Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reconciliation - Goethe

 Few in history, particularly literary history, become so well known that just their last name is enough as an identifier.  Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832) is one of those.  (Napoleon told him when they met that he had read "The Sorrows of Young Werther" - the novel that, early-on, made Goethe's reputation - seven (7) times!) Goethe is to German letters what Victor Hugo was to French: a definer of national character.  His poetry has a lyricism and rhyming that is difficult to translate, partly because of German syntax and grammar.  I have never been fond of his poetry, but  that's personal taste, although I do admire how he lived his life: fully and passionately.  At age 74, he fell madly in love with  18 (!) year-old Ulrike von Levetzow (photo here), followed her from one city to another, proposed through a friend, was turned down and wrote his most personal love poem, "Marienbad Elegy" (click here for full text - it's long), proving again the adage that "there is no fool, like an old fool".... (She lived until 1899 and died at the age of 95.)  This poem, in the aftermath, is an exhortation to recovery after a heart-break. 
                                                                transl. from German by John Frederick Nims

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.
Yearns: could it only last! – our feeling of
Fortune on fortune doubled, song and love.

                                                                                           J. Wolfgang von Goethe - German

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