Poetry from the European Languages

Goethe (1749–1832)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born at Frankfurt-on-Main. He studied at Leipzig and Strassburg. His early romantic poetry made him a leader of the Sturm and Drang movement. His novel the Sorrows of Young Werther made him famous. He settled at the Weimar court, travelling to Italy in 1786. He interested himself in science (botany, optics, anatomy) and helped to run the State theatre. He married in 1806. His major work was his version of the Faust legend. His broad sympathies and balanced personality illuminated German culture.

Goethe (1749–1832)

Roman Elegies I

Tell me you stones, O speak, you towering palaces!

Streets, say a word! Spirit of this place, are you dumb?

All things are alive in your sacred walls

eternal Rome, only for me all’s still.

Who will whisper to me, at what window

will I see the sweet thing who will kindle me, and quicken?

Already I guess the ways, walking to her and from her,

ever and always I’ll go, while sweet time slips by.

I’m gazing at church and palace, ruin and column,

like a serious man making sensible use of a journey,

but soon it will happen, and all will be one vast temple,

Love’s temple, receiving its new initiate.

Though you are a whole world, Rome, still, without Love,

the world’s not the world, Rome cannot be Rome.


Do you know the land where the lemon-trees grow,

in darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow,

a soft wind blows from the pure blue sky,

the myrtle stands mute, and the bay-tree high?

Do you know it well?

It’s there I’d be gone,

to be there with you, O, my beloved one!

Do you know the house? It has columns and beams,

there are glittering rooms, the hallway gleams,

and figures of marble looking at me?

‘What have they done, child of misery?

Do you know it well?

It’s there I’d be gone,

to be there with you, O my true guardian!

Do you know the clouded mountain mass?

The mule picks its way through the misted pass,

and dragons in caves raise their ancient brood,

and the cliffs are polished smooth by the flood;

Do you know it well?

It’s there I would be gone!

It’s there our way leads! Father, we must go on!

Venetian Epigrams I

Sarcophagi, urns, were all covered with lifelike scenes,

fauns dancing with girls from a Bacchanalian choir,

paired-off, goat-footed creatures puffing their cheeks,

forcing ear-splitting notes from the blaring horns.

Cymbals and drumbeats, the marble is seen and is heard.

How delightful the fruit in the beaks of fluttering birds!

No startling noise can scare them, or scare away love,

Amor, whose torch waves more gladly in this happy throng.

So fullness overcomes death, and the ashes within

seem still, in their silent house, to feel love’s delight.

So may the Poet’s sarcophagus be adorned,

with this book the writer has filled with the beauty of life.


Eyes tell, tell me, what you tell me,

telling something all too sweet,

making music out of beauty,

with a question hidden deep.

Still I think I know your meaning,

there behind your pupils’ brightness,

love and truth are your heart’s lightness,

that, instead of its own gleaming,

would so truly like to greet,

in a world of dullness, blindness,

one true look of human kindness,

where two kindred spirits meet.