefully considered themes, and contain little beauty and less feeling. To this didactic and descriptive category belong his best poems, Trost-Gedichte in Widerwtirtigkeit des Krieges (written 1621, but not published till 1633); Zlatna, oder von der Ruhe des Gemüths (1622); Lob des Feldlebens (1623); Vielgut, oder vom wahren Glück (1629), and Vesuvius (1633). These contain some vivid poetical descriptions, but are in the main treatises in poetical form.
In 1624 Opitz published a collected edition of his poetry under the title Acht Bücher deutscher Poematum (though, owing to a mistake on the part of the printer, there are only five books); his Dafue (1627), to which Heinrich Schutz composed the music, is the earliest German opera. Besides numerous translations, Opitz edited (1639) Das Annolied, a Middle High German poem of the end of the 11th century, and thus preserved it from oblivion.
Collected editions of Opitz's works appeared in 1625, 1629, 1637, 1641, 1690 and I 746. His Ausgewahlte Dichtungen have been edited by J Tittmann (1869) and by H Oesterley (Kürschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. xxvii. 1889). There are modern reprints of the Buch von der deutschen Poeterey by W Braune (2nd ed., 1882), and, together with Aristarchus, by G Witkowski (1888), and also of the Teutsche Poemata, of 1624, by G Witkowski (1902). See H Palm, Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Literatur des 16ten und 17ten Jahrhunderts (1877); K Borinski, Die Poetik der Renaissance (1886); R Beckherrn, Opitz, Ronsard und Heinsius (1888). Bibliography by H Oesterley in the Zenlralblatt für Bibliothekswesen for 1885.