Posted by Richard on  UTC 2020-10-21 06:42

IX O wie fühl ich in Rom mich so froh, gedenk ich der Zeiten [7]

O wie fühl ich in Rom mich so froh, gedenk ich der Zeiten,


Da mich ein graulicher Tag hinten im Norden umfing,


Trübe der Himmel und schwer auf meine Scheitel sich senkte,


Farb- und gestaltlos die Welt um den Ermatteten lag,


Und ich über mein Ich, des unbefriedigten Geistes


Düstre Wege zu spähn, still in Betrachtung versank.


Nun umleuchtet der Glanz des helleren Äthers die Stirne.


Phöbus rufet, der Gott, Formen und Farben hervor.


Sternhell glänzet die Nacht, sie klingt von weichen Gesängen,


Und mir leuchtet der Mond heller als nordischer Tag.


Welche Seligkeit ward mir Sterblichem! Träum ich? Empfänget


Dein ambrosisches Haus, Jupiter Vater, den Gast?


Ach, hier lieg ich und strecke nach deinen Knieen die Hände


Flehend aus. O vernimm, Jupiter Xenius, mich!


Wie ich hereingekommen, ich kanns nicht sagen: es faßte


Hebe den Wandrer und zog mich in die Hallen heran.


Hast du ihr einen Heroen herauf zu führen geboten?


Irrte die Schöne? Vergib! Laß mir des Irrtums Gewinn!


Deine Tochter Fortuna, sie auch! die herrlichsten Gaben


Teilt als ein Mädchen sie aus, wie es die Laune gebeut.


Bist du der wirtliche Gott? O dann so verstoße den Gastfreund


Nicht von deinem Olymp wieder zur Erde hinab!


„Dichter! Wohin versteigest du dich?” — Vergib mir: der hohe


Kapitolinische Berg ist dir ein zweiter Olymp.


Dulde mich, Jupiter, hier, und Hermes führe mich später


Cestius Mal vorbei, leise zum Orkus hinab.


O how happy I feel in Rome when I think of the times when a grey day back in the north would wrap around me,

Dimming the sky and settling heavily upon my head, the world lay colourless and formless around me, the weary one,

And I sank into silent contemplation of myself, attempting to make out the dark paths of my discontented spirit.

Now the radiance of the shining aether surrounds my forehead. The god Phoebus conjures up shapes and colours.

The night shines with stars, they resonate with soft songs, and the moon shines more brightly than a northern day.

What bliss is here for me, mere mortal! Am I dreaming? Will you, Jupiter, receive this guest in your ambrosian house?

O, here I lie and stretch my hands towards your knees in supplication. O hear me, Jupiter Xenius!

How I came in I cannot say: Hebe seized the wanderer and pulled me into the halls.

Have you commanded her to lead a hero up here? Has the beautiful one made a mistake? Forgive her! Allow me to profit from the error!

Your daughter Fortuna, she too! She distributes as a girl the most wonderful gifts, as the mood takes her.

Are you the hospitable god? O then do not push your guest from Olympus back down to earth!

'Poet! to where are you climbing?' – Forgive me: the high Capitoline Hill, a second Olympus.

Bear with me for now, Jupiter, and Hermes will lead me later past the monument to Cestius, quietly down to the Underworld.


O wie fühl ich in Rom mich so froh: The immediacy of the exclamation and the use of the present tense should not fool us: this is not a contemporaneous account, but is being written in Weimar some years later – '5 February 1790' the manuscript tells us.

den Ermatteten: ermattet, 'weary, worn out, exhausted' etc. G. was no stranger to depression, despite (or perhaps because of) his driven personality. Here he is alluding to his state state of mind in 1786 which led to his flight from Karlsbad to Italy.

des unbefriedigten Geistes: 'the discontented/unsatisfied spirit', possibly alluding to the ten busy years in the service of Duke Carl August in Weimar which had led to the stagnation of his literary ambitions.

Phöbus rufet, der Gott,: 'Phoebus', Gk. 'bright', one of the principal epithets of the Apollo, the god of light, music and dance (among many other things).

Und mir leuchtet der Mond heller als nordischer Tag.: In his prose work Italienische Reise, composed around thirty years after the journey on which it was based, G. made frequent reference to the brightness of the moon in southern Italy and in Rome in particular during his stay. He would wander around Rome in the bright light and the deep shadow thrown by the moonlight shining on the monumental buildings.

It appears to have been a time of clear nights: Seit drei Tagen haben wir die hellsten und herrlichsten Nächte wohl und vollständig genossen, 'for the last three days we have thoroughly enjoyed the brightest and most magnificent nights' [2 February 1787]; Es war ein schöner klarer Himmel und der Mond voll, dadurch ward die Erleuchtung sanfter, und es sah ganz aus wie ein Märchen, 'There was a beautiful clear sky and the moon was full, which made the light softer and it all looked just like a fairy tale.' [30 June 1787]; Die Mondnächte sind ganz unglaublich schön, 'the moonlit nights are unbelievably beautiful' [30 July 1787, ibid]; Die Mondscheine sind hier, wie man sie sich denkt oder fabelt, 'the moonlit nights here as though they were be imagined or fabled.' [1 August 1787, ibid]; drei Nächte vorher stand der volle Mond am klarsten Himmel, und ein Zauber, der sich dadurch über die ungeheure Stadt verbreitet, 'three nights before [my departure from Rome] the full moon shone in the clearest sky and spread an enchantment over the gigantic city' [April 1788].

weichen Gesängen: 'soft/quiet songs', alluding to the Pythagorean notion of the singing stars and the associated 'music of the spheres', e.g.: World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras / Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings / What a star sang and careless Muses heard (from W. B. Yeats, 'Among School Children'…).

nach deinen Knieen: 'towards your knees', presumed to be a reminiscence of an opening scene in the Iliad, 1.498f, when Thetis appeals to Zeus [Kronides] on behalf of her son Achilles: 'So she sat down before him, and clasped his knees with her left hand, while with her right she touched him beneath the chin'.

Jupiter Xenius: The principle appelation of Zeus/Jupiter is Zeus Kronides 'Zeus the son of Kronos', but another important facet is his role as the god of hospitality, the guardian of the traveller, the stranger, the wanderer: Zeus Xenios or Jupiter Xenius. It is to him in this capacity that Goethe appeals.

Hebe: Hebe/Juventas is the goddess of youth. She is traditionally characterised as serving the ambrosia on Olympus. In the present context it was Hebe in the form of G.'s youthful love who seized him and took him to the 'ambrosian house' on Olympus.

Deine Tochter Fortuna: the goddess Tyche/Fortuna, the personification of good fortune, usually represented as a young woman holding a horn of plenty and distributing gifts. 'She distributes as a girl the most wonderful gifts' – but she hands out gifts randomly, without any concept of deserving, hence 'as the mood takes her'. A lottery, in other words.

der wirtliche Gott: 'the hospitable god', i.e. the epithet 'Xenius' of Jupiter, the god of strangers.

Dichter!: The speaker is Jupiter.

Kapitolinische Berg: The Capitoline Hill, the smallest of the famed seven hills of Rome, rises about 40 m above the level of the adjacent Tiber. From the earliest times the hill was covered with temples and shrines, in particular the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva (the Capitoline Triad'). This is the sense in which Goethe views the Capitoline Hill as a second Olympus.

Hermes: Hermes/Mercury, principally known as the messenger of the gods, but whose job also included escorting the souls of the dead to the underworld.

Cestius Mal: A shortened form of Cestius Denkmal, a 37 m high pyramid on the Porta San Paolo built around 12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius. It is not on the Capitoline Hill. In the manuscript text G. referred to it simply as die Pyramide, then as the Cestius Denkmal in text in Die Horen, then changing this (for metrical reasons) in the final version to Cestius Mal (the rare Mal is a 'marker' or 'monument').

Orkus: the god of the underworld or the underworld itself in Roman mythology.


Goethe's contrast between the grey world of his Weimar depression and the bright classical light of Italy requires no interpretation. In Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, composed almost concurrently with the Römische Elegien, he distilled the Mediterranean experience in a few lines that every educated German speaker now has by heart:

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Goldorangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht

'Mignon's Lied' from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Book 3, Chapter 1.

In the manuscript version of the elegies the happy mood was initially ascribed to Goethe's Roman lover, not Rome itself: O wie machst du mich, Römerinn, glücklich. Gedenk ich der Zeiten…, 'O how happy you make me, Roman woman. When I think of the times…'. The reason for the depersonalisation of the statement seems clear, since the rest of the elegy is very much about Rome and not his lover specifically. He also removed the personal situation from line 10, in which the moon shone into 'your quiet bedroom': Und mir leuchtet der Mond bis an dein stilles Gemach. Goethe turned this into one further comparison between north and south: 'the moon shines more brightly than a northern day'.

The first half of the elegy concerns the uplifting of Goethe's mood in terms of a simple change from the cold continental climate of north-eastern Germany to the warm Mediterranean climate of Italy. Mood and climate represent each other metaphorically. Characteristically, Goethe has wrapped this passage elegantly in two 'heads': Trübe der Himmel auf meine Scheitel, 'Dimming the sky and settling heavily upon [the top of] my head' in Weimar; umleuchtet der Glanz des helleren Äthers die Stirne, 'the radiance of the shining aether surrounds my forehead'.

The second half of the elegy is a representation of Olympus, the home of the gods, and particularly Jupiter, who, as we have already seen, is an important figure in much of the Römische Elegien. Jupiter is here in his facet of Jupiter Xenius, the god of hospitality and the protector of travellers, an important aspect for traveller Goethe, a stranger in a strange land. At the end of the elegy, the purely mythological setting of Olympus is transformed into the physical location of the temple-filled summit plateau of the Capitoline Hill, up which Goethe is currently climbing.

The Capitoline Hill had a particular importance for Goethe, which illuminates his use of it as the metaphoric Olympus on earth. At the end of his travel journal for his second Italian trip (April 1788), he tells us that, after many social farewells, his very last evening in Rome was spent in a solitary climb up the Capitoline Hill:

After I wandered for the very last time down the long Corso, I ascended the Capitol, that stood the like a fairy palace in the desert. The statue of Marcus Aurelius called to mind the Commendatore in 'Don Juan' and made it clear to the wanderer, that he was doing something out of the ordinary. In spite of that I went down the rear steps. Completely dark, throwing dark shadows, the triumphal arch of Septimus Severus stood in front of me; in the solitude of the Via Sacra the familiar objects seemed strange and ghostly. As I approached the elevated remains of the Coliseum and looked through the grating, I cannot deny that a shudder came over me and expedited my return.

Everything solid gave an impression of being simultaneously elevated and comprehensible, and in such contexts I drew an immense Summa Summarum of my entire stay. This, in an already agitated soul, aroused a mood, which I might call heroic-elegaic, out of which an elegy wanted to compose itself.

And why wouldn't at just such a moment Ovid's elegy not come to mind, Ovid, who also banned, had to leave Rome in a moonlit night. Cum repeto noctem!, his memories of that moment when he was far beyond the Black Sea, in a mournful and miserable condition, would not leave my head. I repeated that poem, which arose into my mind almost exactly, but which distracted and hindered me from my own production; which also, attempted later, never came to fruition.

When steals upon me the gloomy memory of that night which marked my latest hours in the city when I recall that night on which I left so many things dear to me, even now from my eyes the teardrops fall.
Now the voices of men and dogs were hushed and the moon aloft was guiding her steeds through the night. Gazing up at her, and by her light at the Capitol, which, all in vain, adjoined my home,

Nachdem ich den langen Korso, wohl zum letztenmal, durchwandert hatte, bestieg ich das Kapitol, das wie ein Feenpalast in der Wüste dastand. Die Statue Mark Aurels rief den Kommandeur in »Don Juan« zur Erinnerung und gab dem Wanderer zu verstehen, daß er etwas Ungewöhnliches unternehme. Dessenungeachtet ging ich die hintere Treppe hinab. Ganz finster, finstern Schatten werfend, stand mir der Triumphbogen des Septimius Severus entgegen; in der Einsamkeit der Via Sacra erschienen die sonst so bekannten Gegenstände fremdartig und geisterhaft. Als ich aber den erhabenen Resten des Koliseums mich näherte und in dessen verschlossenes Innere durchs Gitter hineinsah, darf ich nicht leugnen, daß mich ein Schauer überfiel und meine Rückkehr beschleunigte.
Alles Massenhafte macht einen eignen Eindruck zugleich als erhaben und faßlich, und in solchen Umgängen zog ich gleichsam ein unübersehbares Summa Summarum meines ganzen Aufenthaltes. Dieses, in aufgeregter Seele tief und groß empfunden, erregte eine Stimmung, die ich heroischelegisch nennen darf, woraus sich in poetischer Form eine Elegie zusammenbilden wollte.
Und wie sollte mir gerade in solchen Augenblicken Ovids Elegie nicht ins Gedächtnis zurückkehren, der, auch verbannt, in einer Mondnacht Rom verlassen sollte. »Cum repeto noctem!« seine Rückerinnerung, weit hinten am Schwarzen Meere, im trauer- und jammervollen Zustande, kam mir nicht aus dem Sinn, ich wiederholte das Gedicht, das mir teilweise genau im Gedächtnis hervorstieg, aber mich wirklich an eigner Produktion irre werden ließ und hinderte; die auch, später unternommen, niemals zustande kommen konnte.

Wandelt von jener Nacht mir das traurige Bild vor die Seele,
Welche die letzte für mich ward in der römischen Stadt,
Wiederhol' ich die Nacht, wo des Teuren so viel mir zurückblieb,
Gleitet vom Auge mir noch jetzt eine Träne herab.

Und schon ruhten bereits die Stimmen der Menschen und Hunde,
Luna, sie lenkt' in der Höh' nächtliches Rossegespann.
Zu ihr schaut' ich hinan, sah dann kapitolische Tempel,
Welchen umsonst so nah unsere Laren gegrenzt.

Cum subit illius tristissima noctis imago,
Quae mihi supremum tempus in Urbe fuit;
Cum repeto noctem, qua tot mihi cara reliqui;
Labitur ex oculis nunc quoque gutta meis. [ll. 1-4.]

Iamque quiescebant voces hominumque canumque:
Lunaque nocturnos alta regebat equos.
Hanc ego suspiciens, et ab hac Capitolia cernens,
Quae nostro frustra iuncta fuere Lari. [ll. 27-30.]

From Goethe, Die Italianische Reise. The Ovid quotation is from Tristia English translation from Arthur Leslie Wheeler, Ovid Tristia Ex Ponto, 1939.

A health warning is essential here. The journal of the Italienische Reise was in fact written between 1813 and 1817, that is, more than thirty years after the trip was concluded. In their written style, Goethe may give us the impression that these are the contemporaneous notes of the journey. They are not: they are a composition by the 65 year-old from notes, letters, diary entries; they are a 65 year-old's attitudes and memories of his 40 year-old self. That gap would be an appreciable distortion for anyone.

X Wenn du mir sagst, du habest als Kind, Geliebte, den Menschen [8]

Wenn du mir sagst, du habest als Kind, Geliebte, den Menschen


Nicht gefallen, und dich habe die Mutter verschmäht,


Bis du größer geworden und still dich entwickelt — ich glaub es:


Gerne denk ich mir dich als ein besonderes Kind.


Fehlet Bildung und Farbe doch auch der Blüte des Weinstocks,


Wenn die Beere, gereift, Menschen und Götter entzückt.


When you tell me, Beloved, that as a child people did not like you and that your mother scorned you

until you grew bigger and quietly developed – I believe it: I like to think of you as a particular child.

Though form and colour and even the flower of the vine are absent when the grapes, ripened, delight mortals and gods.


Wenn du mir sagst: The du, 'you', here may be G.'s Roman paramour or it may be Christiane Vulpius or it may be both. G. met Christiane in Weimar in mid-July 1788. It is reasonable to assume that the excitement of the first passion of their relationship was foremost in G.'s mind during the time he was ostensibly writing of his Roman lover, whom he had left behind in Rome only a few months before.

Fehlet Bildung: In his later years G. destroyed many of the personal notes and records he had made during his life. As far as his time in Italy was concerned, he confected out of these journals and notes his prose work Italienische Reise – then burnt the sources. After so much that he had written in his life, G. never wanted his inner self to be on view to his peers and to posterity.

Among the documents which G. left intact, the Goethe scholar Roberto Zapperi found two short messages that had somehow escaped the flames. Both were written in Italian, one by a professional scribe, the other by an uneven hand in almost childish, error strewn and ungrammatical Italian.

The first was sent to G. by the 20 year-old Costanza Roesler, the daughter of the owner of the osteria 'Vicenzo', suggesting that G. was attempting, vainly, to bring her into his clutches for some unmarried bliss. Zapperi concluded that the second note was sent to G. by his anonymous lover.

Very few women received any kind of education at the time; most were functionally illiterate. It was common for such women to have important messages written for them by professional scribes; the second message was written by someone trying hard to convey a heartfelt message directly. We looked at this message in relation to Elegy VIII.

The superficial meaning of Bildung in this context is 'form' or 'structure' – no other interpretation makes sense. But the primary meaning of Bildung, then as now, is 'education'; formation the French say.

Once we consider the uneducated background of the woman, in bed next to the literary genius operating in half a dozen languages, we begin to understand the underlying purpose of the present elegy, which expresses the idea that when the admirable adult has developed, the childhood that led to it is no longer important.


This elegy stands out from the others in two ways: it is very short and, apart from the mention of wine and gods, there is little in it that is inseperably connected with Goethe's Roman sojourn. It strikes the reader as a vehicle to deliver the fine epigrammatic conceit of the development of the vine, possible intended as a excuse for his lover's uneducated state.

It is nevertheless fully in the tradition of the Augustan elegaists, who also found distichs a suitable format for cleverly reasoned conceits.

XI Herbstlich leuchtet die Flamme vom ländlich geselligen Herde [9]

Herbstlich leuchtet die Flamme vom ländlich geselligen Herde,


Knistert und glänzet, wie rasch! sausend vom Reisig empor.


Diesen Abend erfreut sie mich mehr: denn eh noch zur Kohle


Sich das Bündel verzehrt, unter die Asche sich neigt,


Kommt mein liebliches Mädchen. Dann flammen Reisig und Scheite,


Und die erwärmte Nacht wird uns ein glänzendes Fest.


Morgen frühe geschäftig verläßt sie das Lager der Liebe,


Weckt aus der Asche behend Flammen aufs neue hervor.


Denn vor andern verlieh der Schmeichlerin Amor die Gabe,


Freude zu wecken, die kaum still wie zu Asche versank.


The flame burns autumnal in the rural, companionable hearth, crackles and gleams, how quickly! shooting up from the branches of firewood.

This evening the flames make me even happier: for before the bundle can be consumed into charcoal, sinking under the ashes,

My beautiful girl comes to me. Then branches and logs blaze up and the warmed night will be a radiant celebration.

Early tomorrow, with things to do, she will leave the love bed, stoking new flames from the ashes.

For Cupid has given the flatterer, more than others, the gift of reawakening pleasure, which, barely stilled, has only just sunk into ashes.


Herbstlich: G. spent the winter of 1786/7 and the autumn and winter of 1787/8 in Rome. He met his Weimar lover, Christiane Vulpius in July 1788, after which the relationship quickly intensified into an autumn of passion. As we have already noted, the rapid development of the relationship with Christiane may have been as much the inspiration behind Elegy V (see-desire-enjoy) and Elegy VI (seize the opportunity) as was G.'s acquisition of his lover in Rome.

ländlich geselligen Herde: It is an odd experience for the reader: in the midst of these urbane, metropolitan elegies, among the streets of the great capital with its monumental remains and great modern palaces, he or she is now enjoying country life in front of the ländlich 'rustic/rural' geselligen, 'companionable/sociable', Herde, 'hearth/fireplace'.

This elegy is, in fact, an evocation of the spirit of Tibullus, whose rural idylls set him apart from the more metropolitan work of Propertius, Catullus and Ovid. For example, Tibullus 1.1:38-48:

I do not ask for my ancestors' riches or the profits they got from stored-up grain. A small field is enough; enough if I can just lie on a mattress and refresh my limbs on my familiar bed. How delightful to hear the raging gales from the bedroom whilst holding my love in my gentle arms or, when a wintry south wind throws down its icy rain, to seek, aided by the fire, a carefree sleep.

Fictilia antiquus primum sibi fecit agrestis / Pocula, de facili conposuitque luto. / Non ego divitias patrum fructusque requiro, / Quos tulit antiquo condita messis avo: / Parva seges satis est, satis requiescere lecto / Si licet et solito membra levare toro. / Quam iuvat inmites ventos audire cubantem / Et dominam tenero continuisse sinu / Aut, gelidas hibernus aquas cum fuderit Auster, / Securum somnos igne iuvante sequi.
Tibullus 1.1

geschäftig: 'busily', but closer in meaning to 'with things to do', 'going about her business' – the point being that she has a reason to get up and leave the bed of love and her wandering German Universal Genius. But before she gets up she will stoke 'new flames from the ashes'.

Schmeichlerin: Some readers may be wondering why G. calls the woman who rekindles his ashes 'the Flatterer'. Who knows?


A charming piece of metaphoric writing, which is quite in keeping with the tone of Goethe's elegiac models. It forms a natural pair with its predecessor.

XII Alexander und Cäsar und Heinrich und Friedrich, die Großen [10]

Alexander und Cäsar und Heinrich und Friedrich, die Großen,


Gäben die Hälfte mir gern ihres erworbenen Ruhms,


Könnt ich auf eine Nacht dies Lager jedem vergönnen;


Aber die Armen, sie hält strenge des Orkus Gewalt.


Freue dich also, Lebendger, der lieberwärmeten Stätte,


Ehe den fliehenden Fuß schauerlich Lethe dir netzt.


Alexander and Caesar and Heinrich and Friedrich, the great ones, would give half of their acquired fame,

Were I not to begrudge them a night in this bed; but the poor ones are locked up securely in Hades.

Enjoy yourself, living man, in the bed warm with love, before the fleeing foot is wet horribly by the waters of Lethe.


Alexander und Cäsar und Heinrich und Friedrich: Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC), Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC), Henry IV of France (1553-1610) and Friedrich II (1712-1786). They all had the appellation 'the Great' attached to their names, hence G.'s collective appellation in the plural, 'the great ones'. They represent historical ages starting with the Greek, through the Roman and the French to the modern German. They are all dead and lingering in Hades – Friedrich II just qualifies, having died on 17 August 1786, only a few weeks before G. set off from Karlsbad on his way to Italy. Caesar and Heinrich were assassinated, some think that Alexander was, too, but the old warmonger Friedrich, after a warrior's life of near misses, died in his armchair.

Lethe: one of the five rivers of Hades, the river of forgetting, most famously described in Vergil's Aeneid, 6.703f.


Another contribution of Goethe's to the anacreontics' happy opposition of sex and death – 'The Grave's a fine and private place, But none I think do there embrace' together with the urgent need not to hang around, 'Now let us sport us while we may' (Andrew Marvell 1621–1678). On this occasion Goethe has layered it with the conceit of the 'great' men of each age being willing to give up half their fame for one night in the love-warmed bed.

In hindsight, a few modern historians would say that Friedrich II, whom they consider to be a serious homosexual, was probably not the right choice for this lineup of the sexually envious greats of history, but Goethe would have known nothing of this supposition.

0 Comments UTC Loaded:

Input rules for comments: No HTML, no images. Comments can be nested to a depth of eight. Surround a long quotation with curly braces: {blockquote}. Well-formed URLs will be rendered as links automatically. Do not click on links unless you are confident that they are safe. You have been warned!

Name  [max. characters: 24]
Type   into this field then press return:
Comment [max. characters: 4,000]