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Entries in Goethe (8)


Goethe, "Der Erlkönig"

One of the most famous of all German poems ("The Erlking"), based on Scandinavian legend, and the work of this polymath.  You can read the original here.

Who rides so late through wind and night?
The father with his child held tight.
Embracing boy and steed as one,
His courage burned like warmest sun.

"My Son, what fear makes scarce your face?"
"O Father, 'tis the Erlking's trace!
His crown and robe cascade and teem-"
"My Son, 'tis but a mist-spun dream!"

"My dearest, come along with me!
What games we'll play!  What sights we'll see!
As roses bright adorn the shore,
So mother walks in gold decor."

"O Father, Father, hear you soft
What Erlking whispers from his toft?" –
"Be still, my child, be still and hear
The rustling wind in dry leaves near."

"To you, fine lad, should you come now,
My daughters will in duty bow.
In nightly dance they will you lead,
And rock and sing until you sleep."

"O Father, Father, see you not
The Erlking's coven in dark spot?" –
"My Son, my Son, I see it sure:
Yon willow trees in grey demure."

"Your shape does but my love provoke;
Resistance will brute force uncloak." –
"O Father, Father, wait no more!
The Erlking's come and made me sore!"

The father's twitch slows not his pace
As groaning child still hides his face.
With pain and fear he gains the stead,
But in his arms the child was dead.


Goethe, "Natur und Kunst"

One of the greatest poems ever written ("Nature and Art"), the work of this German man of letters. Especially famous is the penultimate line, a favorite quote of this writer.  You can read the original here.

Nature and Art, from one another fled,     
Are, ere one knows, again in closest tie;  
Aversion, too, from me has soon been bled,              
And equal force attracts me to their side.            

And yet, one honest effort will suffice! 
And when in measured hours ourselves we bind              
To art, at zeal and fervor's glorious price,   
Anew may nature's glow our hearts then find.  

All learning asks for such tuition paid;           
In vain will strive those minds unbound, unmet,                       
To reach at last some marveled heights unseen.   

Thus great things come to those whose will is made,
We know the Master by his limits set, 
For this one law can only make us free.


Goethe, "Scharade"

A work ("Charade") by this German man of letters.  You can read the original here.

Two words, so comfortable are they, so brief,  
Which we oft utter with becharm'd delight, 
Without real knowledge of these things in sight,  
Things which indeed convey the stamp's relief. 

It does us good in morn and sunset's light, 
To sear them brashly on each other's grief;
And if they can conjoin then as one sheaf,
This we express by single blessing bright.

Yet now I seek to please these two in kind,
And so content myself with my own breath; 
And still in hopes of gaining this I might: 

Then garble them as lovers' names entwined, 
Beholding both within a single sketch, 
Subsuming both within a single wight.


Goethe, "Abschied"

A work ("Farewell") by this German man of letters.  You can read the original here.

Unsated, I a thousand kisses nurse; 
Upon the thousandth and one must we part.
O deepest pain, O separation's curse, 
'Twas this dark shore from which I rent my heart.

Blue mountains, hillocks, rivers, huts behold!
Horizons stretch in joy, a treasure pure; 
For my eyes then a feast remained too sure: 
Let darkness clear and distant truth unfold.

At length, as seas our vista ring and close, 
Most warm desire retakes my wretched heart; 
And, peevish, I anew seek what I lost. 

As if the heavens shone, yet at no cost 
To me, for missed I would have not one part, 
As if all once enjoyed again arose.  


Goethe, "Nähe des Geliebten"

A work ("The lover's closeness") by this German man of letters.  You can read the original here.

Of you I think beneath the sun's sweet wrath 
On sea-kissed rays; 
Of you I think as moonlight paints its path
In brightest maze.  

'Tis you I see upon the dust-blurred road,
That distant shape;
When in deep night, upon a bridge's folds,
A wand'rer shakes.

'Tis you I hear as softest rustles jut   
In rising wave;
When in still copse I listen and find but
A silent grave.

However far, my soul you still have grazed –
To me so near!  
The sinking sun retreats as starlight stays –
Were you but here!


Goethe, "Unschuld"

A work ("Innocence") by this German man of letters.  You can read the original here.

Most lovely virtue of a soul         
And purest font of tenderness, 
More rare than Pamela in bliss,              
And Byron's visions oft extolled!              
If then another fire burns hot,       
And weakens more your gentle light, 
Felt but by him who knows you not,
For he who knows shall feel but night.

O Goddess in this paradise,                
You ere lived here with us as one.      
And still you drift as meadows rise
Each morning with the shining sun.
But only poets sage and meek
Will see you garbed in foggy twists.
Then Phoebus comes to chase the mist,
And there amidst the clouds you'll yield. 

oldog születésnapot kíván Moszkva, Péter! remélem, minden rendben van!

Goethe, "Künstlers Abendlied"

A work ("The artist's evensong") by this German man of letters.  You can read the original here.

If only pure creative strength           
Could echo like quick sense's storm! 
If only sweet and pulpy form
Could flow from my cold fingers' length!

In trembling sputters I proceed,
Yet cannot leave these thoughts alone.
You feel, O Nature, to me known,
And thus must I your essence seize.

For many years in wayward tribes 
Has my poor mind your peace bethought; 
A pagan fool that values aught,
And now joy's spring will soon imbibe.

How I, O Nature, for you yearn,   
How I so wish you dear and true! 
O playful fountain all in blue,
A thousand organ pipes you'll churn! 

And all my forces you'll accrete,
And fill with mirth my weary mind.  
My narrow realm's plain words you'll bind,
And broaden to eternity. 


Goethe, "The Humors of Lovers"

An excerpt from the literary memoirs ("Fiction and truth") of this German writer.  You can find the original in the seventh section of this book.

In the company of a host of very worthy people, I had worked through the tedious period into which my youth had fallen.  Sufficient evidence of this can be found in the numerous quarto manuscripts which I left my father; not to mention that the plethora of writing attempts, drafts, and half-completed essays went up in smoke more owing to ill humor than to any of my convictions!  Now I was learning through persuasion, through lessons, through disputed opinions, but most of all through my commensal, the privy counselor Pfeil, I learned to value more greatly what was important, the concision of action, without, however, clarifying where I was to find or achieve this or that.  For owing to the substantial limitations of my status, the indifference of my contemporaries, the reticence of my teachers, the eccentricities of conceited residents, and the wholly insignificant natural surroundings, I was obliged to look for all these things within myself.  Whenever I sought a basis, a sensation, a reflection for my poetry, it was inwards to my own bosom that I had to turn.  I required for poetic representation an unimpeded view of the object or circumstance, and thus could not step out of the circle which grazed me, which was suitable to the formation of my interest.  In this sense I first composed smaller poems either as ditties or in free verse; they sprang from reflections, dealt with events of the past, and mostly assumed epigrammatic turns of phrase.

And so began that course which for the duration of my existence I would be unable to avoid, namely, transforming whatever gladdened or tortured me into a picture or poem and secluding myself so as both to amend my ideas in the face of external stimuli and appease my innermost concerns.  And no one needed talent for such actions more than I, who by his very nature careered from one extreme to another.  Everything I had known hitherto were merely fragments of a great confession, which this little book is an audacious attempt to complete.

My earlier attraction to Gretchen I had now transferred to a certain Anna, whom words cannot describe with justice.  Let us only recall that she was so young, pretty, cheerful, loving and pleasant that she truly deserved to linger a while in the shrine of my heart as a minor saint, to have bestowed upon her every honor which often arouses more contentment to give than to receive.  I saw her every day without fail; she would help in preparing the food that I would relish, and at worst she would bring me the wine I would drink.  Our exclusive companionship around the noonday feast was a guarantee that the small house, rarely visited apart from guests from Mass, merited its good reputation.  There was ample desire and opportunity for conversation.  Yet because she was still not allowed to get too far away from the house, our time together was leaner.  We sang the canticle of Zechariah, played Krüger's Herzog Michel in which a crumpled handkerchief took the place of the nightingale, and whittled away the time in such a fashion.  Since the more innocent relationships are, the less omnifarious they become over time, every bad compulsion befell me.  This led me to make a discussion of the torments that lovers endure and dominate one girl's devotion with my adventitious and tyrannical whims.  On her I permitted myself to vent the foul mood caused by my failed attempts at composing poems, my apparent inability to overcome these failures, and everything which now and then would irritate me.  I did this because she loved me with all her heart and did me every favor she could, and through vulgar and unfounded jealousies I ruined for both of us our finest days together.  For a while she endured this with incredible patience which I was cruel enough to push to the limits.  Finally I realized to my despair and shame that her spirit had drifted away from me; and the fact that I had allowed this to happen without cause or need had to be imputed to madness.  We also had horrific fights by which I gained nothing.  Only now did I feel I really loved her and could not do without her.  My passion grew and assumed all the forms that such circumstances dictated, and in the end it was I who filled the role that she had played until now.  I tried everything in my power to be obliging to her, even to provide her with other joys, because I could not desist in my hope of winning her back.  But it was too late!  I had really lost her.  And the madness with which I took vengeance on myself by bludgeoning my corporality so as to hurt my moral conscience contributed greatly to the bodily ills that cost me one of the best years of my life.  In fact, I might just as easily have wasted away had my poetic gifts and their healing forces not been as helpful.  

Before this happened, I had already become duly aware at various intervals of my bad habits.  The poor child truly inspired pity in me when I saw her hurt without the slightest need.  So often and so intricately did I put myself in her position, my own position, and then that of another, happy couple from our circle of friends that in the end I could not but treat this situation dramatically as torturous and edifying penance.  Hence I derived the oldest of my remaining dramatic works, the short play The humors of lovers, and in this ingenuous piece one became aware of a bubbling passion.  Previously, a meaningful, provocative world had spoken to me and me alone; and in my story with Gretchen and its consequences I had already stared down the same crooked path which so undermined bourgeois society.  Religion, custom, law, status, relationships, habit – all this engaged only the surface of city existence.  The streets girded by magnificent houses were kept clean and everyone behaved himself sufficiently well; but on the inside things looked much emptier, and a smooth outside gilded like a faint daub much brittle and decaying masonry which would crumble overnight and arouse an even more terrible effect as if breaking the peace.  How many families because of bankruptcy, divorce, inveigled daughters, murder, burglary, poisoning had I seen either fall apart or approach the edge of such disasters, and despite my youth I had often lent a helping hand.   My openness seemed to beget trust, my discretion was long since guaranteed, and my actions did not overlook any victims while seeking out the most risk-laden cases.  And often enough I found the opportunity to mediate, to cover up, to dissipate the thunder, and do anything else that could be done.  In so doing, I inevitably experienced a large number of humiliating and hurtful episodes, both for myself and for others.  To give myself a bit of breathing room, I drafted plays and for most of them, also expositions.  But since the complications always had to be frightful and almost all the plays threatened to end in tragedy, I disposed of them one after another.  The only one that I finished, The Accomplices, whose buoyant and burlesque essence seemed fearsome for vague family reasons, caused a certain amount of apprehension when it was performed and gloated in its details.  The explicitly illegal events offended both aesthetic and moral sensibilities, and for that reason the play could not make it onto German stages, even though imitations of it which strayed from the precipice were received with applause.

Both of these plays, without my knowing it, were written from a higher point of view.  With careful acquiescence to moral attribution they interpret rather bluntly the Christian adage: let he who is without sin cast the first stone.