|Bouguereau, The Shepherdess (1889)|
|Hermann Ramberg, Hermann and Dorothea|
While this theme of the destruction of the idyll runs through Goethe's oeuvre, the move to Weimar brought about a departure in his poetic production. Goethe gradually left behind the "Genius" mentality that characterizes the production of the pre-Weimar works. Indeed, I have often thought about what Goethe might have been like had he not secluded himself for another fifty-plus years in the backwater of Weimar. Evidently, Goethe thought he had a lot to learn there, but what he produced was eigenartig: exclusive to himself. Goethe was of course familiar with the works of contemporaries, but one only has to consider his novels after The Sorrows of Young Werther to understand that he was not working the vein that has played such an important role in the conceptualization of the modern novel. I am thinking in particular of the British tradition.
I was again looking through Hermann Hesse's essay "Dank an Goethe" (1932), in which Hesse also refers to the split, if one can call it that, between the pre-Weimar poetry and what came thereafter. Hesse writes that he came to know Goethe as a boy, when it was easy to succumb to the power of the early lyrics and to Werther. That Goethe was "der Sänger, der ewig junge und naive," who brought "samt dem Duft von Wald, Wiese und Kornfeld, und in seiner Sprache, von der Frau Rat her, die ganze Tiefe und die ganze Spielerei der Volksweisheit, die Klänge von Natur und Handwerk, und dazu einen hohen Grad von Musik" (the scent of the forest, of meadow and cornfield, and, in a language inherited from his mother, the entire playfulness of folk wisdom, the sounds of nature and of craftsmanship and, in addition, a high degree of musicality).
|Goethe and Carl August on Swiss journey, 1779|
Image credit: Goethezeitportal; Die Weltwoche (AKG Images, Keystone)