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by netrov
Rated: 13+ · Article · Religious · #1405722
I and Thou. Affinities between Martin Buber and Goethe
{{b}Goethe's Life Companions, William, Lida and the Wanderer - Viewed in the Light of Martin Buber's "I-Thou" Formulation.{/b}

Zwischen Beiden Welten          

Lida, Glück der nächsten Nähe,
William, Stern der schönsten Höhe,
Euch verdank' ich, was ich bin.

Lida, joy that is ever closest to me,
William, star of the fairest height,
To you (dear friends) I owe all that I am.

Looking back in 1820 on his long and eventful career Goethe addressed Shakespeare as 'William' and Frau Charlotte von Stein as 'Lida' naming them his closest and most cherished friends to whom" he owed all that he was."

That such high adulation should be paid to Frau von Stein is not particularly surprising. When Goethe, beset by inner doubts and troubled emotions, first joined the court of Duke Karl August in Weimar in 1775, it was Frau von Stein who took young Goethe under her wing soon becoming his mentor and muse in residence. Though sexual attraction doubtless played a part in Goethe's relationship to Frau von Stein, their friendship was essentially platonic and high-minded and thus proved able to survive Frau von Stein's disappointment with Goethe's amorous pursuits in Rome and his sub-platonic relationship with Christiane Vulpius, who eventually became his wife.

It was to Frau von Stein that Goethe dedicated the cycle of poems sharing the general title of Verse an Lida. In these Goethe's use of the pronoun "du" is conspicuous, leading the noted Goethe scholar Erich Trunz to remark that the poems in this cycle are DU-oriented, that is to say, of a deeply personal and dialogic nature.(1) This orientation of Goethe's, Trunz adds, contrasts with the "monologizing" mode which in his view typifies the cycle of poems.dedicated to Lili, the preceding love in Goethe's life.

There is a notable poem that is preeminently "Du-oriented," though not included in the Verse an Lida: "Wandrers Nachtlied." One can regard "Wandrers Nachtlied" both as an undivided unity and as two separate poems placed together on the basis of their close affinity. " Wandrers Nachtlied" was originally the title of a poem a copy of which was inserted in a letter which Goethe sent to Frau von Stein in 1776. The English translation below is by H. W. Longlfellow.          

Wandrers Nachtlied /Wandrers Nachtlied I

Der du von dem Himmel bist,
Alles Leid und Schmerzen stillst,
Den, der doppelt elend ist,
Doppelt mit Erquickung füllest,
Ach, ich bin des Treibens müde,
Was soll all der Schmerz und Lust?
Süßer Friede,
Komm, ach komm in meine Brust!


Thou that from the heavens art,
Every pain and sorrow stillest,
And the doubly wretched heart
Doubly with refreshment fillest,
I am weary with contending!
Why this rapture and unrest?
Peace descending
Come ah, come into my breast!

This poem, which may bear the title of "Wandrers Nachtlied I," would later constitute the first part of "Wandrers Nachtlied" in its entirety. Goethe wrote what would become the other half of "Wandrers Nachlied" in 1780. This may bear the title of "Wandrers Nachtlied II" or "Ein Gleiches" ("A poem which is the same"), if set together with "Wandrers Nachllied I").          

Ein Gleiches /Wandrers Nachtlied II

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch,
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

O'er all the hill-tops Is quiet now,
In all the tree-tops
Hearest thou
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees:
Wait; soon like these
thou shalt rest.

A number of questions arise concerning "Wandrers Nachtlied" and "Ein Gleiches." Do they really belong together as an integral unity, and if so, who is addressing whom as "Du" in either case? Does the second poem reflect what Goethe thought might be Frau von Stein's response to his own plea voiced in the first poem? In what sense is one to understand the" Wanderer" that appears in the title in view of the fact that the first poem makes no mention of a journey and the second at most implies the possibility of one?

The second section of this study will look at these questions closely applying a strictly text-oriented approach of the kind advocated by adherents of the school that goes by the name of New Criticism. The first section is devoted to the task of investigating in what ways Goethe's "friends" Lida and William make their presence felt in Goethe's writings and to the question concerning the significance of the word "Wanderer" throughout Goethe's writings.

There is a connection between both the task and question just mentioned. In 1771 Goethe acclaimed Shakespeare as the greatest wanderer in the "Rede zum Shakespeare Tag" (Speech (commemorating) Shakespeare's Birthday"), a manifesto promulgating the artist's liberty from neoclassical rules. From then on the significance of the wanderer in Goethe's writings grew and grew, so much so that it became the watchword of the Romantic poets in Germany and even in England.

There will a final evaluation of the findings derived from both sections in order to establish how far these correspond and corroborate each other. Is the distinction between internal and external criticism absolute and valid? Do they present the two facets of the selfsame coin?


Goethe's dialogical frame of mind naturally led to the frequent use of the pronoun "du," even in cases in which its application strikes us as odd, for example, when Goethe addressed the long-dead Shakespeare as his closest friend and when he hailed an entire continent with the words "Amerika, du hast es besser." Apparently Goethe could sustain friendships that defied the normal limitations imposed by time, space and even death.

Goethe stole a march on the philosophy of Martin Buber, who differentiated between two fundamental attitudes of mind, and the corresponding relationships of "I to it" and "I to thou," as he termed them. (2) In the first case the mind regards any external entity as essentially foreign, even threatening, which was only to be understood by applying a process of analytical thought.

The Cartesian proposition based on the concept underlying the words cogito ergo sum falls into the category of such a mode of thought. Against this Buber posited the" I-thou" relationship, in which minds meet without being separated by a barrier between subject and object. The ultimate "I-thou" relationship Buber discovered in that which pertains between the human soul and God. According to E. D. Hulme,(3) that sharp critic of Romanticism, God had been ousted from the mainstream of European thought, with the result that the Romantics availed themselves of traditional religious symbols, not least among them those evoked by the word "Wanderer," but without any commitment to the truths or values they enshrined, and thus brought forth "spilt religion." Without acknowledging the gravamen of Hulme's strictures, we must admit that Goethe first, and then the Romantics after him, urgently needed something to make up for the absence of a divine mediator, muse or guiding spirit, however named, between the mind and matter. The sudden and excessive use of the word "wanderer" meant both a cry for help and, in Goethe's case at least, a promise of its gain.

We know from lines in the Xenien (a compilation of epigrams and pensees to which both Goethe and Schiller made contributions in the mid to late 1790s) that Goethe was sharply critical of the philosophy based on the cogito ergo sum premise. for in these lines he affirmed that he had existed at times when he was not thinking at all (in a philosophical vein).

Einer aus dem Haufen:

Cogito ergo sum. Ich denke und mithin so bin ich; Ist das eine nur wahr, ist das andere gewiß.

(One from the Crowd:
Cogito ergo sum. I think and therefore I am. If the one is true, then the other is certain.)

Denk ich, so bin ich. Wohl! Doch wer wird immer auch denken?
Oft schon war ich und hab' wirklich an gar nichts gedacht.

I think, therefore I am. Fine! But who thinks all the time. I have often existed without really thinking about anything.

Research into language acquisition has more recently established that children in the early stages of learning their mother, repeat mother, tongue say "you," "du" etc. before "I" and" ich" and most certainly "ego."

Adherence to the "I to thou" principle helped Goethe to overcome that oppressive sense of isolation that was to beset not only himself but also his contemporaries in the the Romantic school of literature. The problem and, for Goethe its remedy, are bound up with the profound implications of the word "Wanderer" in Goethe artistic development, the central and abiding importance of which emerges from Professor Willoughby's seminal article "The Image of the 'Wanderer' and the 'Hut' in Goethe's Poetry." (4) Professor Willoughby notes that the word "Wanderer," often found in close proximity to the word "Hütte," occurs so frequently and insistently throughout Goethe's corpus of literary works that it must be grounded deep down within the collective unconscious posited by C. G. Jung. Essentially the Wanderer symbolizes the male quest for union with the ultimate, the quintessential, female, the anima, or in Goethe's own words "das ewig Weibliche," the Eternally Female." For Goethe, though not for the Romantics, this quintessential female is no pure ideal devoid of flesh and blood but rather, rolled up in one, mother and spouse, the keeper of home and hearth and the mainstay of family life and, ultimately, of any social order.

Professor Willoughby recognized in the wanderer-hut paradigm a recall of the archetypal wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness commemorated in the Feast of the Tabernacles when it was, and remains, incumbant on Jews to live in makeshift huts or booths. The long wilderness journey, according to traditional religious teaching, constituted both a punishment and a course of moral and spiritual training through experience. In the "Prologue in Heaven," which introduces Faust Part I, the Voice of the LORD pronounces that Faust will be His servant though all the erring and winding course of his life. Basically the same metaphor underlies the Bildungsroman entitled Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. for it belongs to a genre of novel based on J.-J. Rousseau's concept of education through the experience of life, for Wilhelm Meister and his fellow actors set up their Wanderbühne (temporary stage) at many different locations though their ultimate destiny was to establish a permanant national theatre analogous to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Why did the nexus of associations which Professor Willoughby attributed to the operations of something so vast and universal as the "collective unconscious," suddenly emerge in Goethe's literary creations? The epochal aspect of the wanderer's sudden prominence as a literary phenomenon has not been overlooked by other scholars and critics interested in this word's magnet appeal. Critics specializing in the English Romantic school of poetry such as Geoffrey Hartman (5) and Harold Bloom (6 ) employ the word "wanderer" to characterize the acutely self-conscious poets of the Romantic period. Significantly they also relate the word wanderer to the ultimate goal of the Romantic poetic endeavour, that of reaching a final station of emotional equilibrium, some steady state of the soul like Nirvana to be reached by the union of the libido and the anima. In this process, Bloom and Hartman argue, the relevance of "internalized" poetry to religious or any other external truth goes by the wayside.(7) Not only is the poet isolated from the world. His work is an "object" radically separated from the author's life or personal aspirations. The process of compartmentalisation into hermetically sealed autonomous zones is complete now that the concept of God or any other universal integrating power has been discarded.

What then is the explanation for this massive recourse to this word "wanderer" by Goethe and his Romantic contemporaries? Here we should consider what range of meanings the word "wanderer" could convey to those who lived when Goethe emerged as a poet and writer. In the 18th century, as today, the word "wanderer" in German had a wide range of meanings even in terms of its general lexical definitions, which may be rendered in English as: on the literal level, rambler, traveler, wayfarer, journeyman;. on the metaphorical level, meanings rooted in religious tradition referring to outcasts like Cain but also, paradoxical as it might seem, pilgrims on life's journey or wandering musicians or artists. These flat synonyms do not convey the word's power to imply reciprocal relationships, particularly those pertaining between physical motion, resultant perceptions and states of mind or consciousness. This reciprocal aspect finds a parallel in the I-thou relationship to which references have been made in this essay.

At base the verb" wandern" is etymologically related to words denoting changing and turning (Wandel, wenden), hence its cardinal (in its original sense of "hinge-like") and its pivotal implications that mark significant turning points during a walk or journey rather than describe that journey or walk in its entirety. In its metaphorical sense the sinner turns from God, the repentant turns to God). In Goethe's poetry the word may primarily denote any of the senses cited above but underlying them all is the identification of the wanderer with the modern artist-poet adrift in the hostile environment of a secular and rational civilization, arguably the long-term result of the Cartesian method of analysis.

Let us go back to the origin of the "Wanderer" as the word that played a central role in Goethe's development as a poet and writer. I recall the lines quoted under the title of this investigation from which we learn that Shakespeare, as William, was a Duzfreund of Goethe's. Goethe was introduced to Shakespeare, or should one say to a full appreciation of Shakespeare's dramatic and poetic genius in 1770. As a consequence Goethe was overawed by the power of the Shakespearean genius to range freely in time and space untrammeled by the neo-Aristotelian conventions of the kind stipulated by Johann Christoph Gottsched. His enthusiasm soon bore fruit. In his "Rede zum Shakespeares Tag" ("Speech on the Occasion of Shakespeare's Day") Goethe called Shakepeare the greatest of all "wanderers" on the strength of the image of a giant bestriding the globe from one quarter to another. By this image of "the greatest wanderer" Goethe established the precedent for his lifelong promotion of the word as a central term in his verbal thesaurus. This wandering Titan, half Prometheus, half follkloric giant in seven-league boots, was hardly approachable as the friend we encounter in "Zwischen Beiden Welten." Besides, this giant could not be construed as the bard of Stratford himself but only as a figure representing the power and scope of his genius, an "it" rather than a "thou" in the terms of Buber's philosophy. Those who first read or heard the speech recognized in the word Wanderer a reference to Goethe himself, known for walking the considerable distance between Frankfurt and Darmstadt, where Herder was then living.

The fact that the same word referred both to Shakespeare as the source of poetic inspiration and to Goethe, the wind-tossed walker on his way to Darmstadt, involved a painful sense of ambiguity, a Pandora's box from which there came grave afflictions of the poet's mind, an overloading of the consciousness and a dizzy alternation between ecstasy and dejection that was to affect not only Goethe but the entire generation of Romantic poets. The insistent choice of the word "Wanderer" and the verbs from which it is derived, wandern and to wander signaled the malaise of the overburdened self-consciousness and ultimately a pointer to its alleviation.

How did "Shakespeare" become "William." How did "it" become "thou" in terms of Martin Buber's philosophy? Sidling up to Shakespeare as a friend would take time and progressed in stages, these being marked by significant occurrences of the name "Wilhelm" in Goethe's literary works. This is not to say that every mention of a "Wilhelm" betokened an allusion to Shakespeare. However, the name becomes significant in the sense now indicated if bound into a dialogue or exchange of communications calling for the use of the pronoun "du," and all the more so it the word "Wanderer" and any reference to Shakepeare's works have any part to play within this dialogue or series of communications. The Wilhelm to whom Werther writes in "Die Leiden des jungen Werthers" conforms to these criteria. Wilhelm was the penfriend of Werther, whose brooding mind dwelt on the mental anguish of Hamlet and his dilemma so very like his own. Werther identifies himself a wanderer, here in the sense of a wandering pilgrim by his words "Ich bin nur ein Wandrer auf dieser Erde" ("I am only a wanderer on this earth.")

There is another notable case in which the name of Wilhelm has undeniable associations with Shakespeare. Wilhelm Meister is the name of the central protagonist in the novels Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre. The former work follows the career of Wilhelm Meister, a leading actor with a strong prediliction for Shakespearean drama and playing the role of Hamlet. He and his strolling company of stage performances on a "Wanderbühne," (a temporary and transportable stage set) lending weight to bourgeois prejudices against those active in the acting profession as gypsy-like itinerants.

This novel, the immediate forerunner of which was entitled Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung, was one of main factors that led to the rise of the Romantic movement in Germany according to the authorative opinion of Friedrich Schlegel,(8)a leading Romantic novelist and theorist himself. Paradoxically the Romantics were both enthused and repelled by aspects of the novel, for on the one hand they recognized their afinities with the wandering entourage of artists and actors but they rejected Wilhelm Meister's insistance that artists be useful and practically minded contributors to society and humanity. Meister himself finally renounced his acting career to become a surgeon for the injured.

Forgetting, it seems, that there were no Romantic poets around when Goethe composed this novel, Professor Willoughby in his article cited earlier asserts that Goethe showed his disapproval of irresponsible and unstable "romantic" wanderers by seeing to their untimely demise, the fates suffered by Mignon, a young girl singer and artist of Italian provenance, and the wild-looking bearded harp player who finally succumbs to dementia. Longevity, however, is not the seal of Goethe's approval in other works. It is the trusting Egmont who falls foul of the Duke of Alba's schemes while the shrewd William of Orange escapes his clutches. Werther declines into distraction and suicidal morbidity while the level-headed and decent Albert survives and marries Lotte. Torquato Tasso appears to be a failure in the eyes of the court at Ferrara while his composed and firm-minded friend Antonio proves hardy and unshakable. In these cases our strongest sympathies lie with the failures or non-survivors, not with the survivors.

The coupling of antithetic characters is arguably rooted in a dichotomy residing in the human mind itself. This view was upheld by Friedrich Gundorf, one of Germany's most authoritative experts on Goethe before the nightfall of free intellectual life in Germany in 1933. Ultimately the survivor Faust is saved by the intercession of the non-survivor Gretchen transformed into Celestial Mary. Thus the romantic side of Goethe's personality never became extinct or totally suppressed; rather it entered into a dialogue with with that aspect Goethe's personality that ever sought to "further the day." "Was aber ist deine Pflicht? Die Forderung des Tages." Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre VII,1" But what is your duty? The advancement of the day."
"Wandrers Sturmlied" and "Der Wandrer"

Let us now consider two poetic works "Wandrers Sturmlied" and "Der Wandrer" from which we may gather why the word "Wanderer" was so central to Goethe's early development as a poet even before its elevation into the title of the deservedly most celebrated poems in Goethe's poetry, "Wandrers Nachtlied."

"Wandrers Sturmlied" and "Der Wandrer" pose the contrast between a poem that Goethe, after much delay, only reluctantly acquiesced to publishing in print and a poem or rather poetic dialogue that passed on the "wanderer" as the watchword referring both to the source of poetic inspiration and the poet himself.

"Wandrers Sturmlied" was composed in the years 1772 and 1773 when Goethe was still reeling from the impact of his discovery of Shakespeare's poetry and drama. As pointed out earlier, Shakespeare was a "wanderer" in a metaphorical sense while Goethe was known as the wanderer in the mundane sense of a being a pedestrian, a person who habitually walked from Frankfurt to Darmstadt and back.

"Wandrers Sturmlied" recalls one of these walks on a stormy day. As the walker trudges on through wind and sleet, his mind imagines itself wafting up the slopes of Mount Parnasus towards the seat of the deities of ancient Greece. The wanderer is escorted by the female spirits associated with poetic expression, the Graces and Charities. Though Goethe once dismissed this poem as the mere babbling needed to keep up his spirits when encountering stormy weather, it reveals on close inspection a complex triadic structure.The final three strophes refer in turn to Anacreon, famed for poetry about the joys of wine; Theocritus, generally considered to be the originator of idyllic poetry (the words "Sonnebeglaenzte Stirn" ("sun-illumined brow") suggest a connection with Apollo); and finally Pindar. The last strophe is introduced by the image of turning wheels and racing chariots, a fitting evocation of Pindar's celebration of the events and achievements of those competing in the Olympic and similar festive games. The dust thrown up by the chariots is likened to a flurry of grit, hail or sleet sweeping down a mountain-side. "Kieselwetter" ("sleet") incorporates meanings that pertain to the mineralogical.and to meteorological domains, and in the context of the poems furnishes an image that fittingly marks the transition from one scene to another.

The vision of an Olympian and Olympic past yields to the dreary reality of a traveller contending with the wintry conditions in a more northerly clime. The wanderer's upward progress comes to an end when he stalls in flight and crash-lands in a river of mud, after which he is dishonorably forced him to wade toward a humble hut, his only hope of shelter. This poem evidently reveals that Goethe first lacked confidence in his powers of sustained poetic utterance, not knowing the true nature of his source of inspiration. The word "Wanderer," far from being a poetic epithet or well-defined conceit, brought to his mind a sense of embarrassment and vulnerability. How different is the case with

"Der Wandrer"

"Der Wandrer" is a dramatic dialogue in verse much akin to the so-called Künstlergedicht, in which the clash between art and the pursuit of daily domestic life comes to the fore, as when an artist's concentration is disturbed by a bawling infant or a scolding wife. The wanderer depicted in this work visits the remains of a ruined ancient temple located near Cuma in Southern Italy. He might be regarded as an itinerant "culture vulture" inspired by the writings of J.-J. Rousseau, Johann Joachim Winckelman and Oliver Goldsmith. whose account of a long tour on the continent in verse, "The Traveller" offered Goethe a model for "Der Wandrer." He encounters a young woman with babe in arms standing beside a well: she gives him directions based on her knowledge of the lay of the land and shows him her humble dwelling made from the stones that had originally been part of an ancient temple. The wanderer becomes so engrossed in an inner rapturous monologue that his imagination transports him back to the high ideals that had informed the artistry frozen in the masonry around him. However, the young woman's references to the mundane necessities of life sets the verbal effusions of the wanderer into relief and with an ironic, even comical, effect.

On the other hand the young woman encountered standing by a well possesses the symbolic attributes of Rebecca or Rachel as described in the Book of Genesis or even of the Madonna, and as such may recall Werther's first encounter with Lotte or that of Hermann with Dorothea in other poetic works written by Goethe. The recurrence of this image is attributable to the subconscious influence to which Professor Willoughby refers in his article cited earlier.Though the wanderer in no way betrays a sign that the young woman he meets is an object of his sexual desire, she serves to remind him that his quest for a resting place awaits fulfillment. The poem is prophetic in its anticipation that Goethe himself would one day wander among the ancient Greek and Roman temples and artifacts during his journeys through Italy and Sicily. The poem also shows that even in his early years he realized that the masonry left by the sculptors of antiquity could serve a useful purpose as building material for the living.The utilitarian penchant within Goethe's world view, much deprecated by the Romantics, is already apparent.

In "Der Wanderer" we see the first public appearance of the wanderer in Goethe's poetry. Its dramatic frame obviated the fear that prying eyes might intrude too deeply into Goethe's private sphere, and yet even as the actor in a drama, the wanderer persona could allow Goethe scope to divulge his basic concern with the nature of the artist and his dealings with the world. The wanderer monologizes profusely, like poets so often do, but this tendency is cast in a humorous light by the verbal intrusions of the young woman, allowing the reader to smile at the wanderer's excesses without at the same time laughing at Goethe, only with him. The Romantic poets later adopted much the same strategy of casting the poet in the dramatic role of a wanderer, poet or artist. Indeed, Byron and the post-Romantic Robert Browning perfected the genre of the dramatic monologue. However with few exceptions, Heinrich von Kleist and Victor Hugo among them, the Romantics could not free their imagination from a basic self-concern so as to be able to create dramas that would prove suitable for the theatre. Goethe, as a great dramatist, was able to achieve this, not least by generating a tense dialogical interplay between characters who suffer from the malaise of the afflicted and lost wanderer and compassionate women such as Leonore and Iphigenie , who, like Charlotte von Stein, prove able to redress or contain the wayward tendences of an overwrought Torquato Tasso or Orestes.

The dissemination of the notion of the wanderer as a representation of the modern poet seeking a new foundation for the practice of his or her art received its first powerful impulse from the publication of "Der Wandrer,"and that not only within the German-speaking world. The work was translated into English by William Taylor of Norwich with the title of "The Wanderer" early enough to instill in the minds of the English Romantic poets, particularly the Lakers Coleridge and Wordsworth, a sense of what the “Wanderer“ meant to Goethe . It is interesting to note that here the German word "Wanderer" passes into English as "wanderer." Following suit, Longfellow translated Goethe's "Wandrers Nachtlied" as "Wanderer's Night-Songs." In the case of a prose translation “to wander“ and “wandern“ might be considered faux amis, words the outward similarity of which commonly leads to a misunderstanding. In poetry they are not for reasons that perhaps the linguistically based theories of the Russian Formalists and Structuralists can best explain. Let us return to this question later. As Jonathan Wordsworth demonstrates in his monograph The Music of Humanity, (9) Coleridge mediated an influence emanating from William of Norwich's translation to Wordsworth, an influence subsequently reflected by the figure of the Wanderer in The Excursion. Might not the same influence be present more hauntingly in that most celebrated of poems in the English language which begins with the line "I wandered lonely as a cloud." It seems that short poems whose titles or first lines contain a reference to wandering are singularly resonant, memorable and popular. All this is evident in the next poem we consider, "Wandrers Nachtlied."

Before launching straight into a study of "Wandrers Nachtlied" let us consider three basic ways in which critics of poetry go about their task. These fall under the headings, objective criticism, historicist-biographical criticism and linguistically based or logocentric criticism.

Historicist, biographical and similar schools of criticism

For those adhering to a historicist tradition such as M. M. Bakhtin, Erich Auerbach or M. H. Abrams literary works are seen as part of continuous developments that stretch over the course of historical development since antiquity. Those adopting a psychological approach explore the mind of the author whose work they are studying. Others engage in biographical, Marxist, feminist, faith based criticism and so on. Such critics will discuss a poem in the light of its biographical and historical setting. This is how one might establish the context of "Wandrers Nachtlied."

The first "Night-Song" was written in l776, when Goethe was still a newcomer to the court in Weimar. We note a correspondence between the mood of the first "Night- Song" and the young poet’s situation in that year. He was then still recovering from the trauma of his Sturm und Drang years when he had felt himself to be a Cain-like fugitive.

By 1776, Goethe was afforded the promise of relief from his woes by the consoling influence of Frau von Stein. By 1780, largely as a result of being subject to this influence, Goethe had acquired the virtues of self-possession, patience and a sense of the objectivity inculcated by the contemplation of physical nature and works of art. As a minister charged with responsibility for the supervision of mines, he frequently visited Ilmenau, and it was in the close vicinity of this town that he wrote the second "Night-Song" and inscribed its words into the boards of a wayfarer's hut set in the hills. The most probable date of this event was the 6th of September 1780. When Goethe approached the end of his life, he returned to this hut. On reading the second "Night-Song" carved in the boarding of a wall, Goethe could not help weeping, so deeply was the poem connected with his memories of Frau von Stein. Goethe himself set the precedent for having the poems appear either separately or together.

Internal Criticism

Critics adhering to the objective school of New Criticism might object to discussions of a poem's background on the grounds that a poem should be treated as a singular object to be considered only in the light of its intrinsic and internal features. The objective critic focuses on 'the work,' without reference to external factors unless one can abstract from them some feature of the work's organisation, structure and so on. Even the mind of the author who created the poem should not be probed, for then the inquiry would be studying some aspect of psychology, not the work itself. Likewise, questions of influence, the poem's historical setting, its ostensible statements about truth, religious or otherwise, are extraneous, interesting perhaps to some but essentially irrelevant to the task of assessing a work's intrinsic constitution and essential qualities. With due account given to certain differences in their point of view, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman and Northrop Frye belong to the party of those who deny that a poem poses any form of personal statement or advertisement on any political, religious or other ideological platform.(10) Whether any critic can conveniently forget all knowledge of an author's life and the historical context of a work under discussion is questionable but l shall undertake to discuss "Wandrers Nachlied" purely on the basis of its "internal" composition in due course.

Linguistically based and logocentric approaches to literary texts

There is a third school of critical opinion based on the premises of Ferdinand de Saussure which, while endorsing the objective or contextual critic's method of closely studying the text and the effects of its verbal combinations, certainly rejects the notion that the work of art is detached from any "external" matter. This is because language is taken to furnish the basis of poetry just as much as it is the basis of all verbal communication. The word, though an integral part of the poetic text, never loses its inherent universality and its bond with all words to which it is united by a recognizably common form. They challenge the assumption that the poets are in complete control of the medium in which they work, language.The word wanderer presents a problem to the objective critic because its multiplicity of meanings overtaxes conscious efforts to craft language with predictable concision. To admit that only the unconscious mind can grapple with the effects generated by words like wanderer would mean admitting that the effects of such words are only partially controllable and predictable at a conscious level.

Can a poem be discussed without reference to the author and anything that is known about this author's life, situation, psychological disposition and so on? How effectively can "Wandrers Nachtlied" be treated as an aesthetic object alone? The following close study poses an attempt to answer this question. The concluding discussion will open the question as to whether the findings derived from this close study complement those derived from comparative and biographically based studies. We shall also consider whether the logocentric approach to textual criticism can resolve the differences between the internal and other schools of literary criticism.


Is the poem an itegral unity? If it is a dialogue who is addressing whom using the pronoun du? In what sense is the speaker a wanderer?
In the two poems that share the title "Wandrers Nachtlied" the word "du" occupies a strategic place at the beginning of the first poem in the line "Der du von dem Himmel bist" and at the end of the second poem (Ruhest du auch). Who is being addressed? Evidently not the same person, which true of the speaker, the "ich" implied by the utterance "du".

In the first poem the reader understands that the speaker is a supplicant and the one whom he entreats is a heavenly power, the personification of Peace (Friede). The first line echoes the opening sentence of the Lord's Prayer with the subtle yet significant difference that the one whose saving intervention is besought is from heaven, not in heaven. The speaker betrays that he is in great perplexity from being buffetted by adversity and torn between the extremes of sorrow and ecstasy. He ascribes to the power he addresses the abity to assuage misery by according an equal measure of emotional fulfillment. "Wandrers Nachtlied( I)" thus evinces the diction and tropes that typify the high style of poetic tradition. The same is not true of "Wandrers Nachtlied (II)". where we find no element of traditional poetic diction, no evocation of a heavenly power or figure from the domain of mythology. Instead, the poem makes succinct references to natural objects and phenomena, mountain-tops, hill-tops and small birds. It ends with a promise that the one to whom the song is addressed will soon be at rest.

The poem raises an important qustion. Why does the speaker tell the person addressed what he himself sees and senses? When would one normally say to another person "You see mountain-tops" or "You do not hear birds in the woods"? Does the speaker only imagine he has a companion? Perhaps he invites the reader to imagine that he or she was with him? Such a conclusion does not tally with the final line, which indicates that the speaker addresses a particular person, a friend to whom the same speaker promises the consolation of rest by the words "Balde ruhest du auch."

There may be situations in life when somebody points out to others what they can see for themselves. Let us imagine that a teacher of art wishes to draw attention the salient features of a landscape painting. By stating what his students can see for themselves the teacher could well imply a mode of interpretation relevant to a greater appreciation of the picture in question. " The speaker emerges as the mentor or guardian of the person to whom his or her words are addressed.

Understood as a mentor or one endowed with knowledge or insight superior to that of his or her ward, the speaker poses an unpretentious or downscaled counterpart of the august divinity to which the speaker directs his plea in "Wandrers Nachtlied I" and we find a parallel between the peace sought by the speaker in "Wandrers Nachtlied I" and the rest promised by the speaker in "Wandrers Nachtlied II."

Let us consider the connection between the title shared by both poems and the identity of the respective speakers. In both poems the words attributed to the speakers cover the entire text , it follows that the speaker is a " Wandrer." How can this be so in view of the great difference between the position of the supplicant in "Wandrers Nachtlied I" and the mentor and comforter in "Wandrers Nachtlied II"? There is a further question. In what sense is the speaker a wanderer? In the first poem there is no reference to a journey or even to physical motion. In the second only the indications that a person witnesses a nocturnal landscape imply that the observer must travel on in a homward direction.Traditionally the word "wanderer" evokes the religious concept of a spiritual journey through life.


Correspondences between findings from the close study and previous findings established in Section 1

1. On the formal unity of Wandrers Nachtlied

This can be demonstrated with clarity by studying the internal organization, whereas most biographically based analyses make plausible suppositions without conclusive argumentation.

2. On the question" Who addresses whom using the pronoun "du"?

Once the integrity of the poem is established the dialogical exchange between the speaker in the first poem and the speaker in the second emerges clearly. There is no clear allocation of characters as there would be in a drama to allow the internal critic to draw firm conclusions as to the supposed identity of the interlocutors. it is clear that the speaker in "Wandrers Nachtlied I" pleads for peace and that the speaker in "Wandrers Nachtlied II" promises rest. The nature of the relationship between the interlocutors is clearly that of a close friendship (such as that between Goethe and Frau von Stein). The I-thou relation is probably rather too basic for an internal critic's liking and is clearly of the kind which Buber takes as the premise of his philosophy. This transcends all barriers including that between literary and non-literary language.

3. On the emergence of triadic relationships

According to the close study a triad relationship emerges resulting from the interpolation of a mediator between the one addressed as "du" in "Wandrers Nachtlied II" and the hill-tops and tree-tops he perceives. This triad corresponds to the basic tenets of Martin Buber's philosophy with its assertion that there are two fundamental attitudes determining the relationship between the self and the non-self. If the I-it relationship is combined with the I-thou relationship, a triad uniting "I," "thou" and "it" arises, corresponding to the triad God - Man - Nature that in Hulme's view had remained in tact as long Europe was still unified by the Church and her teachings. We have also ascertained that triadic relationships inhere in Goethe's poems, even in those such as "Wandrers Sturmlied" that appear disorganized and rambling at first sight . The personalisation of "it" by an "I-thou" relationship is also found in the transformation of Shakespeare, the world-stomping giant of 1771, and the Duzfreund William addressed in "Zwischen Beiden Welten" in 1820.

4. On the Nature of Perception

A close study of the internal stucture of "Wandrers Nachtlied" reveals that there are two observers who witness the nocturnal landscape depicted in "Wandrers Nachlied II." The presence of two witnesses confirms the objective basis of the scene described. It cannot spring from one person's dreams or imagination. No reference to a source of light indicates whether the observers saw mountains and hills by the light of the moon or the dying ember of twilight. In the real world it must have been one or the other. Professor Elizabeth Wilkinson, whom I was once privileged to have as my genial instructor at University College London, opted for twilight.(11) I beg to differ. The poem shows a close affinity with "An den Mond" in Verse an Lida. To the internal critic this comparison offers inadmissable evidence, but to my mind the stillness and stasis of the landscape bespeaks the dead of night.

The nature of physical perception has posed a real problem to thinkers and poets since the Cartesian rupture of mind and the surrounding universe. The need of a mediation between mind and the perceived world is shown not only by "Wandrers Sturmlied" but also in so innocent a poem as Wordworth's poem beginning "I wandered lonely as a cloud."

5. On the Wanderer in the Title of "Wandrers Nachtlied"

The close study points to a dialogue between two wanderers for we have two songs and each song is a wanderer's song. The wanderer can be construed as a pilgrim through life. The nature of the second wanderer is more difficult to assess. No conventional meaning of the word helps in this case. With our knowledge of the signficance of the word for Goethe we see the second wanderer as the inspirational source of poetry in keeping with the spirit of the Rede zum Shakespeare Tag in which Shakespeare is named the great wanderer. To the internal critic such knowledge is out of bounds. Internal evidence does at least suggest that the wanderer in "Ein Gleiches" possesses unusual powers of insight in his or her capacity as a mentor, guide and prophet. Our knowledge of the "Rede zum Shakespeares Tag" confirms this.

E. D. Hirsch, (12) an advocate of the objective method of reading poetry, concedes that some comparative research into the meaning of words is needed in cases of ambiguity, especially if one is dealing with a text written centuries ago as in the case of works by Chaucer. The connotations of the word wanderer are not only ambiguous; they are unruly, irreducable to hard core meanings and thus unsuitable as a provider of crisp images, symbols and quasi-musical effects, and aught else that poetic objects are supposed to be made of once words are bereft of their relevance to realities that lie outside the domain of pure aethetics.

A further problem for the objective reader lies in the brevity of "Wandrers Nachtlied" for such brevity offers little scope for the development of complex motifs and composite images. For Tynjanov (13) and Jacobson the brevity of a poem enhances the resonance and atmospheric tension of the few words that remain precisely because the sense of words cannot be pinpointed and pigeon-holed. The word wanderer, in particular, presents a problem to the objective critic because its multiplicity of meanings overtaxes conscious efforts to craft language with predictable concision. To admit that only the unconscious mind can grapple with the effects generated by words like "wanderer" would mean admitting that the effects of such words are only partly controllable and predictable at a conscious level. Words, however, are beyond the command of verbal micro-managers because they derive their associative and combinatory potential from the deep strata of the unconscious regions of the mind, which is perhaps one reason why Leon Trotzky castigated the Formalist school by saying that as believers in the Word rather than the Deed they were the followers of Saint John.(14)


1 Erich Trunz, Goethe . Gedichte, ed., Erich Trunz (Munich, 1929 (1982), p. 537
2 Martin Buber, I and Thou, Charles Scribner's Sons. 1937.; reprint Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.
3. T.E. Hulme, "Romanticism and Classicism," in Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art, 1924.
4. L.A. Willoughby, "The Image of the 'Wanderer' and the 'Hut' in Goethe's Poetry", (Etudes Germaniques, 3, Autumn 1951).
5. Geoffrey H. Hartman, "Romanticism and 'Anti-Self-consciousness"', Romanticism and Consciousness, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1970), 46 - 56.
6 Harold Bloom, "The Internalization of Quest-Romance" in The Yale Review, Vol. LVIII, No.4 (Summer, 1969).
7. In his introductory essay "The Internalization of Quest-Romance" in Romanticism and Consciousness / Essays in Criticism (New York,1970), Harold Bloom calls the phase of development preceding full internalization the "Promethean" stage of Romanticism when the poets identified themselves as poets with an immature aspect of their personalities incorporating a rebellious attitude to social injustice and repression Full internalization was achieved by Wordsworth and Blake when the catharsis that attended their strivings in poetry afforded a clear perception of the false selfhood in all that prevented or delayed a perfect state of harmony in all the mind's questing and emotional energies; this Bloom likens to Freud's picture of a "marriage" of the libido and the object of its love.
8. Friedrich Schlegel, 116th "Athenäum"-Fragment. 1798 - 1801
9. Jonathan Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity (New York / Evanston, 1969).
10. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism Four Essays, (Princeton, 1957).
11. "We pointed to the immediacy with which language here conveys the hush of evening Über allen Gipfel ist Ruh. In the long of Ruh and in the evening pause we detect the perfect stillness that descends upon nature with the coming of twilight." Professor E.M. Wilkinson, "Goethe's Poetry", German Life and Letters, pp. 316-329.
12 . E.D. Hirsch, Jr., "Objective Interpretation," PLMA 75 (1960).
13. Jurij Tynjanov, "The Meaning of the Word in Verse," in Readings in Russian Poetics / Formalist and Structuralist Views, ed. by Ladislav Mateijka and Krystina Pomorska (Michigan Slavic Publications, Ann Arbor, 1978), pp. 136-145
14. Leon Trotsky, "The Formalist School of Poetry and Marxism" in Literature and Revolution (Russian version published in 1924), tr. Rose Strumsky (Ann Arbor: 1960. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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