Sunday, October 30, 2016

Reflections in watery medium

Sanford Gifford, Twilight at Lago Maggiore (1871)
As the past few posts indicate, I have been obsessed with imagery concerning atmospheric effects and reflections, following on the mention in Goethe's diary of June 30, 1816: "Wiederschein der Bäume im trüben Wasser." Since that posting, I am constantly coming across such imagery in paintings, and this morning's reading was an article by Wolfgang Schadewaldt discussing such imagery in a Goethe poem. It begins "Dämmrung senkte sich von oben," and is the eighth poem in the 1827 collection Chinese-German Hours and Seasons (Chinesisch-deutsche Tages- und Jahreszeiten). Here is the poem in English translation by David Luke:

Dusk has fallen, and already
All that’s near grows faint and far;
But the first to rise has risen,
High it shines, the evening star!
All is in uncertain motion,
Creeping mists enshroud the sky;
Gulfs of night as deep as ocean
Mirrored on the dark lake lie.

Now I sense the gleam and glowing
Of the moonlight’s eastering day;
Slender willow-tresses flowing
With the nearby waters play.
Through the flickering shadows lunar
Magic dances, coolness seems
To have touched my eyes and soothes me,
Steals into my inmost dreams

Wolfgang Schadewaldt was an awesomely erudite and far-reaching scholar such as are few and far between today. Besides being the foremost Homer expert in modern times, he was also quite well versed in Goethe, Winckelmann, and Hölderlin. I have on my desk the volume Goethe Studien: Natur und Altertum, a collection published in 1963 that contains the essay "Zur Entstehung der Elfenszene im 2. Teil des Faust" (from Dvjs 29 [1955]). The essay is an example of philology at its best, in which Schadewaldt deduces the date of composition of the "elves chorus" scene at the beginning of the second part of Faust by comparing it with the above "Chinese" poem. Here, again in Luke's translation, are the relevant verses from Faust (Anmutige Gegend, 4634f.):

When a fragrance has descended
All about the green-girt plain,
Richer air with mist-clouds blended,
Evening dusk comes down again;
Lulls to infant-sweet reposing,
Rocks the heat with whispering sighs,
And this wanderer feels it closing
On his daylight-weary eyes.

Now to night the world surrenders,
Sacred love joins star to star;
Little sparkles, greater splendors,
Glitter near and gleam from far,
Glitter in the lake reflecting,
Gleam against the clear night sky;
Deepest seals of rest protecting
Glows the full moon strong and high.

Soon the hours have slipped away,
Pain and happiness are past;
Trust the light of the new day,
Feel your sickness will not last!
Green the valleys, hillsides swelling,
Bushing thick to restful shade,
And the fields, their wealth foretelling,
Rippling ripe and silver-swayed!

Have you wishes without number?
Watch the promise of the dawn!
Lightly you are wrapped in slumber:
Shed this husk and be reborn!
Venture boldly; hesitation
Is for lesser men — when deeds
Are a noble mind’s creation,
All his enterprise succeeds.

It is via a comparison of the two poems that Schadewaldt sets the date of composition of the elves chorus in 1827, when we know from his correspondence, diary entries, and conversations with Eckermann that Goethe was occupied with Chinese literature. On February 5, 1827, he published a small piece in volume 6 of Kunst und Altertum entitled "Chinesisches," which included a translation of verses from a Chinese collection translated in 1824 by an Englishman named Peter Perring Thomas. This new "East-West" encounter, introducing Goethe to a remote and exotic world as well as new poetic forms and motifs, led to increased productivity on his part, especially in connection with Faust.

Wang Wei poem on painting by Xin Tian
Luke also mentions in the notes to his translations the similarity in meter and mood of the two poems. Schadewaldt goes further, noting the common musicality, as well as the identical setting (moon rising over a body of water), and imagery (Dämmrung, Nebel, See, with variations on nah/fern, Licht, Spiegel, Glanz). Both are also "times of day" (Tageszeiten) poems, with day understood as including both day and night. Finally, both concern the soothing effect of nature on the human soul, especially the delight in repose produced by the approaching quiet of evening.

For Schadewaldt, the correspondences suggest that the two poems have their origins in a similar sort of epiphany, but he then proceeds to the differences. The first poem is "experienced" nature (aus unmittelbarer Naturnähe gedichtet), while the latter represents a more structured form (mehr versammelter Gestaltung). In the first, every two lines represent an addition of the details concerning the event -- the emergence of twilight -- with the effect tiptoeing, so to speak, into the observer's soul and registered in the final two lines: "Und durchs Auge schleicht die Kühle/ Sänftigend ins Herz hinein." In contrast, in the elves chorus scene, the effect on Faust comes from outside. Ariel has already instructed the elves to soothe Faust's turmoil (des Herzens grimmen Strauß) and, thus, Faust is enveloped in a healing sleep that will allow him to forget the past and restore him to new life. Nature is still the mediator, but the images of nature extend beyond the immediate experience into the future, into the light of day itself: "Fühl' es vor! Du wirst gesunden;/ Traue neuem Tagesblick."

This turn in conception is for Schadewaldt evidence of the date of composition of the opening scenes of the second part of Faust. In 1816, when Goethe was writing down ideas about the second part of Faust, he had intended, according to Schadewaldt, a "Geisterchor" to open that part as a parallel to the chorus of spirits in part 1. This time around, Faust would be lulled with ironic visions of power, fame, and worldly honor. His work on the "Chinese" collection, however, led to a different conception. Through the healing sleep mediated by nature, Faust is not reformed or bettered or purified, but he is relieved of the sensuousness and passions that dominated in the first part. Moreover, what Schadewaldt calls the Volksbuch's "temptation structure" is abandoned. Faust will now go on to work in lofty regions of purposeful activity, still making mistakes, still deluded, still mistaken, but not on the lower, sensuous level of the first part.

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