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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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During the late epoch of his life Goethe was much taken and inspired by the culture and poetry of the Middle East, its symbolisms and its mysticism. He was particularly drawn to the works of the Persian poets Hafez and Firdausi, and to the Koran. His love affair with Marianne von Willemer, at that time, was decisive in writing a collection of poems – West-Östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan) – including the mystical poem Blessed Longing.

I feel this poem to be perfectly exemplifying how powerful carnal desire can lead to yet more powerful spiritual enlightenment. It is by far my most favourite poem. I utterly identify with its spirit. It represents the quintessence of my longing and which, I know from experience, can be fulfilled.

Scholarly translators generally agree that Blessed Longing is a poem almost impossible to translate. Without paying attention to poetic metre and rhyme, and mindful of avoiding personal interpretation, I have attempted to convey Goethe's words in English as best I could.





portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the year 1791, etching after the pen drawing by Johann Heinrich Lips, Goethe Museum Franfurt am Main, image is public domain, copyright terminated

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

in the year 1791
etching after the pen drawing by Johann Heinrich Lips
Goethe Museum Frankfurt am Main
(image: public domain)





Blessed Longing

Tell no one but the wise,
For the crowd will scoff at once:
The force of life is what I praise,
That which yearns for death by fire.

Passion cooled in nights of loving,
Begetting you, where you begot,
An alien touch is seizing you,
While calmly candlelight shines forth.

No longer are you caught
Obscured by darkness,
And new longing sweeps you
Up toward higher union.

No distance holds you fast,
Spell-bound you come flying,
And lastly, craving for the light,
You, butterfly, are burnt.

Without you to encompass that,
This: Die and be anew!
You merely are a sombre guest
On this gloomy earth.

Selige Sehnsucht

Sagt es niemand, nur den Weisen,
Weil die Menge gleich verhöhnet:
Das Lebendige will ich preisen,
Das nach Flammentod sich sehnet.

In der Liebesnächte Kühlung,
Die dich zeugte, wo du zeugtest,
Überfällt dich fremde Fühlung,
Wenn die stille Kerze leuchet.

Nicht mehr bleibest du umfangen
In der Finsternis Beschattung,
Und dich reißet neu Verlangen
Auf zu höherer Begattung.

Keine Ferne macht dich schwierig,
Kommst geflogen und gebannt,
Und zuletzt, des Lichts begierig,
Bist du Schmetterling verbrannt.

Und so lang du das nicht hast,
Dieses: Stirb und werde!
Bist du nur ein trüber Gast
Auf der dunklen Erde.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(1749 Frankfurt am Main - 1832 Weimar)

West-Östlicher Divan