The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Trilogy of Passion

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1476920The Works of J. W. von Goethe, Volume 9 — Trilogy of PassionJohann Wolfgang von Goethe



[This poem, written at the age of seventy-five, was appended to an edition of "Werther," published at that time.]

Once more, then, much-wept shadow, thou dost dare
Boldly to face the day's clear light,
To meet me on fresh blooming meadows fair,
And dost not tremble at my sight.
Those happy times appear returned once more,
When on one field we quaffed refreshing dew,
And, when the day's unwelcome toil were o'er,
The farewell sunbeams blessed our ravished view;
Fate bade thee go,—to linger here was mine,—
Going the first, the smaller loss was thine.

The life of man appears a glorious fate:
The day how lovely and the night how great!
And we 'mid Paradise-like raptures placed,
The sun's bright glory scarce have learned to taste,
When strange contending feelings dimly cover,
Now us, and now the forms that round us hover;
One's feelings by no other are supplied,
'Tis dark without, if all is bright inside;
An outward brightness veils my saddened mood,
When Fortune smiles,—how seldom understood!

Now think we that we know her, and with might
A woman's beauteous form instils delight;
The youth, as glad as in his infancy,
The spring-time treads, as though the spring were he.
Ravished, amazed, he asks, how this is done?
He looks around, the world appears his own.
With careless speed he wanders on through space,
Nor walls, nor palaces can check his race;
As some gay flight of birds round tree-tops plays,
So 'tis with him who round his mistress strays;
He seeks from Æther, which he'd leave behind him,
The faithful look that fondly serves to bind him.

Yet first too early warned, and then too late,
He feels his flight restrained, is captured straight;
To meet again is sweet, to part is sad,
Again to meet again is still more glad,
And years in one short moment are enshrined;
But, oh, the harsh farewell is hid behind!

Thou smilest, friend, with fitting thoughts inspired;
By a dread parting was thy fame acquired;
Thy mournful destiny we sorrowed o'er,
For weal and woe thou left'st us evermore,
And then again the passions' wavering force
Drew us along in labyrinthine course;
And we, consumed by constant misery,
At length must part—and parting is to die!
How moving is it, when the minstrel sings,
To 'scape the death that separation brings!
Oh, grant, some god, to one who suffers so,
To tell, half-guilty, his sad tale of woe!


When man had ceased to utter his lament,
A god then let me tell my tale of sorrow.

What hope of once more meeting is there now
In the still-closed blossoms of this day?
Both heaven and hell thrown open seest thou;
What wavering thoughts within the bosom play!—
No longer doubt! Descending from the sky,
She lifts thee in her arms to realms on high.

And thus thou into Paradise wert brought,
As worthy of a pure and endless life;
Nothing was left, no wish, no hope, no thought,
Here was the boundary of thine inmost strife:
And seeing one so fair, so glorified,
The fount of yearning tears was straightway dried.

No motion stirred the day's revolving wheel,
In their own front the minutes seemed to go;
The evening kiss, a true and binding seal,
Ne'er changing till the morrow's sunlight glow.
The hours resembled sisters as they went,
Yet each one from another different.

The last hour's kiss, so sadly sweet, effaced
A beauteous network of entwining love.
Now on the threshold pause the feet, now haste,
As though a flaming cherub bade them move;
The unwilling eye the dark road wanders o'er
Backward it looks, but closed it sees the door.

And now within itself is closed this breast,
As though it ne'er were open, and as though,
Vying with ev'ry star, no moments blest
Had, in its presence, felt a kindling glow;
Sadness, reproach, repentance, weight of care,
Hang heavy on it in the sultry air.

Is not the world still left? The rocky steeps,
Are they with holy shades no longer crowned?
Grows not the harvest ripe? No longer creeps
The espalier by the stream,—the copse around?
Doth not the wondrous arch of heaven still rise,
Now rich in shape, now shapeless to the eyes?

As, seraph-like, from out the dark clouds' chorus,
With softness woven, graceful, light, and fair,
Resembling Her, in the blue æther o'er us,
A slender figure hovers in the air,—
Thus didst thou see her joyously advance,
The fairest of the fairest in the dance.

Yet but a moment dost thou boldly dare
To clasp an airy form instead of hers;
Back to thine heart! thou'lt find it better there,
For there in changeful guise her image stirs;
What erst was one, to many turneth fast,
In thousand forms, each dearer than the last.

As at the door, on meeting, lingered she,
And step by step my faithful ardour blessed,
For the last kiss herself entreated me,
And on my lips the last, last kiss impressed,—
Thus clearly traced, the loved one's form we view,
With flames engraven on a heart so true,—

A heart that, firm as some embattled tower
Itself for her, her in itself reveres,
For her rejoices in its lasting power,
Conscious alone, when she herself appears;
Feels itself freer in so sweet a thrall,
And only beats to give her thanks in all.

The power of loving, and all yearning sighs
For love responsive were effaced and drowned;
While longing hope for joyous enterprise
Was formed, and rapid action straightway found
If love can e'er a loving one inspire,
Most lovingly it gave me now its fire;

And 'twas through her!—an inward sorrow lay
On soul and body, heavily oppressed;
To mournful phantoms was my sight a prey,
In the drear void of a sad tortured breast;
Now on the well-known threshold Hope hath smiled,
Herself appeareth in the sunlight mild.

Unto the peace of God, which, as we read,
Blesseth us more than reason e'er hath done,
Love's happy peace would I compare indeed,
When in the presence of the dearest one.
There rests the heart, and there the sweetest thought,
The thought of being hers is checked by nought.

In the pure bosom doth a yearning float,
Unto a holier, purer, unknown Being
Its grateful aspirations to devote,
The Ever-Nameless then unriddled seeing;
We call it: piety!—such blest delight
I feel a share in, when before her sight.

Before her sight, as 'neath the sun's hot ray,
Before her breath, as 'neath the spring's soft wind,
In its deep wintry cavern melts away
Self-love, so long in icy chains confined;
No selfishness and no self-will are nigh,
For at her advent they were forced to fly.

It seems as though she said: "As hours pass by
They spread before us life with kindly plan;
Small knowledge did the yesterday supply,
To know the morrow is concealed from man;
And if the thought of evening made me start,
The sun at setting gladdened straight my heart.

"Act, then, as I, and look, with joyous mind,
The moment in the face; nor linger thou!
Meet it with speed, so fraught with life, so kind
In action, and in love so radiant now;
Let all things be where thou art, childlike ever,
Thus thou'lt be all, thus thou'lt be vanquished never."

Thou speakest well, methought, for as thy guide
The moment's favour did a god assign,
And each one feels himself, when by thy side,
Fate's favourite in a moment so divine;
I tremble at thy look that bids me go,
Why should I care such wisdom vast to know?

Now am I far! And what would best befit
The present minute? I could scarcely tell;
Full many a rich possession offers it,
These but offend, and I would fain repel.
Yearnings unquenchable still drive me on,
All counsel, save unbounded tears, is gone.

Flow on, flow on in never-ceasing course,
Yet may ye never quench my inward fire!
Within my bosom heaves a mighty force,
Where death and life contend in combat dire.
Medicines may serve the body's pangs to still;
Nought but the spirit fails in strength of will,—

Fails in conception; wherefore fails it so?
A thousand times her image it portrays;
Enchanting now, and now compelled to go,
Now indistinct, now clothed in purest rays!
How could the smallest comfort here be flowing?
The ebb and flood, the coming and the going!


Leave me here now, my life's companions true!
Leave me alone on rock, in moor and heath;
But courage! open lies the world to you,
The glorious heavens above, the earth beneath;
Observe, investigate, with searching eyes,
And nature will disclose her mysteries.

To me is all, I to myself am lost,
Who the immortals' favourite erst was thought;
They, tempting, sent Pandoras to my cost,
So rich in wealth, with danger far more fraught;
They urged me to those lips, with rapture crowned,
Deserted me, and hurled me to the ground.


[Composed, when seventy-four years old, for a Polish lady, who excelled in playing on the pianoforte.]

Passion brings reason,—who can pacify
An anguished heart whose loss hath been so great?
Where are the hours that fled so swiftly by?
In vain the fairest thou didst gain from Fate;
Sad is the soul, confused the enterprise;
The glorious world, how on the sense it dies!

In million tones entwined for evermore
Music with angel-pinions hovers there,
To pierce man's being to its inmost core,
Eternal beauty as its fruit to bear;
The eye grows moist, in yearnings blest reveres
The godlike worth of music as of tears.

And so the lightened heart soon learns to see
That it still lives, and beats, and ought to beat,
Offering itself with joy and willingly,
In grateful payment for a gift so sweet.
And then was felt,—oh, may it constant prove!—
The twofold bliss of music and of love.

The remembrance of the Good
Keep us ever glad in mood.

The remembrance of the Fair
Makes a mortal rapture share,

The remembrance of one's Love
Blest is, if it constant prove.

The remembrance of the One
Is the greatest joy that's known.

[Written at the age of seventy-seven.]

When I was still a youthful wight,
So full of enjoyment and merry,
The painters used to assert, in spite,
That my features were small—yes, very;
Yet then full many a beauteous child
With true affection upon me smiled.

Now as a graybeard I sit here in state,
By street and by lane held in awe, sirs;
And may be seen, like old Frederick the Great,
On pipebowls, on cups, and on saucers.
Yet the beauteous maidens, they keep afar;
Oh, vision of youth! Oh, golden star!