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"Winter Journey in the Harz": A Poem by Goethe

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"Winter journey in the Harz 2" ; Ernst Barlach, 1924





Rainer Maria Rilke


To N. N.


February 8, 1912


"Now it my turn thank you (...) But listen to what I am thanking you for, and tell me yourself whether one may be sparing of thanks there — for the Harz Journey in Winter.


Not the Brahms version (I know almost no music) but for the Goethe poem, which is pure splendor. Most learned girl, still growing in wisdom every day, what will you think of me when you read that I did not know until last evening these great verses of antique moderation (for else they would withdraw from us into excess) ? In your letter I found the one very beautiful passage quoted, that made me curious , that is how I came upon them. Thank you.


I must tell you that only now for the first time, little by little and with all sorts of precautions, I am acquiring admiration for Goethe which, indeed as it comes to focus, is at once the greatest too, the most unqualified. Until a short while ago I knew only very little of his work, my need never turned instinctively to him, the great is both more accessible and more kindly disposed toward me at other high places ; but this Harz Journey I henceforth count among the strongest and purest, it is one of the most authentic poems: what harm could any time do it ?"


— Rainer Maria Rilke





Winter Journey in the Harz


As the hawk aloft On heavy daybreak cloud Searching for prey, May my song hover. For a god has duly to each His path prefixed, And the fortunate man Runs fast and joyfully To his journey's end; But he whose heart Misfortune constricted Struggles in vain To break from the bonds Of the brazen thread Which the shears, so bitter still, Cut once alone. Into grisly thickets The rough beasts run, And with the sparrows The rich long since have Sunk in their swamps. Easy it is to follow that car Which Fortune steers, Like the leisurely troop that rides The find highroads Behind the array of the Prince. But who is it stands aloof ? His path is lost in the brake, Behind hime the shrubs Close and he's gone, Grass grows straight again, The emptiness swallows him. O who shall heal his agony then In whom each balm turned poison, Who drank hatred of man From the very fullness of love ? First held now holding in contempt, In secret he consumes His own particular good In selfhood unsated. If in your book of songs Father of love, there sounds One note his ear can hear, Refresh with it then his heart ! Open his clouded gaze To the thousand fountainheads About him as he thirsts In the desert ! You who give joys that are manifold, To each his overflowing share, Bless the companions that hunt On the spoor of the beasts With young exuberance Of glad desire to kill, Tardy avengers of outrage For so long repelled in vain By the cudgeling countryman. But hide the solitary man In your sheer gold cloud ! Till roses flower again Surround with winter-green The moistened hair, O love, of your poet ! With your lantern glowing You light his way Over the fords by night, On impassable tracks Through the void countryside; With daybreak thousand-hued Into his heart you laugh; With the mordant storm You bear him aloft; Winter streams plunge from the crag Into his songs, And his altar of sweetest thanks Is the snow-hung brow Of the terrible peak People in their imaginings crowned With spirit dances. You stand with heart unplumbed Mysteriously revealed Above the marveling world And you look from clouds On the kingdoms and magnificence Which from your brothers' veins beside you With streams you water.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Source:


"Selected Poems" ; "Harzreise im Winter" (1777)

"A Winter Journey in the Harz", Translated by Christopher Middleton