Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von


America, you have it better
than our continent, the old one,
you have no ruined castles
and no basalts.

Your inner self is not troubled,
when it is time for living,
by pointless memories
and futile strife.

Use the present fortunately!
And if your children write verses,
may a happy fate protect them
from tales of knights, brigades and ghosts.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To The United States”(1831), Franco Moretti, trans. In Franco Moretti. Modern Epic: The World-System From Goethe to García Márquez. London ; New York: Verso, 1996, 35.

This tree’s leaf that from the East
To my garden’s been entrusted
Holds a secret sense, and grist
To a man intent on knowledge.

It is one, this thing alive,
By and in itself divided,
Or two beings who connive
That as one the world shall see them?

Fitly now I can reveal
What the pondered question taught me;
In my songs do you not feel
That at once I’m one and double?

J.W. von Goethe, “Gingo Bilboa” (1815) from The Parliament of West and East (Michael Hamburger, trans.)