Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goethe at New Year's

The first song in Goethe's collection Gesellige Lieder ("sociable/ convivial songs") is "Zum neuen Jahr" (On the New Year). When I was looking around on Google for information about this particular song, I found several English translations, at the end of which was appended "Composed for a merry party that used to meet, in 1802, at Goethe's house." Very intriguing. I'd like to know more about that party. According to the notes to WA I.1, "Zum neuen Jahr" first appeared in Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1804, editors Wieland and Goethe. Here is the poem:

Zwischen dem Alten,
Zwischen dem Neuen,
Hier uns zu freuen
Schenkt uns das Glück
Und das Vergangne
Heißt mit Vertrauen
Vorwärts zu schauen,
Schauen zurück.

Stunden der Plage,
Leider, sie scheiden
Treue von Leiden,
Liebe von Lust;
Bessere Tage
Sammlen uns wieder,
Heitere Lieder
Stärken die Brust.

Leiden und Freuden,
Jener verschwundnen,
Sind die Verbundnen
Fröhlich gedenk.
O des Geschickes
Seltsamer Windung!
Alte Verbindung
Neues Geschenk!

Denk es dem regen
Wogenden Glücke,
Dankt dem Geschicke
Männiglich Gut,
Freut euch des Wechsels
Heiterer Triebe,
Offener Liebe,
Heimlicher Gluth!

Andere schauen
Deckende Falten
Über den Alten
Traurig und scheu;
Aber uns leuchtet
Freundliche Treue;
Sehet das Neue
Findet uns neu.

So wie im Tanze
Bald sich verschwindet,
Wieder sich findet
Liebendes Paar;
So durch des Lebens
Wirrende Beugung
Führe die Neigung
Uns in das Jahr.

I particularly like the phrase "des Lebens wirrende Beugung." The folks in Weimar were certainly lucky to have Goethe in their company.

The image above, of celestial fireworks (click to enlarge), is from the "Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008." According to the legend, it shows the "ancient [!] open star cluster NGC 6791" taken in early 2008. Astronomers have uncovered three different age groups: two are burned-out stars called white dwarfs, of which this group of "low-wattage stellar remnants appears to be 6 billion years old." They are located 13,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra, NCG 6791, one of the oldest and largest open clusters known, containing roughly 10,000 stars. Visible between the crowded mass of stars are numerous distant galaxies far beyond our Milky Way.

I can't help wondering what Goethe would have thought about such a view of the universe, one unaided by the normal human eye but instead made possible by instruments, of which, as we know, he tended to be suspicious, intervening, as they do, with the directness of our perception of the sensible world. At the same time, the view might have confirmed his own "Naturansichten," as in the episode in the Wanderjahre (I.10) in which Wilhelm views the starry sky from the observatory and finds some confirmation of the famous statement of Kant: "Two things fill me with awe: the starry sky above and the moral law within."

Thanks to Hansjakob Werlen at Swarthmore for the convivial champagne image. A wonderful English translation of Goethe's New Year poem can be found at "Every Poet."

No comments: