A Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe Poem

Goethe Poem Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered one of the most brilliant, gifted, and influential figures in German literary history.

His works span the fields of poetry, drama, philosophy and science. While he was not an English writer, I am including him in the Wonder of Poetry section because of his immense influence in all European literature

Even Goethe's non-fiction writing, much of it philosophical in nature, sparked the thinking of philosophers such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche among others. 

Not only did Goethe achieve universal status as a man of letters, he is also credited with founding the science of morphology and he discovered the intermaxillary bone in humans.

Goethe was born in Frankfurt on Main, on August 28th, 1749, the first child of a lawyer Johann Caspar Goethe and Katherine Elisabeth Textor.

As a youngster he studied the usual Greek and Latin, as well as French and Italian, and he received instruction in art, dancing, riding and fencing.

At the age of 16 he began to study law at Leipzig University (1765-68) and when he returned to Frankfurt he proceeded to  practice law as well as work on his career as a writer and poet. Needless to say, his varied interests and pursuits served as a rich, diverse foundation for his writing.

While Goethe left a rich legacy of poetry and other works, his most well known piece is the tragic play Faust, which he spent most of his life writing (a span of 57 years).

Faust is an allegory on science and spirituality, passion and seduction and independence and love, amongst other themes. From the time he wrote it, Goethe's Faust has inspired much literature, music and art.

Below is one of my favorite of Goethe's poems (English translation). It illustrates his awe of God's omnipotence and his awareness of man's limitations.

The Boundaries of Humanity

When the primeval
All-holy Father
Sows with a tranquil hand
From clouds, as they roll,
Bliss-spreading lightnings
Over the earth,
Then do I kiss the last
Hem of his garment,
While by a childlike awe
Fiil'd is my breast.

For with immortals
Ne'er may a mortal
Measure himself.
If he soar upwards
And if he touch
With his forehead the stars,
Nowhere will rest then
His insecure feet,
And with him sport
Tempest and cloud.

Though with firm sinewy
Limbs he may stand
On the enduring
Well-grounded earth,
All he is ever
Able to do,
Is to resemble

The oak or the vine.
Wherein do gods
Differ from mortals?
In that the former
See endless billows
Heaving before them;
Us doth the billow
Lift up and swallow,
So that we perish.

Small is the ring
Enclosing our life,
And whole generations
Link themselves firmly
On to existence's
Chain never-ending.

Inspiring Goethe Quotes
The Arts and Personal Development
Literature and Personal Development
Philosopher's Corner

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