Sunday, February 15, 2009

Goethe in Love 2

In 1814 Goethe was given a copy of a collection of poems entitled, in German translation, "Der Diwan des Mohammed Schemseddin Hafis." It was a period of  great work in linguistics, in both European and non-European languages, and one of the fruits of this work was translations from the literary works of India and Persia. Goethe was personally acquainted with the Hafis' translator, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall.

Within a few weeks Goethe was writing the first poems in what would become West-östlicher Divan. Indeed, his encounter with the poetry of the Persian master, who had lived 500 years earlier, led not only to a poetic rejuvenation. One of the first poems he composed under the inspiration of Hafis' poetry has these lines:

So sollst du, munter Greis,/ Dich nicht betrüben,/ Sind gleich die Haare weiß / Doch wirst du lieben.

(In my clunky translation: "Don't let yourself be distressed, lively old man; even if the hair is white, you will still be in love.")

Yesterday I mentioned that Marianne von Willemer, whom Goethe first met in 1814, played an important role in the genesis of West-East Divan. On his return visit to the Willemers in 1815, when he was working industriously on the Divan poems, Goethe stayed at the "Gerbermühle," the summer home of the Willemers on the Main left bank.

This happy and productive time was even memorialized by Goethe in this view of Frankfurt from the Gerbermühle (Goethe Museum, Frankfurt). In the evenings he read the poems he had written during the day, and Marianne would sing his songs. They engaged in what has been called a poetic dialogue, reflected later in the Hatem-Suleika poems in the Divan. Their mutual passion is reflected in these poems: for instance, "Nicht Gelegenheit macht Diebe" by Goethe, "Hochbeglückt in Deiner Liebe" by Marianne.

They last saw each other on September 27, 1815. That evening Goethe wrote one of the most famous Divan poems, "Gingko Biloba," which he sent to Marianne with the small leaves attached. It is reproduced above (click to enlarge); the original is in the Goethe-Museum in Düsseldorf. Three of Marianne's poems were included (with Goethe's slight revisions) in the Divan when it was published in 1819. Two were set to music by Schubert: "Was bedeutet die Bewegung" (D720, Opus 14) and "Ach, um deine feuchten Schwingen (D717, Opus 31).

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