The Holy Longing

A poem by Johann W. Von Goethe

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of love nights,
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
In the obsession with darkness,
And a desire for higher lovemaking
Sweeps you forward.
Distance does not make you falter
Now, arriving in magic, flying
And finally insane for the light,
You are the butterfly, and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
To die, and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.

Goethe wrote these stanzas on July 31, 1814 and it was included in the “Westöstliche Divan”. It was inspired by a German translation of the Persian poet Hafiz, whose version likewise has a burned butterfly (actually moth) and the line “the soul burns like the candle”. This poem is “labelled” mystical and magical, but above all, it is called “untranslatable”. I have to agree. So only German speakers will have the full delight of the ‘feminine’ rhymes, always a challenge in monosyllable English.


Selige Sehnsucht

Sagt es niemand, nur den Weisen,
Weil die Menge gleich verhöhnet,
Das Lebendge will ich preisen
Das nach Flammentod sich sehnet.
In der Liebesnachte Kühlung,
Die dich zeugte, wo du zeugtest,
Überfällt dich fremde Fühlung
Wenn die stille Kerze leuchtet.
Nicht mehr bleibest du umfangen
In der Finsternis Beschattung,
Und dich reisset neu Verlangen
Auf zu höherer Begattung.
Keine Ferne macht dich schwierig,
Kommst geflogen und gebannt,
Und zuletzt, des Lichts begierig,
Bist du Schmetterling verbrannt.
Und solang du das nich hast,
Dieses: Stirb und werde!
Bist du nur ein trüber Gast
Auf der dunklen Erde.

About Michaela

I am a wanderer and a wonderer, like you are. I love our journey and to walk in the company of friends – to learn, experience, share, laugh, cry and above all I simply love this marvelous, magical, mysterious life. I have no plan (cannot believe I am saying this) and my only intention is to be truthful to myself and others.
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2 Responses to The Holy Longing

  1. It should be done more closely to the orinial i think. I tried it:

    The Holy Longing

    Tell it to noone, exept the wise men,
    Because the massman will mock it right away.
    I want to praise that living,
    That longs for a death in flames.

    In love nights’ cooling,
    Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
    overcomes you a strange feeling,
    When you see the silent candle burning.

    No longer you are caught
    In darkness’ shadows (obscurity),
    And a new desire tears you
    towards a higher mating.

    No distance makes you heavy [this is quite word by word; it means
    “nothing hinders you”]
    You come flying and are banned [in the sense like “spellbound”]
    And finally longing for the light,
    You, butterfly, are burnt.

    And as long as you do that not have [sounds strange, but in German it is “das” und “dies”]
    this: Die and Become (in the sense “to be born” and “to transform into something)
    You are only a gloomy guest
    On the dark earth.

    • Michaela says:

      …it IS untranslatable 🙂
      Always the balance between meter and meaning…

      So I wonder if der Geheimrat spoke any English

      😉

      p.s. “be-coming” is actually a great word in terms of pointing …but “werden” is poetic…

      pps Like your version

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