Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Aug. 28, 1749 - Mar. 22, 1832


Goethe's Introduction

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The morning came. Its footsteps seared away
The gentle sleep that hover'd lightly o'er me;
I left my quiet cot to greet the day,
And gaily climb'd the mountain-side before me.
The sweet young flowers! how fresh were they and tender,
Brimful with dew upon the sparkling lea;
The young day open'd in exulting splendour,
And all around seem'd glad to gladden me.


And, as I mounted, o'er the meadow ground
A white and filmy essence 'gan to hover;
It sail'd and shifted till it hemm'd me round,
Then rose above my head, and floated over.
No more I saw the beauteous scene unfolded --
It lay beneath a melancholy shroud;
And soon was I, as if in vapour moulded,
Alone, within the twilight of the cloud.


At once, as though the sun were struggling through,
Within the mist a sudden radiance started;
Here sunk the vapour, but to rise anew,
There on the peak, and upland forest parted.
O, how I panted for the first clear gleaming,
Made by the gloom it banish'd doubly bright!
It came not, but a glory round me beaming,
And I stood blinded by the gush of light.


A moment, and I felt enforc'd to look,
By some strange impulse of the heart's emotion;
But more than one quick glance I scarce could brook,
For all was burning like a molten ocean.
There, in the glorious clouds that seem'd to bear her,
A form angelic hover'd in the air;
Ne'er did my eyes behold a vision fairer,
And still she gazed upon me, floating there.


Dost thou not know me? and her voice was soft
As truthful love, and holy calm it sounded.
Know'st thou not me, who many a time and oft
Poured balsam in thy hurts when sorest wounded?
Ah, well thou knowest her, to whom for ever
Thy heart in union pants to be allied!
Have I not seen the tears -- the wild endeavour
That even in boyhood brought thee to my side?


Yes! I have felt thy influence oft, I cried,
And sank on earth before her, half-adoring;
Thou brought'st me rest when Passion's lava tide
Thro' my young veins like liquid fire was pouring.
And thou hast fann'd, as with celestial pinions,
In summer's heat, my parch'd and fever'd brow;
Gav'st me the choicest gifts of earth's dominions,
And, save through thee, I seek no fortune now.


I name thee not, but I have heard thee nam'd,
And heard thee styled their own ere now by many;
All eyes believe at thee their glance is aim'd,
Though thine effulgence is too great for any.
Ah! I had many comrades whilst I wander'd --
I know thee now, and stand almost alone:
I veil thy light, too precious to be squander'd,
And share the inward joy I feel with none.


Smiling, she said -- Thou seest 'twas wise from thee
To keep the fuller, greater revelation:
Scarce art thou from grotesque delusions free,
Scarce master of thy childish first sensation;
Yet deem'st thyself so far above thy brothers,
That thou hast won the right to scorn them! Cease.
Who made the yawning gulf 'twixt thee and others?
Know -- know thyself -- live with the world in peace.


Forgive me! I exclaim'd, I meant no ill,
Else should in vain my eyes be disenchanted;
Within my blood there stirs a genial will --
I know the worth of all that thou hast granted.
That boon I hold in trust for others merely,
Nor shall I let it rust within the ground;
Why sought I out the pathway so sincerely,
If not to guide my brothers to the bound?


And as I spoke, upon her radiant face
Pass'd a sweet smile, like breath across a mirror;
And in her eyes' bright meaning I could trace
What I had answer'd well, and what in error.
She smiled, and then my heart regain'd its lightness,
And bounded in my breast with rapture high:
Then durst I pass within her zone of brightness,
And gaze upon her with unquailing eye.


Straightway she stretch'd her hand among the thin
And watery haze that round her presence hover'd;
Slowly it coil'd and shrunk her grasp within,
And lo! the landscape lay once more uncover'd --
Again mine eye could scan the sparkling meadow,
I look'd to heaven, and all was clear and bright;
I saw her hold a veil without a shadow,
That undulated round her in the light.


I know thee! -- all thy weakness, all that yet
Of good within thee lives and glows, I've measur'd;

She said -- her voice I never may forget --
Accept the gift that long for thee was treasur'd.
Oh! happy he, thrice-bless'd in earth and heaven,
Who takes this gift with soul serene and true,
The veil of song, by Truth's own fingers given,
Enwoven of sunshine and the morning dew.


Wave but this veil on high, whene'er beneath
The noonday fervour thou and thine are glowing,
And fragrance of all flowers around shall breathe,
And the cool winds of eve come freshly blowing.
Earth's cares shall cease for thee, and all its riot;
Where gloom'd the grave, a starry couch be seen;
The waves of life shall sink in halcyon quiet;
The days be lovely fair, the nights serene.


Come then, my friends, and whether 'neath the load
Of heavy griefs ye struggle on, or whether
Your better destiny shall strew the road
With flowers, and golden fruits that cannot wither,
United let us move, still forward striving;
So while we live shall joy our days illume,
And in our children's hearts our love surviving
Shall gladden them, when we are in the tomb.

A. M.

This somewhat mystical and rather unsatisfactory composition, which appears by way of preface to the author's miscellaneous poems, is certainly not conceived in his happiest manner, though, like all his other writings, it has been most carefully elaborated. It seems intended to supply the place of the invocation to the muse, with which the ancient poets almost invariably commenced as a sort of sanctifying ceremony; but the custom, appropriate enough so long as the inspiration of the sacred Nine was acknowledged, or even typically accepted, has now fallen into general disuse. The substitution of the Goddess of Nature, or the Genius of Poetry, appears to our English taste but a clumsy expedient. Goethe, however, thought otherwise; and his example has since been followed by various German poets of lesser note, who have vouchsafed to us glimpses of their communings with some visionary Egeria.


Poems And Ballads Of Goethe
Copyright 1859
William Edmondstoune Aytoun, D.C.L. ("A.")
and Theodore Martin ("M.")
Delisser & Procter
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