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Elegie

  • Contest: Love Poetry
  • Author: Goethe
  • And, if Mankind in torment’s dumb, again
    May some god give me power to speak my pain.


    What can I hope for now from this fresh meeting,
    From this day’s still tightly unopened flower?
    Paradise and Hell open to me in greeting:
    What hesitation rules my inward power! –
    No further doubt! She’s there at Heaven’s door,
    And one is gathered in her arms once more.

    So one was received in Paradise again,
    As if worthy of life’s beauty there forever:
    No wish, no hope, no longing still remained,
    Here was the goal of innermost desire,
    And in that vision of unique loveliness
    At once the fount of yearning tears grew less.
  • How little Day restrained his swift-beating wings,
    And seemed to drive the minutes there before him!
    A closely binding seal, the kiss at evening:
    So at the next day’s dawn it would remain.
    The hours too softly following each other,
    Like sisters, but no one quite like another.

    The kiss, the last, cruelly sweet, now tearing
    The glorious net of intertwined desires.
    The foot now flees the threshold, swift, then faltering,
    As if a Cherub drove it thence with fires.
    The eye frustrated sees the path is darkened,
    It looks behind, and now the gate is fastened.

    And now within itself the heart’s imprisoned
    As if it had never opened out: unknown
    Those blessed hours beside her, when it shone
    As bright as all the stars the heavens showed:
    And remorse, reproach, and irritation, care
    Weigh it down beneath the oppressive air.

    Isn’t the world there still? Are the rocky heights
    No longer crowned with all their holy shadow?
    Doesn’t the harvest ripen? The countryside
    Still lie, green leaves and fields, where rivers flow?
    And doesn’t the overarching vastness fill
    With hosts of forms, emptying itself, still?

    How light and dainty, clearly, tenderly formed
    Through the stern choir of clouds, like a Seraph,
    A slender shape, as if it were her shape, soars
    Made of bright mists, through the blue sky above!
    So you saw her, move happily in the dance,
    The loveliest of those sweet forms that entrance.

    But for no more than a moment do you dare
    Hold an ethereal image fast in her place:
    Return to your heart! Much more easily there
    You’ll find her, there she moves in changing shapes:
    Though she’s One, the Many you discover,
    Thousand-fold and ever, ever dearer.

    How she waited at the gate to welcome me,
    And delighted me, from then on, step by step,
    And still after the last kiss ran after me,
    To press the last kiss of all to my lips:
    This image of the Beloved, so quick and clear,
    Is written on my heart, in fiery letters there.

    On my heart, that firm as a towering wall,
    Holds itself for her, and her within itself,
    That joys, for her sake, in being here at all,
    Knows itself only when she reveals herself,
    Feels itself freer in such beloved bonds,
    And only beats for her, for all, in thanks.

    Its power to love, its need for love in return
    Had been consumed and vanished completely,
    But I found the glad impulse to hope again,
    To make decisions, and take action swiftly!
    If ever Love inspired a lover, then see,
    It achieved it most delightfully with me:

    And that was through her! – How unwelcome
    The weight of inner care on my mind and body:
    Images of dread, surrounding my gaze, loom
    Through the heart’s wasteland, anxious and empty:
    Now hope dawns across the familiar sill,
    In gentle sunlight she shines, herself, still.


    To God’s peace that down here – we learn –
    Brings a blessedness that passes understanding,
    The tranquil peace of Love I would compare,
    In the presence of the object of our loving:
    Then the heart rests and nothing can disturb
    The deepest sense: the sense of being hers.

    An impulse rises in the heart’s clear depths,
    To give ourselves freely, and gratefully,
    So entering into the eternally nameless,
    To something higher, purer, unknown, entirely:
    It’s piety, we say! – When I stand before her
    It’s this high blessedness that I seem to share.


    Before her gaze, as before the sun’s force,
    Before her breath, as before the spring breeze,
    Self-regard, for so long frozen, thaws
    And melts away within its wintry deeps:
    No self-interest, no self-will remains,
    At her coming they dissolve again.

    It’s as if she said: ‘Hour by kindly hour,
    Life is offered to us, even though
    Our yesterdays leave little trace, and our
    Tomorrows – we are not allowed to know:
    And if ever I shrank from the evening, sad,
    The sun still set on sights that made me glad.

    Do as I do, and look the Moment in the eye,
    With joy and understanding! No evasion!
    Meet it with goodwill, swiftly as it flies,
    Whether in Love’s pleasures or in action.
    Be only where you are, be childlike ever,
    You’ll then be all things, be defeated never.’

    I thought: you may well say so: for companion
    Some god granted you the Moment’s grace,
    In your sweet presence surely every man
    At once feels he’s the favourite of fate:
    But I fear a sign, that takes me from you –
    To learn such noble wisdom, what’s the use!

    Now I am far! The present minute now,
    What does it ask? I have no way to see:
    It has many good and lovely things to show,
    They’re only burdens I must cast from me.
    I’m driven on by an unyielding yearning:
    No counsel left, but only tears unending.

    Flow on then, tears, and flow unquenchably:
    Though you could never quench the inner fire!
    Already my heart is torn by violent frenzy,
    By life and death struggles, hideous desire.
    There may be herbs to heal the body’s pain,
    But the spirit fails to will or act again,

    Fails to grasp: how can I live without her?
    Imagining her shape a thousand ways.
    Now indistinct now radiantly clear,
    Now slow to form, now swiftly snatched away.
    What slightest comfort could this ever bring,
    This ebb and flow, this coming and this going?

    Loyal comrades, leave me in this place!
    Leave me alone with marsh and mossy stone:
    Go ever onwards! Earth gives you the space,
    The world is wide, the sky’s celestial zone:
    Search and consider, its details bring together,
    And slowly spell out the mysteries of Nature.

    All’s lost to me, myself as well I’ve lost,
    I who was once the darling of the gods:
    They tested me: they gave me Pandora’s box,
    Full of blessings, fuller of danger’s cost:
    To their bountiful lips, then they pressed me,
    They part me from them, now, and destroy me.