Selected Poems of Goethe

Dedication
from Faust Part I
 
Once more you hover near me, forms and faces
Seen long ago with troubled youthful gaze.
And shall I this time hold you, limn the traces,
Fugitive still, of those enchanted days?
You closer press: then take your powers and places,
Command me, rising from the murk and haze;
Deep stirs my heart, awakened, touched to song,
As from a spell that flashes from your throng.
 
You bear the glass of days that were glad-hearted;
Dear memories, beloved shades arise;
Like an old legendary echo started,
Come friendship and first love before my eyes.
Old sorrow stirs, the wounds again have smarted,
Life’s labyrinth before my vision lies,
Disclosing dear ones who, by fortune cheated,
Passed on their way, of love and light defeated.
 
They cannot hear what now I bring, belated,
Who listened to the early tunes I made:
Gone is the throng by love so animated,
Dead the responsive tribute that they paid.
My tragic theme rings out, for strangers fated,
For strange applause that makes me half afraid.
The rest, who held my music sweet and cherished,
Stray through the world dispersed, or they have perished.
 
Now comes upon me long forgotten yearning
For the sweet solemn tryst those spirits keep.
I feel the trembling words of song returning,
Like airs that softly on the harp-strings creep.
The stern heart softens, all its pride unlearning,
A shudder passes through me, and I weep.
All that I have stands off from me afar,
And all I lost is real, my guiding-star.
 
Translated by Philip Wayne
 
 
Suspended Animation (1767-68)
 
Weep, pretty maids, at Amor’s tomb; the merest
Fluke, a hint, has brought him his demise.
But is he truly dead? I would not swear it.
Oft at the merest hint again he’ll rise.
 
Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
To Luna (1768)
 
Sister of Creation’s light,
Image of tenderness in sorrow,
Silver mists thy radiance borrow
As they swim across thy sight.
At thy footfall through the sky
In their dusky hollows waken
Souls that sadly died forsaken,
Birds that shun the day, and I.
 
Looking downward far and wide
Hidden things thou dost discover,
Luna! help a pining lover,
Lift me upward to thy side,
And with peace in pleasure show
This errant knight his maiden sleeping,
Through the glassy lattice peeping
Let him see her there below.
 
Translated by W.E. Aytoun-Theodore Martin/Christopher Middleton

Welcome and Farewell (1771; 1789)

My heart beat fast, a horse! away!
Quicker than thought I am astride,
Earth now lulled by end of day,
Night hovering on the mountainside.
A robe of mist around him flung,
The oak a towering giant stood,
A hundred eyes of jet had sprung
From darkness in the bushy wood.
 
Atop a hill of cloud the moon
Shed piteous glimmers through the mist,
Softly the wind took flight, and soon
With horrible wings around me hissed.
Night made a thousand ghouls respire,
Of what I felt, a thousandth part­
My mind, what a consuming fire!
What a glow was in my heart!
 
You I saw, your look replied,
Your sweet felicity, my own,
My heart was with you, at your side,
I breathed for you, for you alone.
A blush was there, as if your face
A rosy hue of Spring had caught,
For me-ye gods!-this tenderness!
I hoped, and I deserved it not.
 
Yet soon the morning sun was there,
My heart, ah, shrank as leave I took:
How rapturous your kisses were,
What anguish then was in your look!
I left, you stood with downcast eyes,
In tears you saw me riding off:
Yet, to be loved, what happiness!
What happiness, ye gods, to love!

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 

May Song (1771)
 
How fine a light on
Nature today!
The sun’s in glory!
The fields at play!
 
What feats of blossom
A twig achieves!
A thousand voices
Delight the leaves!
 
And every pleasure
For girl, for boy!
The sun-warm country
Of joy on joy!
 
O love! O lovely!
My golden girl!
Like clouds at morning
Your rose and pearl!
 
You lean in blessing
On earth’s cool bloom,
The world a richness of
Dense perfume!
 
O darling, darling!
I’m wild for you!
Your lashes dazzle:
You love me too!
 
The lark loves singing
Away up there:
The flowers at morning
Delight in air,
 
As I adore you, with
Blood a-thrill!
It’s youth you give me,
Ecstatic will
 
For newer music
And dancing! Be
In bliss forever,
As you love me!

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 
 
Wanderer’s Storm-Song (1772)
 
Spirit, he whom you do not forsake,
Rain does not, nor tempest,
Breathe across his heart the horrors.
Spirit, he whom you do not forsake,
Will to the raincloud,
Will to the hailstorm
Sing out
Like the lark,
You lark aloft there.
 
Spirit, not forsaking him,
Above the mud path you lift him,
With wings of fire
He will walk
As on feet of flowers
Over Deucalion’s flood ooze,
Killing Python, light, large,
A Pythian Apollo.
 
Spirit, he whom you do not forsake,
Woollen wings you’ll spread beneath him
When he sleeps on rock,
With guardian pinions deck him
In the midnight bosk.
 
Spirit, not forsaking him,
Him you will cloak
Warm in the snow-whirl;
To warmth the Muses come,
Come the Graces.
 
Float round me, Muses
And you Graces!
Here is water, here is earth,
And the son of earth and water
Over whom I walk,
Godlike.
 
You are pure, like water’s heart,
You are pure, like earth’s marrow,
Round me you float and I
Float over water, over earth,
Godlike.
 
Shall he return,
The small dark fiery farmer?
Shall he return, in expectation
Only of your gifts, Father Bromius?
And bright shining fire’s warmth around?
He return, in good heart?
And I, whom you consort with,
Muses and Graces all,
I whom all expects that you,
Muses and Graces,
All the garlanding bliss,
The glory you have ringed this earth with,
Should I return despondent?
 
Father Bromius!
You the Spirit are,
Spirit of the Century,
Are what heart’s glow
Was to Pindar,
What to the world
Phoebus Apollo is.
 
Ow! Ow! Inner warmth,
Soulwarmth,
Midpoint!
Glow toward
Phoebus Apollo;
Else coldly will
His princely gaze
Pass over you,
Panged with envy
Dwell upon the cedar’s power,
Which to be green
Waits not for him.
 
My song, why does it name you last,
You from whom it began,
You in whom it ends,
You from whom it streams,
Jupiter Pluvius?
You, you my song pours forth,
And this Castalian spring
-Runs like a trickle,
Trickles, for idlers,
Mortally fortunate men,
A tributary brook, while you
Hold and shelter me,
Jupiter Pluvius.
 
Not by the elm,
Him you visited not,
A pair of doves
Perched on his delicate arm,
Garlanded with friendly rose,
Titillating and flower-fortunate
Anacreon,
God who breathes the storm out.
 
Not among the poplars,
On the coast of Sybaris,
On the sunlit brow
Of the mountain, not him
Did you hold,
Flower-singing,
Honey-babbling,
Amiably beckoning
Theocritus.
 
When the wheels rattled,
Wheel by wheel, fast to the finish,
High flew
The whipcracks
Of the lads who glowed for a win,
And dust churned like hail
Tumbling down
Into the dale from the mountain,
Did your soul glow, Pindar,
Against perils
Courage. – Glow, did it?
Poor heart,
There on the hill,
Heavenly power,
Glow enough only,
There my cabin,
To wade my way there!

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Rosebud in the Heather (1771)
 
Urchin saw a rose – a dear
Rosebud in the heather.
Fresh as dawn and morning-clear;
Ran up quick and stooped to peer,
Took his fill of pleasure,
Rosebud, rosebud, rosebud red,
Rosebud in the heather.
 
Urchin blurts: “I’ll pick you, though,
Rosebud in the heather!”
Rosebud: “Then I’ll stick you so
That there’s no forgetting, no!
I’ll not stand it, ever!”
Rosebud, rosebud, rosebud red,
Rosebud in the heather.
 
But the wild young fellow’s torn
Rosebud from the heather.
Rose, she pricks him with her thorn;
Should she plead, or cry forlorn?
Makes no difference whether.
Rosebud, rosebud, rosebud red,
Rosebud in the heather.

Translated by John Frederick Nims

 
A Song to Mahomet (1772- 73)
 
See the mountain spring
Flash gladdening
Like a glance of stars;
Higher than the clouds
Kindly spirits
FuelIed his youth
In thickets twixt the crags.
 
Brisk as a young blade
Out of cloud he dances
Down to marble rocks
And leaps again
Skyward exultant.
 
Down passages that hang from peaks
He chases pebbles many-coloured,
Early like a leader striding
Snatches up and carries onward
Brother torrents.
 
Flowers are born beneath his footprint
In the valley down below,
From his breathing
Pastures live.
 
Yet no valley of the shadows
Can contain him
And no flowers that clasp his knees,
Blandishing with looks of love;
To the lowland bursts his way,
A snake uncoiling.
 
Freshets nestle
Flocking to his side. He comes
Into the lowland, silver sparkling,
And with him the lowland sparkles,
And the lowland rivers call,
Mountain freshets call exultant:
Brother, take your brothers with you,
With you to your ancient father,
To the everlasting ocean,
Who with open arms awaits us,
Arms which, ah, open in vain
To clasp us who are craving for him;
Avid sand consumes us
In the desert, sun overhead
Will suck our blood, blocked by a hill
To pools we shrink! Brother, take us,
Take your lowland brothers with you,
Take your brothers of the mountains,
To your father take us all!
 
Join me then!
And now he swells
More lordly still; one single kin,
They loft the prince and bear him high
Onward as he rolls triumphant,
Naming countries, in his track
Towns and cities come to be.
 
On he rushes, unrelenting,
Leaves the turrets tipped with flame,
Marble palaces, creation
Of his plenitude, behind him.
 
Cedar houses he like Atlas
Carries on his giant shoulders;
Flags a thousand rustling flutter
In the air above his head,
Testifying to his glory.
 
So he bears his brothers, bears
His treasures and his children surging
In a wave of joy tumultuous
To their waiting father’s heart.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Prometheus (1773)
 
Cover your heaven, Zeus,
With cloudy vapors
And like a boy
Beheading thistles
Practice on oaks and mountain peaks­
Still you must leave
My earth intact
And my small hovel, which you did not build,
And this my hearth
Whose glowing heat
You envy me.

I know of nothing more wretched
Under the sun than you gods!
Meagerly you nourish
Your majesty
On dues of sacrifice
And breath of prayer
And would suffer want
But for children and beggars,
Poor hopeful fools.
           
Once too, a child,
Not knowing where to turn,
I raised bewildered eyes
Up to the sun, as if above there were
An ear to hear my complaint,
A heart like mine
To take pity on the oppressed.
 
Who helped me
Against the Titans’ arrogance?
Who rescued me from death,
From slavery?
Did not my holy and glowing heart,
Unaided, accomplish all?
And did it not, young and good,
Cheated, glow thankfulness
For its safety to him, to the sleeper above?
           
I pay homage to you? For what?
Have you ever relieved
The burdened man’s anguish?
Have you ever assuaged
The frightened man’s tears?
Was it not omnipotent Time
That forged me into manhood,
And eternal Fate,
My masters and yours?
 
Or did you think perhaps
That I should hate this life,

Flee into deserts
Because not all
The blossoms of dream grew ripe?
 
Here I sit, forming men
In my image,
A race to resemble me:
To suffer, to weep,
To enjoy, to be glad
­And never to heed you,
Like me!

Translated by Michael Hamburger

 
The King in Thule (1774)
 
There lived a king in Thule,
Right faithful, to the grave.
He loved a golden goblet
His dying sweetheart gave.
 
He loved it: nothing dearer,
Would not a-feasting go
But soon the cup was lifted
And soon the tears would flow.
 
His time of death approaching,
He counts his towns out, so.
Wills all away, and gladly.
But not the goblet, no.
 
The scene: a royal banquet,
His knights around his knee;
The lofty hall, ancestral,
High-castled by the sea.
 
Then rose the snowy toper;
A toast! to life’s last glow!
His sainted cup he catches,
Flings to the foam below.
 
He watched it falling, filling;
He saw it settle, sink.
His eyelids ebb; then never
Another drop to drink.

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 
 
In Court (c. 1774-75)
 
Who gave it me, I shall not tell,
The child I’ve got in me;
Call me a whore, if you like, and spit:
I’m an honest woman, see?
 
He’s good and kind, I’ll not say who,
My sweetheart that I wed,
A chain of gold on his neck he wears
And a straw hat on his head.
 
Chuckle and scorn to your heart’s content,
I’ll take the scorn from you;
I know him well, he knows me well,
God knows about us, too.
 
Lay off me, folks, you, reverend,
You, officer of the laws!
It is my child, it stays my child,
And it’s no concern of yours.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 

An Artist’s Evening Song (1775)

To have creation’s inmost power
Resounding through my mind!
A shape of things, in vivid flower,
Issue from my hand!
 
My touch uncertain, stammering speech,
But new resolve beget;
I feel, I know you, in my reach,
Nature, I’ll have you yet.
 
Still, down the years my mind has shed
Some of its trammelings;
Where once all parched a heathland spread
Flow now delightful springs;
 
Nature, that thought, and then I long
Truly to feel you near;
Your thousand flutes I’ll be among,
Your fountain I shall hear;
 
Lift to the light you surely will
All faculties of mine,
Out of this straitened life distil
A sense defeating time.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 

Wanderer’s Night Song (1776)

Thou that from the heavens art,
   Every pain and sorrow stillest,
And the doubly wretched heart
   Doubly with refreshment fillest,
I am weary with contending!
Why this rapture and unrest?
Peace descending
   Come, ah, come into my breast!
 
 
Another Night Song (1780)
 
O’er all the hill-tops
   Is quiet now,
In all the tree-tops
   Hearest thou
Hardly a breath;
   The birds are asleep in the trees:
   Wait, soon like these
   Thou, too, shalt rest.

Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
 

 To the Moon
(1777; this second version published 1789)
 
Flooding with a brilliant mist
Valley, bush and tree,
You release me. Oh for once
Heart and soul I’m free!
 
Easy on the region round
Goes your wider gaze,
Like a friend’s indulgent eye
Measuring my days.
 
Every echo from the past,
Glum or gaudy mood,
Haunts me – weighing bliss and pain
In the solitude.
 
River, flow and flow away;
Pleasure’s dead to me:
Gone the laughing kisses, gone
Lips and loyalty.
 
All in my possession once!
Such a treasure yet
Any man would pitch in pain
Rather than forget.
 
Water, rush along the pass,
Never lag at ease;
Rush, and rustle to my song
Changing melodies,
 
How in dark December you
Roll amok in flood;
Curling, in the gala May,
Under branch and bud.
 
Happy man, that rancor-free
Shows the world his door;
One companion by – and both
In a glow before
 
Something never guessed by men
Or rejected quite:
Which, in mazes of the breast,
Wanders in the night

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
A Winter Journey in the Harz (1777)
 
As the buzzard aloft
On heavy daybreak cloud
With easy pinion rests
Searching for prey,
May my song hover.
 
For a god has
Duly to each
His path prefixed,
And the fortunate man
Runs fast and joyfully
To his journey’s end;
But he whose heart
Misfortune constricted
Struggles in vain
To break from the bonds
Of the brazen thread
Which the shears, so bitter still,
Cut once alone.
 
Into grisly thickets
The rough beasts run,
And with the sparrows
The rich long since have
Sunk in their swamps.
 
Easy it is to follow that car
Which Fortune steers,
Like the leisurely troop that rides
The fine highroads
Behind the array of the Prince.
 
But who is it stands aloof?
His path is lost in the brake,
Behind him the shrubs
Close and he’s gone,
Grass grows straight again,
The emptiness swallows him.
 
O who shall heal his agony then
In whom each balm turned poison,
Who drank hatred of man
From the very fullness of love?
First held now holding in contempt,
In secret he consumes
His own particular good
In selfhood unsated.
 
If on your psaltery,
Father of love, there sounds
One note his ear can hear,
Refresh with it then his heart!
Open his clouded gaze
To the thousand fountainheads
About him as he thirsts
In the desert!
 
You who give joys that are manifold,
To each his overflowing share,
Bless the companions that hunt
On the spoor of the beasts
With young exuberance
Of glad desire to kill,
Tardy avengers of outrage
For so long repelled in vain
By the cudgeling countryman.
 
But hide the solitary man
In your sheer gold cloud!
Till roses flower again
Surround with winter-green
The moistened hair,
O love, of your poet!
 
With your lantern glowing
You light his way
Over the fords by night,
On impassable tracks
Through the void countryside;
With daybreak thousand-hued
Into his heart you laugh;
With the mordant storm
You bear him aloft;
Winter streams plunge from the crag
Into his songs,
And his altar of sweetest thanks
Is the snow-hung brow
Of the terrible peak
People in their imaginings crowned
With spirit dances.
 
You stand with heart unplumbed
Mysteriously revealed
Above the marveling world
And you look from clouds
On the kingdoms and magnificence
Which from your brothers’ veins beside you
With streams you water.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Song of the Spirits over the Waters (1779)
 
The soul of man,
It is like water:
It comes from heaven,
It mounts to heaven,
And earthward again
Descends
Eternally changing.
 
If the pure jet
Streams from the high
Vertical rockface,
A powdering spray,
A wave of cloud
Splashes the smooth rock
And gathered lightly
Like a veil it rolls
Murmuring onward
To depths yonder.
 
If cliffs loom up
To stem its fall,
It foams petulant
Step by step
To the abyss.
 
Along a level bed
Through the glen it slips,
In the lake unruffled
All the clustering stars
Turn their gaze.
 
Wind woos
The wave like a lover,
Wind churns from the ground up
Foaming billows.
 
Soul of man,
How like the water you are!
Fate of man,
How like the wind.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
The Fisherman (end of 1770′s)
 
The water washed, the water rose;
A fellow fishing sat
And watched his bobbin coolly drift,
His blood was cool as that.
A while he sits, a while he harks
– Like silk the ripples tear,
And up in swirls of foam arose
A girl with dripping hair.
 
She sang to him, she spoke to him:
“Cajole my minnows so
With lore of men, with lure of men,
To death’s unholy glow?
If you could know my silver kin,
What cozy hours they passed,
You’d settle under, clothes and all
– A happy life at last.
 
“The sun, it likes to bathe and bathe;
The moon – now doesn’t she?
And don’t they both, to breathe the wave,
Look up more brilliantly?
You’re not allured by lakes of sky,
More glorious glossy blue?
Not by your very face transformed
In this eternal dew?”
 
The water washed, the water rose;
It lapped his naked toe,
As longing for the one he loved
He yearned to sink below.
She spoke to him, she sang to him;
The fellow, done for then,
Half yielded too as half she drew,
Was never seen again.

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 
 
The Godlike (early 1780′s)
 
Noble let man be,
Helpful and good;
For that alone
Distinguishes him
From all beings
That we know.
 
Hail to the unknown,
Loftier beings
Our minds prefigure!
Let man be like them;
His example teach us
To believe those.
 
For unfeeling,
Numb, is nature;
The sun shines
Upon bad and good,
And to the criminal
As to the best
The moon and the stars lend light.
 
Wind and rivers,
Thunder and hail
Rush on their way
And as they race
Headlong, take hold
One on the other.
 
So, too, chance
Gropes through the crowd,
And quickly snatches
The boy’s curled innocence,
Quickly also
The guilty baldpate.
 
Following great, bronzen,
Ageless laws
All of us must
Fulfill the circles
Of our existence.
 
Yet man alone can
Achieve the impossible:
He distinguishes,
Chooses and judges;
He can give lasting
Life to the moment.
 
He alone should
Reward the good,
Punish the wicked,
Heal and save,
All erring and wandering
Usefully gather.
 
And we honor
Them, the immortals,
As though they were men,
Achieving in great ways
What the best in little
Achieves or longs to.
 
Let noble man
Be helpful and good,
Create unwearied
The useful, the just;
Be to us a pattern
Of those prefigured beings.

Translated by Vernon Watkins

 

Erlkönig (c. 1782)
 
Who rides by night in the wind so wild?
It is the father, with his child.
The boy is safe in his father’s arm,
He holds him tight, he keeps him warm.
 
My son, what is it, why cover your face?
Father, you see him, there in that place,
The elfin king with his cloak and crown?
It is only the mist rising up, my son.
 
“Dear little child, will you come with me?
Beautiful games I’ll play with thee;
Bright are the flowers we’ll find on the shore,
My mother has golden robes fullscore.”
 
Father, O father, and did you not hear
What the elfin king breathed into my ear?
Lie quiet, my child, now never you mind:
Dry leaves it was that click in the wind.
 
“Come along now, you’re a fine little lad,
My daughters will serve you, see you are glad;
My daughters dance all night in a ring,
They’ll cradle and dance you and lullaby sing.”
 
Father, now look, in the gloom, do you see
The elfin daughters beckon to me?
My son, my son, I see it and say:
Those old willows, they look so gray.
 
“I love you, beguiled by your beauty I am,
If you are unwilling I’ll force you to come!”
Father, his fingers grip me, O
The elfin king has hurt me so!
 
Now struck with horror the father rides fast,
His gasping child in his arm to the last,
Home through thick and thin he sped:
Locked in his arm, the child was dead.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Consecrated Place (1782)
 
When in the dance of the Nymphs, in the moonlight so holy assembled,
Mingle the Graces, down from Olympus in secret descending,
There the poet will hide and hear their beautiful singing;
There will he watch their silent dances’ mysterious measure.
All that is glorious in heaven and all that the earth in her beauty
Brought to perfection in life, the dreamer awake sees before him;
All he repeats to the Muses, and lest the gods should be angered,
How to be telling of secrets discreetly the Muses instruct him.

Translated by E. A. Bowring/Christopher Middleton
 
 
                Roman Elegies (1788-1790)
 
                                                   V
Happy now I can feel the classical climate inspire me,
   Past and present at last clearly, more vividly speak.
Here I take their advice, perusing the works of the ancients
   With industrious care, pleasure that grows every day.
But throughout the nights by Amor I’m differently busied,
   If only half improved, doubly delighted instead.
Also, am I not learning when at the shape of her bosom,
   Graceful lines, I can glance, guide a light hand down her hips?
Only thus I appreciate marble; reflecting, comparing,
   See with an eye that can feel, feel with a hand that can see.
True, the loved one besides may claim a few hours of the daytime,
   But in night hours as well makes full amends for the loss.
For not always we’re kissing, often hold sensible converse;
   When she succumbs to sleep, pondering, long I lie still.
Often too in her arms I’ve lain composing a poem,
   Gently with fingering hand count the hexameter’s beat
Out on her back; she breathes, so lovely and calm in her sleeping
   That the glow from her lips deeply transfuses my heart.
Amor meanwhile refuels the lamp and remembers the times when
  Them, his triumvirs of verse, likewise he’s served and obliged.
 
 
                                        VIII
When, beloved, you tell me that as a child you were never
Liked by people, and scorned by your own mother herself
All those years of your quiet growth, till mature, I believe you,
            In my mind’s eye enjoy seeing the singular child.
Well, the vine-flower, too, is deficient in shape and in colour,
            Yet to gods and mankind, mellow, the grape yields delight.
 
                                                 XVI
“Dear one, this morning, why weren’t you there as agreed, at the vineyard?
   On my own, as I said, there I was waiting for you. “­
Love, I was going in; when whom should I see but your uncle
   Prying between the vines, this way and that, as he turned.
Quickly I crept away. “But how foolish of you! What an error!
   To mistake a scarecrow for him! Run for it, too! When the thing
Was a patchwork we made out of canes and old rags, in a hurry,
   Hard I worked at it, too, only to spite my own face.”
Well, the old man had his way, and scared off a most feckless
   Bird, for the moment, that steals both from his garden and niece.

Translated by Michael Hamburger
 

Venetian Epigrams

  15
Phantasts make converts enough and stir a whole crowd into frenzy,
   While the rational man counts on the love of a few.
Miracle-working pictures are usually bungled as painting;
   Works of the mind and of art do not exist for the mob.
 
                                                   23
Let the rain come down with drinks for the redcoated froggies,
Water the land that is parched, making our broccoli grow!
Keep the water away, however, from my little book now:
            Arak, the purest, it is: anyone’s punch it will spice.
 
                                                   66
I can put up with a lot. The things that are most of a bother
   Cool and calm I endure, thanks to the gift of a god.
Just one or two are the things I abominate, or, more precisely,
   Four: tobacco (the smoke), bedbugs and garlic and t.
 
                                                   72
“Housewife is what I would like to be and to have what I needed,
   I would be happy and true, hugging and kissing my man.”
That’s what she sang to me, other songs too, very vulgar, a streetgirl
   Somewhere in Venice-a prayer never more pious I heard.
 
                                                   77
So you dabble in botany, optics? How can you, a poet?
   Don’t you feel better employed touching a sensitive heart?
Oh, those sensitive hearts. Any charlatan knows how to touch them.
   No, let my one joy be this, Nature, to touch upon you!

Translated by Michael Hamburger & Christopher Middleton
 
 
The Visit (1788)
 
Today I wanted to surprise my dearest,
But her door was locked and would not open.
Well, I have the key here in my pocket,
Open up the precious portal, softly.
 
But I did not find her in the hallway,
Did not find her in her Stube. either;
Finally, the bedroom door – and softly
I open it, to find her on the sofa,
Fully clad, and sleeping, very graceful.
 
She had dropped into a doze while working:
Something she had knitted with her needles
Lay between the tender hands she’d folded;
And I sat myself down there beside her;
Should I wake her up, or not, I wondered.
 
Fondly, for a time, I contemplated
The lovely peace reposing on her eyelids;
Calm fidelity on her lips was dwelling,
Quite at home, and on her cheeks a sweetness,
And the innocence a kind heart harbours
Rose and fell in the motion of her bosom.
Each and every limb outspread and pleasant
By the gods’ sweet balsam had been melted.
 
Full of joy I sat, my contemplation
Trammelled all my eagerness to wake her,
More and more with secret cords restraining.
 
O my love, I thought, cannot this slumber,
Revelation of the least false feature,
Can it do no harm, discover nothing
Adverse to your lover’s fond opinion?
 
Now your eyes are shut, which, being open,
Of their own accord alone bewitch me;
Lips that are so sweet, they make no motion,
Either to speak or haply to be kissing;
Melted are your arms, these magic bracelets
Which at other times you put around me;
And your hand is stilled, of sweetest fondlings
Ever the provoker and companion.
 
If my thoughts about you were mistaken,
And the ways I love you self-deception,
Now and only now I’ll know, for Amor
Stands without his blindfold here beside me.
 
Long I sat there so, my heart with pleasure
Glad with her merits, joyous at my loving;
I liked her so, asleep, I would not venture
Any move that might cause her to waken.
 
Quietly I set two pomegranates
And two roses on her little table;
Softly, softly on my way I tiptoed.
 
My good lady, when her eyes shall open,
She’ll espy these presents with their colours;
All the doors were locked, so she will wonder
How this friendly gift was placed beside her.
 
If tonight I see again my angel,
O how glad she’ll be, reward me doubly
For this offering of my love so tender.

Translated by Christopher Middleton

Nearness of the Beloved (c. 1795)
 
I think of you when from the sea the shimmer
Of sunlight streams;
I think of you when on the brook the dimmer
Moon casts her beams.
 
I see your face when on the distant highway
Dust whirls and flakes,
In deepest night when on the mountain byway
The traveler quakes.
 
I hear your voice when, dully roaring, yonder
Waves rise and spill;
Listening, in silent woods I often wander
When all is still.
 
I walk with you, though miles from you divide me;
Yet you are near!
The sun goes down, soon stars will shine to guide me.
Would you were here!

Translated by Michael Hamburger
 

Mignon
(from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1795)
 
Knowst thou the land of flowering lemon trees?
In leafage dark the golden orange glows,
From azure sky there wafts a gentle breeze,
Calm the myrtle, high the laurel grows,
Knowst thou it still?
Aiee, aiee,
There would I go, beloved mine, with thee.
 
Knowst thou the house? Its column-bedded roof,
The shining hall, the inner room aglow,
The marble statues gaze but do not move:
What have they done, poor child, to hurt thee so?
Knowst thou it still?
Aiee, aiee,
There would I go, protector mine, with thee.
 
Knowst thou the mountain, stepping up through cloud?
The mule in mist treads out his path; a cave,
And in it dwells the ancient dragon brood;
The crag swoops down and over it the wave;
Knowst thou it still?
Aiee, aiee,
There goes the way, father, for thee and me.

(This translation is dedicated to the memory of Gerard de Nerval)
Translated by Christopher Middleton

 

The Bride of Corinth (1797)

To Corinth came a solitary stranger,
Whom none yet knew, a young Athenian;
He sought there to obtain a certain favour
From his father’s comrade in the town:
Long had it been planned
For his daughter’s hand
To be given to his comrade’s son.
 
Might perhaps his welcome there be hindered?
Might the price of it his means exceed?
He is still a pagan, like his kindred;
Baptized the others in the Christian creed.
When new faiths are born,
From the heart are torn,
Sometimes, love and troth like any weed.
 
All the house was hushed, to rest retiring
Father, daughters – not the mother yet;
Him she welcomed, of his state inquiring,
And to a well-appointed guest room led.
Wine and food she brought,
Ere of them he thought,
Solicitous, and “Sleep you well,” she said.
 
Yet he felt no hunger and unheeded
Left the wine, and eager for the rest
Which his limbs forspent with travel needed,
Down upon the bed he lay, still dressed;
Drowsing now, when lo,
Gliding forward, slow­ –
At the door another, wondrous guest
 
By his table lamp’s unsteady glowing
He sees a girl walk in the room, and stand:
Gentle, modest, veiled in white, a flowing
Snowy robe, a black and gold headband.
As she meets his eyes,
Startled, in surprise,
She has lifted up a snowy hand.
 
“Is a stranger here, and no-one told me?
Am I then forgotten, just a name?
Ah! Tis thus that in my cell they hold me.
Now I feel quite overcome with shame.
Do not stir,” she said,
“Now you are in bed,
I will leave as quickly as I came.”
 
“Do not leave me, lovely one!” and springing
Out of bed he’s quickly on his feet.
“Ceres, here, and Bacchus, gifts are bringing,
What you bring is Amor, his delight.
Why are you so pale?
Sweet, now let us hail
The joyous gods, their gifts, with appetite!”
 
“No, O no, young stranger, come not nigh me.
Joy is not for me, nor festive cheer.
Ah! such bliss may not be tasted by me,
Since my mother, sickened with a fear,
By long illness bowed,
Me to heaven vowed:
Youth and nature I may not come near.
 
They have left our household, left it lonely,
The jocund gods of old, no more they reign;
One, unseen, in heaven, is worshipped only,
And a saviour crucified and slain.
Sacrifices here –
Neither lamb nor steer,
But man himself in misery and pain.”
 
Weighing all her words, now he must ponder:
Can it be that in this silent spot
He beholds her – what surpassing wonder! –
­The beloved bride that he had sought?
“Be mine only now,
Look, our fathers’ vow
Heaven’s blessing to us both has brought!”
 
“No, good heart, not me,” she cries in anguish;
Your company is my second sister’s place.
When I weep inside my cell and languish,
Think of me, though in her fond embrace.
She who pines for thee
Never shalt thou see:
Soon beneath the earth she’ll hide her face. “
 
“No! By this flame I swear between us burning,
Fanned by Hymen, lost thou shalt not be!
Not lost to me or joy, no, but returning
Back to my father’s house, come back with me!
Stay, my sweetheart, here,
Taste the bridal cheer,
Spread for us so unexpectedly.”
 
Tokens they exchange, to him she proffers
Her golden necklace now for him to wear,
But she will not touch the cup he offers,
Silver, wrought with skill exceeding rare:
“That is not for me,
All I ask of thee
Is one curly lock of thy own hair. “
 
Dully boomed the ghosting midnight hour;
Only now her eyes take on a shine,
Pallid lips of hers, now they devour,
Gulping it, the bloody-coloured wine,
But of wheaten bread
Offered by the lad
Not a single crumb to take would deign.
 
Now she gave the cup, and so he drained it,
Impetuous, in haste, he drained it dry;
Love was in his heart, desire pained it,
Till it ached for what she must deny.
Hard as he insists,
She his will resists –
On the bed he flounders with a cry.
 
She throws herself beside him: “Dearest, still thee!
Ah, how sad I am to see thee so.
But alas, my body would but chill thee,
Thou wouldst find a thing thou mayst not know;
Thou wouldst be afraid,
Finding then the maid
Thou has chosen, cold as ice and snow.”
 
Vehement strong arms the girl emprison
And muscle from the thrill of love acquire:
“Even from the grave wert thou arisen,
I would warm thee well with my desire!”
Breathless kiss on kiss!
Overflowing bliss!
“Dost thou burn and feel my burning fire?”
 
Closer still they cling and closer, mixing
Tears and cries of love, limbs interlaced,
She sucks his kisses, his with hers transfixing,
Each self aware the other it possessed.
All his passion’s flood
Warms her gelid blood –
Yet no heart is beating in her breast.
 
Meanwhile, down the corridor, the mother
Passes, late, on household tasks intent;
Hears a sound, and listens, then another:
Wonders at the sounds and what they meant.
Who was whispering so?
Voices soft and low,
Rapturous cries and moans of lovers blent.
 
Ear against the door herself she stations,
Making certain nothing is amiss;
Horrified she hears those protestations
Lovers make, avowals of their bliss:
“The cockerel! Tis light!”
“But tomorrow night
Wilt thou come again?” – and kiss on kiss.
 
Now she can contain her rage no longer,
Lifts the latch, flings open wide the door:
“Not in my house! Who’s this that any stranger
Can slip into his bed, who is this whore?”
Now she’s in the room,
By lamplight in the gloom­ –
God! This girl her daughter was before!
 
And the youth in terror tried to cover
With her flimsy veil the maiden’s head,
Clasped her close; but sliding from her lover,
Back the garment from her face she spread,
As by spirit power
Made longer, straighter, now her
Body slowly rises from the bed.
 
“Mother! Mother!” – hollow-voiced – “Deprive me
Not of pleasures I this night have known!
From this warm abode why do you drive me?
Do I waken to despair alone?
Are you not content
That in my cerement
To an early grave you forced me down?
 
Strange is the law that me perforce has brought now
Forth from the dark-heaped chamber where I lay;
The croonings of your priests avail but nought now,
Powerless their blessings were, I say.
Water nor salt in truth
Can cool the pulse of youth:
Love still burns, though buried under clay.
 
This young man, to him my troth was plighted,
While yet blithely Venus ruled the land,
Mother! – and that promise you have slighted,
Yielding to an outlandish command.
But no god will hear
If a mother swear
To deny to love her daughter’s hand.
 
From my grave betimes I have been driven,
I seek the good I lost, none shall me thwart,
I seek his love to whom my troth was given,
And I have sucked the lifeblood from his heart.
If he dies, I will
Find me others, still
With my fury tear young folk apart.
 
Fair young man, thy thread of life is broken,
Human skill can bring no help to thee.
There, thou hast my necklace as a token,
And this curl of thine I take with me.
Soon thou must decay,
Dawn will find thee gray,
In Hades only shalt thou brownhaired be.
 
Mother! Listen to my last entreaty!
Heap the funeral pyre for us once more;
Open then my little tomb, for pity,
And in flame our souls to peace restore.
Up the sparks will go,
When the embers glow,
To the ancient gods aloft we soar.”

Translated by Aytoun-Martin/Christopher Middleton
 
 
Epirrhema (c. 1819)
 
You must, when contemplating nature,
Attend to this, in each and every feature:
There’s nought outside and nought within,
For she is inside out and outside in.
Thus will you grasp, with no delay,
The holy secret, clear as day.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Metamorphosis of Animals (1806)
 
Now if your mind is prepared to venture upon the final
Step to this summit, give me your hand and view with an open
Gaze the abundance of Nature before you. Everywhere richly
Gifts she has lavished around, the Goddess, but never she worries
After the manner of mortal women, regarding the nurture
Offspring need in a steady supply, that isn’t her wont, for
Doubly she has determined the ultimate law: with a limit,
Set to each life and need in its measure, and then without measure
Gifts she has scattered, easy to find, and she quietly favours
Motley toils for her children, seeing their needs are so many;
So they will flock and yearn, untrained, for the ends that are set them.
 
Every animal is an end in itself, it issues
Perfect from Nature’s womb and its offspring are equally perfect.
All its organs are formed according to laws that are timeless,
Even a form very rare will hold to its type, though in secret.
Every mouth is designed to admit particular foodstuffs,
Such as befit the body; an animal feeble and toothless,
One with jaws that are toothed and massive – a suitable organ
Each will possess for channelling food to the rest of its body.
Also the feet, whether long or short, will always be moving
Tuned to the animal’s every need and every intention.
 
Thus has the Mother ordained the health complete and unbroken
Each of her children enjoys, and the limbs of each, being vital,
Never conflicting the one with the other, have life as their function.
So the shape of an animal patterns its manner of living,
Likewise their manner of living, again, exerts on the animals’
Shapes a massive effect: all organized structures are solid,
Thus, which are prone to change under pressure from outward conditions.
Deep within the more noble creatures, indeed, a power
Dwells enclosed in the holy ring of vital formation.
Here are the limits no god can alter, honoured by Nature:
Only a limit enables a form to rise to perfection.
 
Deep within, however, a spirit may seem to be wrestling:
How shall he rupture the ring and cause the forms to be random,
Random the will? Yet all his efforts, they come to nothing;
For, if he burrows his way right through to this organ or that one,
Making it grander by far, then other organs will dwindle,
Disproportionate weight and excess of it quickly destroying
All the beauty of form and all pure litheness of movement.
So if you see that a creature possesses a certain advantage,
Put the question at once: What is the fault that afflicts it
Elsewhere? – and seek to discover the defect, always inquiring;
Then at once you will find the key to the world of formation.
 
For there has never existed an animal into whose jawbone
Teeth are pegged that had a horn sprout out of its forehead;
Therefore a lion with a horn the Eternal Mother could never
Possibly make, though she drew on all her potent resources;
For she has not measures sufficient to plant in a being
Rows of teeth, complete, together with horns or with antlers.
 
May this beautiful concept of power and limit, of random
Venture and law, freedom and measure, of order in motion,
Defect and benefit, bring you high pleasure; gently instructive,
Thus, the sacred Muse in her teaching tells you of harmonies.
Moral philosophers never attained to a concept sublimer,
Nor did men of affairs, nor artists imagining; rulers,
Worthy of power, enjoy their crowns on this account only.
So be glad of it, Nature’s loftiest creature, now feeling
Able to follow her loftiest thought on her wings of Creation.
Stand where you are, be still, and looking behind you, backward,
All things consider, compare, and take from the lips of the Muse then,
So that you’ll see, not dream it, a truth that is sweet and is certain.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Nature and Art (c. 1800; published 1807)
 
Nature, it seems, must always clash with Art,
And yet, before we know it, both are one;
I too have learned: Their enmity is none,
Since each compels me, and in equal part.
 
Hard, honest work counts most! And once we start
To measure out the hours and never shun
Art’s daily labor till our task is done,
Freely again, may Nature move the heart.
 
So too all growth and ripening of the mind:
To the pure heights of ultimate consummation
In vain the unbound spirit seeks to flee.
 
Who seeks great gain leaves easy gain behind.
None proves a master but by limitation
And only law can give us liberty.

Translated by Michael Hamburger
 
 
Euphrosyne (1798)

Even the crests of the highest mountain, jagged and icy,
   Gloaming and purple quit, now with the sun going down.
Darkness cloaked the ravine long ago, the wanderer’s climbing
   Path by the torrent, he longs soon to arrive at the hut,
Goal of his day, the quiet abode of a mountain shepherd,
   And there is heavenly sleep hurries enticing ahead,
Sleep that sweetly befriends any traveller; may it with sacred
   Poppy garland my head, blessing me also today.
But now what is this gleam from the cliff over yonder, a radiance
   Filling with delicate light vapours that lift from the foam?
Is it the sun, through secret clefts and crevices haply
   Shining? This ambient sheen scarcely belongs to the earth.
Closer it floats, the cloud, it is glowing, I gaze at the marvel;
   Rosy the light, is its ray shaped like a figure that moves?
What goddess is this who comes to me? Which of the Muses
   Might in the chasm so grim search for a trustable friend?
Beautiful goddess, make yourself known to me, do not by vanishing
   Baffle the mind you inspire, thwart all the feelings you touch.
Speak, if you may, your sacred name to a mortal being;
   If that is not to be done, rouse up my passion to feel
Which you may happen to be of Zeus’s eternal daughters,
   Then may the poet in song utter your praises at once.
“Do you not know any more, good friend, who I am? This visible
     Form you adored, can it be strange to you now and so soon?
True, I belong to the earth no more, my shuddering spirit,
     Sorrowful, flew from the world’s pleasure and gladness and youth;
Yet did I hope that the mind of my friend would carry my image
     Firmly imprinted, and more, make it transfigured by love.
Yes, now I see and feel from your gaze, from your tears I can tell it:
     Well he knows who she is: Euphrosyne I am.
Look you, she who has gone before must walk in the mountain
     Forest, seeking him out, faraway travelling man,
Seeking her teacher, friend, her father, again she is looking
     Back to the joys of the earth, in their provisional frame.
Let me remember when I was a child and the art of dissembling,
     Games of the ravishing Muse, these you tutored me in.
Every moment and tinier detail let me remember;
     Ah, what a pleasure we take; putting a mind to what’s lost!
  Sweetness of days on earth, the airiest, all in a torrent,
     Ah, who can prize them enough, treasures that trickle away?
Small it may seem to us now, but ah, to the heart never petty;
            Love, to be sure, and art, magnify things that are small.
Do you recall the time when, there on the stage, you taught me
   Serious matters indeed, higher demands of the art?
I appeared as a boy, very winsome, and “Arthur” you called me­ –
   You were restoring, in me, life to an Englishman’s play,
Threatened my eyes with fire you did, with fire, it was terrible,
   Turning away as you wept, under the spell of the scene.
Ah! and then you were kind, protecting a life full of sorrow
   Which precipitate flight finally stole from the boy.
Me, shattered, you took in your friendly arms and away and
   Then for a little I feigned death as I lay on your breast.
Finally, though, I opened my eyes and saw you, so serious,
   Rapt in thought as you gazed down at your darling-in-arms.
Childishly up I reached and kissed your hands, being thankful,
   Offered my charming mouth, chaste was the kiss we exchanged,
Then I asked you: Why so serious? If I’m a failure,
   Tell me, father, I pray, how to do better next time.
Nothing I’ll grudge you, gladly rehearse for you, over and over,
   Each and every part, follow your lessons and leads.
But you held me firm in your arms and hugged me more tightly,
   And in my bosom I felt trembling the throb of my heart.
No, my charmingest child, you answered me, people tomorrow­ –
   Show to them all you have shown, just as you showed it today.
Move them all, as me you have moved, and they will respond with
   Even the driest of eyes weeping their tears of applause.
None will be struck more deeply, yet, than the friend, whom corpses
   Horrified once in the past, holding you now in his arms.
Nature, ah, how certain and grand in all things appearing:
   Heaven and Earth must obey firm and immutable laws.
One year follows another, the summer extending to springtime,
   Winter to fullness of fall, a confident helping hand.
Masses of rock stand their ground, and the waters eternal
   Gush from the cloudy cleft, foaming and thundering down.
Firs are green and unleafed bushes, even in winter,
   Tend clandestine buds, ready to sprout from their twigs.
Everything comes to be and perishes lawfully, only
   Human delectable life suffers a wavering fate.
Not to the son who is reaching the flower of youth does a father
   Nod from the brink of the grave, willing to die as he must.
It is not always the young who shut the eyes of the old folk,
   Eyes that are willing to close, frailty yielding to strength.
Fate will reverse, more often, the sequence of days, and a person
            Full of his years must lament children and grandchildren dead,
Stand like a stricken bole, the broken branches around him
            Scattered on every side, ripped by the torrents of hail.
Such were the thoughts, my beautiful child, that bore down upon me,
    When as a corpse you hung feigning a death in my arms.
But what a joy to see you again, in the glow of your girlhood,
    Creature I love very much, close to my heart and revived.
Off with you now, and be glad, little boy in disguise! For the girl will
    Grow to enrapture the world, captivating me quite!
Strive as you strove today; and, as for your natural talent,
    Climbing the ladder of life may it be modelled by art.
Be my delight for years to come, may your beautiful gift be
    Perfect before my eyes finally close on the world.­ –
Those were your words, an important moment, I’ll never forget it,
    Later I grew to be me, thanks to your speech so sublime.
0 how I loved to address to people the stirring orations,
    Weighty with meaning, your words, placed on the lips of a child.
When you were watching, 0 how I grew, I was seeking you always
    Out in the public below, people entirely amazed.
Yet that is where you will be, you will stand there, and Euphrosyne,
    Never again will she step forward to brighten your glance.
You will not hear them again, the sounds of the voice of your pupil,
    Which you so early attuned, early, to passionate grief.
Others come and they go; for others will certainly please you.
    Even a talent that’s great fades when a greater one comes.
But don’t ever forget me. If anyone ever comes brightly
    Forward to meet you amid vague goings-on of the day,
Follows the signals you give and basks in the smile of your favour,
    Never desiring a place other than that you appoint,
Sparing herself not at all, but working, actively, gladly
    Sacrificing her all, up to the gate of the grave­ –
Friend, be mindful of me, I ask you, say, sooner or later,
    Euphrosyne again! Back to me she has come!
Much besides I would like to say; but a spirit departing
    Cannot stop as she will; strictly I’m led by a god.
Fare thee well! I am hurried away by a vague commotion.
    Listen, I have one wish: kindly grant it, my friend:
Let me not go down unmagnified into the shadows!
   Only the Muse can endow death with an inkling of life.
For there are floating, in the domain of Persephoneia,
   Multitudes without shape, shadows bereft of all name;
Whomsoever the poet will praise, though, walks with a difference,
   Has an identity, formed, joins in the heroes’ choir.
Joy will be winging my step, if a song from you has announced me,
            Gracious upon me will rest, also, the goddess’s gaze.
Then she’ll receive me with clemency, speaking my name, and the others,
   Goddesses, close to the throne, lofty women, will wave.
That most loyal of women, Penelope, she will address me,
   Also Euadne, who clings close to the husband she loves.
Later the others will come who were sent below prematurely,
   Near me there will be girls, grieving with me for our fate.
When Antigone comes, of all the souls most like a sister,
   Also Polyxena, still dark with her death as a bride,
I shall be seeing them all as sisters, joining their number,
   For of the tragical art delicate creatures they are.
Me, too, shaped I was by a poet, and some of his poems,
   Yes, for me, will complete moments denied me in life.”­
Thus did she speak and still with her sweet lips open and moving,
   Making as if to speak, only a whirring I heard.
For from the purple cloud as it floated, always in motion,
   Imperturbable strode Hermes the glorious god.
Gently he lifted his staff and pointed: billowing vapours
   Waxed more dense, and the two-swallowed up into them, gone.
Night more darkly presses around me, tumultuous waters
   Thunder now more loud, flanking the slippery path.
Stricken I am, with a sorrow unbearable, shocked with the pity,
   Weak, I lean on a rock, feeling the moss with a hand.
Misery sweeps the strings of my heart, a dark weeping
   Flows; and over the trees comes a first shimmer of dawn.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Permanence in Change (1803)

Early blossoms – could a single
Hour preserve them just as now!
But the warmer west will scatter
Petals showering from the bough.
How enjoy these leaves, that lately
I was grateful to for shade?
Soon the wind and snow are rolling
What the late Novembers fade.
 
Fruit – you’d reach a hand and have it?
Better have it then with speed.
These you see about to ripen,
Those already gone to seed.
Half a rainy day, and there’s your
Pleasant valley not the same,
None could swim that very river
Twice, so quick the changes came.
 
You yourself! What all around you
Strong as stonework used to lie
–        Castles, battlements – you see them
With an ever-changing eye.
Now the lips are dim and withered
Once the kisses set aglow;
Lame the leg, that on the mountain
Left the mountain goat below.
 
Or that hand, that knew such loving
Ways, outstretching in caress,
–        Cunningly adjusted structure­ –
Now can function less and less.
All are gone; this substitution
Has your name and nothing more.
Like a wave it lifts and passes,
Back to atoms on the shore.
 
See in each beginning, ending,
Double aspects of the One;
Here, amid stampeding objects,
Be among the first to run,
Thankful to a muse whose favor
Grants you one unchanging thing:
What the heart can hold to ponder;
What the spirit shape to sing.

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 
 
On Originality (1812)
 
I
Somebody says: “Of no school I am part,
Never to living master lost my heart;
Nor any more can I be said
To have learned anything from the dead.”
That statement – subject to appeal­ –
Means: “I’m a self-made imbecile.”
 
II
My build from Father I inherit,
His neat and serious ways;
Combined with Mother’s cheerful spirit,
Her love of telling stories.
Great-grandfather courted the loveliest,
His ghost won’t leave me alone;
Great-grandmother liked fine jewels best,
This twitch I’ve also known.
If, then, no mortal chemist can
Divide the components from the whole,
What is there in the entire man
You could call original?
 
(c. 1812- 14)
Translated by Michael Hamburger

 

Hegira (1814)

North and West and South are breaking,
Thrones are bursting, kingdoms shaking:
Flee, then, to the essential East,
Where on patriarch’s air you’ll feast!
There to love and drink and sing,
Drawing youth from Khizr’s spring.
 
Pure and righteous there I’ll trace
To its source the human race,
Prime of nations, when to each
Heavenly truth in earthly speech
Still by God himself was given,
Human brains not racked and riven.
 
When they honored ancestors,
To strange doctrine closed their doors;
Youthful bounds shall be my pride,
My thought narrow, my faith wide.
And I’ll find the token word,
Dear because a spoken word.
 
Mix with goatherds in dry places,
Seek refreshment in oases
When with caravans I fare,
Coffee, shawls, and musk my ware;
Every road and path explore,
Desert, cities and seashore;
 
Dangerous track, through rock and scree:
Hafiz, there you’ll comfort me
When the guide, enchanted, tells
On the mule’s back, your ghazels,
Sings them for the stars to hear,
Robber bands to quail with fear.
 
Holy Hafiz, you in all
Baths and taverns I’ll recall,
When the loved one lifts her veil,
Ambergris her locks exhale.
More: the poet’s love song must
Melt the houris, move their lust.
 
Now, should you begrudge him this,
Even long to spoil such bliss,
Poets’ words, I’d have you know,
Round the gate of Eden flow,
Gently knocking without rest,
Everlasting life their quest.

Translated by Michael Hamburger
 
 
A Thousand Forms (1815)

Take on a thousand forms, hide as you will,
O Most-Beloved, at once I know tis you;
Conceal yourself in magic veils, and still,
Presence-in-All, at once I know tis you.
 
The cypress thrusting artless up and young,
Beauty-in-Every-Limb, I know tis you;
The channelled crystal wave life flows along,
All-Gentling-Tender-One, I know tis you.
 
You in the fountain plume’s unfolding tip,
All-Playful-One, what joy to know tis you;
Where cloud assumes a shape and changes it,
One-Manifold-in-All, I know tis you.
 
I know, when flowers veil the meadow ground,
O Starry-Twinkle-Hued, in beauty you;
When thousand-armed the ivy gropes around,
Environer-of-All, I know tis you.
 
When on a mountain sparks of dawn appear,
At once, Great Gladdener, I welcome you;
Then with a sky above rotund and clear,
Then, Opener-of-the-Heart, do I breathe you.
 
What with bodily sense and soul I know,
Teacher-of-All, I know alone through you;
All hundred names on Allah I bestow,
With each will echo then a name for you.

Translated by Christopher Middleton

Primal Words. Orphic (1817-18)
 
ΔAIMΩN, Daemon
 
As stood the sun to the salute of planets
Upon the day that gave you to the earth,
You grew forthwith, and prospered, in your growing
Heeded the law presiding at your birth.
Sibyls and prophets told it: You must be
None but yourself, from self you cannot flee.
No time there is, no power, can decompose
The minted form that lives and living grows.
 
TYXH, Chance
 
Strict the limit, yet a drifting, pleasant,
Moves around it, with us, circling us;
You are not long alone, you learn decorum,
And likely act as any manjack does:
It comes and goes, in life, you lose or win,
It is a trinket, toyed with, wearing thin.
Full circle come the years, the end is sighted,
The lamp awaits the flame, to be ignited.
 
EPΩΣ, Love
 
Love is not absent! Down from heaven swooping,
Whither from ancient emptiness he flew,
This way he flutters, borne by airy feathers,
Round heart and head the day of Springtime through,
Apparently escapes, returns anon,
So sweet and nervous, pain to pleasure gone.
Some hearts away in general loving float,
The noblest, yet, their all to one devote.
 
ANAΓKH, Necessity
 
Then back it comes, what in the stars was written;
Law and circumstance; each will is tried,
All willing simply forced, by obligation:
In. face of it, the free will’s tongue is tied.
Man’s heart forswears what most was loved by him,
To iron “Must” comply both will and whim.
It only seems we’re free, years hem us in,
Constraining more than at our origin.
 
EAПІΣ, Hope
 
Yet the repulsive gate can be unbolted
Within such bounds, their adamantine wall,
Though it may stand, that gate, like rock for ever;
One being moves, unchecked, ethereal:
From heavy cloud, from fog, from squall of rain
She lifts us to herself, we’re winged again,
You know her well, to nowhere she’s confined­ –
A wingbeat – aeons vanish far behind.

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 
 
Trilogy of Passion

To Werther
 
So once again, poor much-lamented shadow.
You venture in the light of day?
And here, in blossoms of the fresher meadow,
Confront me and not turn away?
Alive as in the early dawn, when tender
Chill of a misty field bestirred the two,
When both were dazzled by the west in splendor
After the drudging summer days were through.
My doom: endure. And yours: depart forlorn.
Is early death, we wonder, much to mourn?
 
In theory how magnificent, man’s fate!
The day agreeable, the night so great.
Yet we, in such a paradise begun,
Enjoy but briefly the amazing sun,
And then the battle’s on: vague causes found
To struggle with ourself, the world around.
Neither completes the other as it should:
The skies are gloomy when our humor’s good;
The vista glitters and we’re glum enough.
Joy near at hand, but we – at blindman’s buff.
 
At times we think it ours: some darling girl!
Borne on a fragrant whirlwind, off we whirl.
The young man, breezy as in boyhood’s prime,
Like spring itself goes strutting in springtime.
Astounded, charmed, “Who’s doing this, all for me?”
Claims like a cocky heir the land and sea.
Goes footloose anywhere, without a thought;
No wall, no palace holds him, even if caught.
As swallows skim the treetops in a blur,
He hovers round, in rings, that certain her,
Scans, from the height he means to leave at last,
Earth for an answering gaze, that holds him fast.
 
First warned too soon, and then too late, he’ll swear
His feet are bound, traps planted everywhere.
Sweet meetings are a joy, departure’s pain.
Meeting again – what hopes we entertain!
Moments with her make good the years away.
Yet there’s a treacherous parting, come the day.
 
You smile, my friend, eyes welling. Still the same!
Yours, what a ghastly avenue to fame.
We dressed in mourning when your luck ran out
And you deserted, leaving ours in doubt.
For us, the road resuming God knows where,
Through labyrinths of passion, heavy air,
Still drew us on, bone-tired, with desperate breath
Up to a final parting. Parting’s death!
True: it’s affecting when the poet sings
To wish away the death that parting brings.
Some god – though man’s half guilty, hurt past cure –­
Grant him a tongue to murmur: I endure.

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 
 
ELEGY
 
Though most men suffer dumbly, yet a god
Gave me a tongue to utter all my pain.
 
What’s to be hoped from seeing her again?
Hoped from the still-shut blossoms of today?
Which opens, heaven or hell, around me?
When I guess, my thoughts go wandering every way.
But steady – there! She’s there, at heaven’s door:
Her arms enfold and raise me, as before.
 
So then the heavens are open, take me in
As if deserving life forever blest.
No wish, no longing, and no might-have-been
Stinted: the very goal of all my quest.
Eyes well delighted on that loveliest thing,
Their tears subsiding at the passionate spring.
 
Didn’t the day go by on flashing feathers!
Didn’t it send the minutes skimming there!
Our sign, the kiss at evening – and what weathers
It promised: fair tonight, tomorrow fair.
Hours were like sisters, lingering as they passed,
Each face alike, each different from the last.
 
Our final kiss, so shuddering sweet, it tore
The sheerest of all fiber, heart’s desire.
My foot, abrupt or dragging, dodged her door
As if an angel waved that sword of fire.
Eyes frozen on the dusky ruts go glum.
Turn, and her door’s a darkness, shut and dumb.
 
My soul’s a darkness, shut and dumb – as though
This heart had never opened, never found
Hours of delight beside her, such a glow
As all the stars of heaven let dance around.
Now gloom, remorse, self-mockery – clouds of care
Clutch at it, sluggish, in the sluggish air.
 
What of the world – it’ s done for? Cliffs of granite
Crowned shadowy with the sacred grove – they’re vapor?
No harvest-moon? Green delta country (can it?)
Turn with its trees to ash, like burning paper?
That grandeur curved above us – all undone?­ –
Now with its thousand clouds, and now with none.
 
A form there! – rare and airy, silken, bright,
Floats forth, among the clouds in grave ballet,
An angel in blue noon, or –? No, a white
Slim body – hers! – inclining far away.
You saw her lean so at the gala ball;
Among the loveliest, lovelier far than all.
 
A ruse for moments only. Don’t suppose
The empty air a match for her embraces.
Back to your heart of hearts, that better knows
Her and the changing miracle her face is.
In every guise she’s greater. Like a flame,
Forever varying and the very same.
 
Once by the gate she waited; in she brought me;
Onward from joy to keener joy we passed.
The last last kiss-but how she ran and caught me,
Pressed to my mouth an even laster last.
Still that indelible image of desire
Burns on my heart in script of living fire –­
 
My heart (its battlement a height securing
Her for itself alone, itself for her)
Only for her is happy in enduring;
Knows it has life by stirring if she stir.
Confined in love, is free and on its own;
Praising, with each pulsation, her alone,
 
Because: when dead to love, and hardly caring
Whether another’s love could sink or save it
–        She came. And my old verve in dreaming, daring,
Resolving, up-and-doing – this she gave it.
If ever love restored a human soul,
It took my shrunken self and made it whole.
 
And all through her! In mind and body’s gloom
I mooned lugubrious, lurching and agrope.
Look where I would, saw shuddering visions loom
Over the heart’s eroded acres. Hope
– Suddenly, out of hopelessness – was there:
A girl with the light of morning on her hair.
 
To God’s own peace, the peace that here below
Passeth all understanding (so the preacher)
I’m minded to compare that heady glow
Of fervor, being near a certain creature.
The heart’s at ease; not one distraction blurs
That deepest sense, the sense of wholly hers.
 
In the pure ocean of the soul, a comber
Flings itself, out of thankfulness, self-giving,
Toward something Purer, Higher-Grand Misnomer
However named – to approach the ever-living.
We call it, being reverent. And its flight
Sweeps me, when I’m beside her, height to height.
 
Before her gaze, like sun where winter lingers,
Before her breathing, like the stir of May,
Self-love, that steely ice that digs its fingers
Deep in our rigid psyche, melts away.
No self-concern, no self-importance where
She sets a foot. They squirm away, that pair.
 
As if I heard her, urgent: “Hour by hour
Life gives itself, exuberant, unbidden.
Yesterday’s meaning is a withered flower;
Tomorrow! – who can live there? Where’s it hidden?
Today though – if I quailed with sunset near
Never a sun but showed me something dear.
 
“Then do as I do: Look with knowing pride
Each moment in the face. But no evasion!
Keep every nerve a-tingle! Open-eyed
Rush to it all: day’s effort, love’s elation
But where you are, be wholly. Be a child.
You’re all then. Undefeatable,” she smiled.
 
Easy, I thought, for you to say! Some grace
Shows you forever as the moment’s friend.
Anyone near you for a moment’s space
Is fortune’s favorite-till the moment end.
As end it does! In panic I depart:
You and your pretty wisdom break the heart!
 
Now miles and miles between us.
If I could, How should I live this minute? Who’s to say?
It offers much desirable and good
–        All like a shabby pack to shrug away.
Invincible longing dogs me as I go.
Tears are the one philosophy I know.
 
So let them have their way now, unrepressed.
No chance they’ll damp the furnaces within.
Embattled there, all’s berserk in my breast
With life and death locked grisly. Which to win?
Herbs dull our suffering when the body’s ill,
But if the soul lack nerve, lack even will –?
 
Or worse, lack understanding? Years without her!
Whose image haunts me in a thousand ways.
Sun on her hair, the falling dusk about her –­
The memories lag, or dwindle off in haze.
What good’s all this? What comfort? shaken so
By all this coming, going, ebb and flow?
 

 
Well, leave me, good companions to endure it
Here on the moor alone, with rocks and moss.
But you, the world’s before you. On. Explore it,
The whole wide earth, the heaven so broad across!
Make your investigations, scour and scout.
Nature has clues to shuffle and sort out.
 
I’ve lost it all, earth, heaven, self. Ignore a
Man the gods coddled with a “lucky star”!
They put me to the proof with that Pandora
So rich in gifts, in havoc richer far.
They pressed me to sweet lips that gave and gave;
Then crushed and flung me headlong. Toward the grave.

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 

Reconciliation
 
Passion, and then the anguish. And with whom
To soothe you, heavy heart that lost so much?
Love’s hour escaped, unstoppered like perfume?
The loveliest – all for nothing – within touch?
Cloudy the mind: mere muddle all it tries.
And the great world adrift before the eyes.
 
Then music to the fore like angels swarming,
A million tones in galaxy. We surrender
All of our inner fort to forces storming
– Irresistibly overrun with splendor.
The eye goes damp: in longings past tomorrow
We guess at the infinite worth of song and sorrow.
 
And so the heart, disburdened, in a flash
Knows: I endure, and beat, and pound with pleasure!
Gives itself over utterly, in rash
Thanks for the windfall, life. No common treasure.
Then came – could it only last! – that feeling of
Double delight from music and from love.

Translated by John Frederick Nims
 

The Stork’s Profession (I820s)
 
The stork that feeds on frog and worm
Beside our pond, so free,
Why does he nest on the Kirchenturm
Where he has no right to be?
 
He clatters about and snaps enough,
Sounds we all detest;
But young and old folks lack the guff
To plague him in his nest.
 
What squatting rights – all due respects
­Entitle him to it,
Save that he pleasingly elects
On the church’s roof to . . .?

Translated by Christopher Middleton
 

Lines Written upon the Contemplation of Schiller’s Skull (1826)

Skull upon skull arranged in fit array
In solemn vault of burial I beheld
And thought of bygone years and times turned grey.
 
Near neighbours now, in rows they stand tight-held:
Rough bones that clashed in deadly strife before
Lie crosswise here, their rage to quiet quelled.
 
Unjointed shoulderblades! what once they bore
None now will ask; and limbs once full of grace,
Hands, feet, lie scattered and will move no more.
 
So all in vain you sought this resting-place,
Poor weary ones! they would not let you lie,
Whom daywards from your shadowy grave they chase,
 
And none cares now for husks that have gone dry
Though glorious kernels they did once contain.
Yet here was written what my adept’s eye,
 
Though few would guess its sacred sense, read plain:
Amid the rigid throng one shape I saw
Of rare nobility – and at once again
 
In this cold mouldering chamber’s narrow maw
I felt refreshed and warmed, alive and free:
What welling life-spring here outleapt death’ slaw?
 
O outline traced by God, still clear to see!
O lineaments enchanting to my eyes,
Transporting me to that mysterious sea
 
Whence transformed forms perpetually rise!
Strange vessel, fountainhead of sapience,
How dares my hand to hold you? Precious prize
 
Which from decay I snatch with reverence
And into free air, freely there to muse,
Out into sunlight, piously bear hence.
 
To what more noble end our life we use
Than knowing God-and-Nature, which are one?
Firm matter melts which She as Mind renews,
And She makes firm what fertile Mind has done.

Translated by David Luke
 
 
Testament (1829)
 
No thing on earth to nought can fall,
The Eternal onward moves in all;
Rejoice, by being be sustained.
Being is deathless: living wealth,
With which the All adorns itself,
By laws abides and is maintained.
 
Long since, the true was found and could
Spirits join in brotherhood;
The ancient truth set hand upon.
Thank now the sage, O child of earth,
Who showed her and her kin the path
For circuiting about the sun.
 
Now turn yourself about, within:
Your centre you will find therein,
No noble soul can this gainsay.
No principle within you’ll miss,
For independent conscience is
The sun that rules your moral day.
 
The senses next you must believe;
With nothing false will they deceive
If intellect keeps you awake.
Be fresh of eye, with joy attend;
A way, footsure and supple, wend,
A walk in worlds of pasture take.
 
Be moderate when blessings flow,
Good sense in every detail show
Where life is in its ecstasies;
Then bygone time gives permanence,
The future lives, and in advance:
Eternity the moment is.
 
Should you at last your end attain,
The feeling flow in every vein
That fruitfulness alone is true,
You’ll scrutinize the common round,
Its general habit having found
You’ll be advised to join the few.
 
And as in secret down the years
The poets, the philosophers
Shape works of love, each to his will,
The finest favour you’ll assay:
For noble souls, feel out the way
­No task is more desirable.

Translated by Christopher Middleton

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