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A worthless man will always remain worthless, and a little mind will not, by daily intercourse with great minds, become an inch greater. Academical years ought by rights to give occupation to the whole mind. All beginnings are easy; it is the ulterior steps that are of most difficult ascent and most rarely taken. All that is noble is in itself of a quiet nature, and appears to sleep until it is aroused and summoned forth by contrast. All the faults of the man I can pardon in the player; no fault of the player can I pardon in the man. All the thinking in the world does not bring us to thought; we must be right by nature, so that good thoughts may come.
All this in the daily press does not concern one in the least; one is neither the wiser nor the better for knowing what the day brings forth. An honest citizen who maintains himself industriously has everywhere as much freedom as he wants. Art rests on a kind of religious sense, on a deep, steadfast earnestness; and on this account it unites so readily with religion. As he alone is a good father who at table serves his children first, so is he alone a good citizen who, before all other outlays, discharges what he owes to the state.
Be no one like another, yet every one like the Highest; to this end let each one be perfect in himself. Beauty is a hovering, shining, shadowy form, the outline of which no definition holds. Half are unfeeling, half untaught. Better that people should laugh at one while they instruct, than that they should praise without benefiting. By nothing do men more show what they are than by their appreciation of what is and what is not ridiculous. Certain defects are necessary to the existence of the individual. It would be painful to us if our old friends laid aside certain peculiarities. Christianity has a might of its own; it is raised above all philosophy, and needs no support therefrom.
Commend me rather to him who goes wrong in a way that is his own, than to him who walks correctly in a way that is not. Courage and modesty are the most unequivocal of virtues, for they are of a kind that hypocrisy cannot imitate. Death is a commingling of eternity with time; in the death of a good man eternity is seen looking through time.
Der Mensch ist nicht bloss ein denkendes, er ist zugleich ein empfindendes Wesen.
He is a whole, a unity of manifold, internally connected powers, and to this whole must the work of art speak. Der Schein, was ist er, dem das Wesen fehlt? And what were the reality without the appearance? Devote each day to the object then in time, and every evening will find something done. They still reckon upon thee. The poet, or inspired teacher, however, points to the spot. Die goldne Zeit, wohin ist sie geflohen? Die Idee ist ewig und einzig. Everything we perceive, and of which we can speak, is only a manifestation of the idea.
This is the reason why it is so difficult to speak of it. What is left no longer attracts, and what does not attract is dead. Die Worte sind gut, sie sind aber nicht das Beste. The best is not to be understood by words. What ye call the spirit of the times is at bottom but the spirit of the gentry in which the times are mirrored.
Genius thinks it can do whatever it sees others doing, but it is sure to repent of every ill-judged outlay. Du sollst mit dem Tode zufrieden sein. Why then make thy life a torture to thee? Each man has his fortune in his own hands, as the artist has a piece of rude matter, which he is to fashion into a certain shape. Einbildungskraft wird nur durch Kunst, besonders durch Poesie geregelt.
There is nothing more frightful than imaginative faculty without taste. Energy will do anything that can be done in this world; no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make a two-legged animal a man without it. Enjoy what thou hast inherited from thy sires if thou wouldst possess it; what we employ not is an oppressive burden; what the moment brings forth, that only can it profit by.
Be of His hundred names this one the most exalted. Error never leaves us, yet a higher need always draws the striving spirit gently on to truth. I have always had respect to the merits of my adversaries, and derived profit from doing so. Of Mephistopheles. Even perfect examples lead astray by tempting us to overleap the necessary steps in their development, whereby we are for the most part led past the goal into boundless error. Even the lowest book of chronicles partakes of the spirit of the age in which it was written.
Every author, in some degree, portrays himself in his works, be it even against his will. Every capability, however slight, is born with us; there is no vague general capability in man. Every form of freedom is hurtful, except that which delivers us over to perfect command of ourselves. Every great genius has a special vocation, and when he has fulfilled it, he is no longer needed. Every individual colour makes on men an impression of its own, and thereby reveals its nature to the eye as well as the mind.
Every moment, as it passes, is of infinite value, for it is the representative of a whole eternity. Every one believes in his youth that the world really began with him, and that all merely exists for his sake. Everything springs into being and passes away according to law, yet how fluctuating is the lot that presides over the life which is to us so priceless.
Everything that happens to us leaves some trace behind it, and everything insensibly contributes to make us what we are. Everything that tends to emancipate us from external restraint without adding to our own power of self-government is mischievous. Everywhere the individual seeks to show himself off to advantage, and nowhere honestly endeavours to make himself subservient to the whole.
If thou canst not free thyself from failure, thou wilt never forgive others. Flowers are the beautiful hieroglyphics of Nature, by which she indicates how much she loves us. For man there is but one misfortune, when some idea lays hold of him which exerts no influence upon his active life, or still more, which withdraws him from it. For the narrow mind, whatever he attempts, is still a trade; for the higher, an art; and the highest, in doing one thing does all; or, to speak less paradoxically, in the one thing which he does rightly, he sees the likeness of all that is done rightly.
Freedom consists not in refusing to recognise anything above us, but in respecting something which is above us. Friendship can originate and acquire permanence only practically pracktisch. Liking Neigung , and even love, contribute nothing to friendship. If you would write a lucid style, let there first be light in your own mind; and if you would write a grand style, you ought to have a grand character. Genius is that power of man which by its deeds and actions gives laws and rules; and it does not, as used to be thought, manifest itself only by over-stepping existing laws, breaking established rules, and declaring itself above all restraint.
Wie das zu machen? How is this to be done? Be each one perfect in himself. Great endowments often announce themselves in youth in the form of singularity and awkwardness. Great men, said Themistocles, are like the oaks, under the branches of which men are happy in finding a refuge in the time of storm and rain; but when they have to pass a sunny day under them, they take pleasure in cutting the bark and breaking the branches. Great thoughts and a pure heart are the things we should beg for ourselves from God. Happiness is a ball after which we run wherever it rolls, and we push it with our feet when it stops.
Happy contractedness of youth, nay, of mankind in general, that they think neither of the high nor the deep, of the true nor the false, but only of what is suited to their own conceptions. Happy is he to whom his business itself becomes a puppet, who at length can play with it, and amuse himself with what his situation makes his duty.
Happy is he who soon discovers the chasm that lies between his wishes and his powers. Hatred is a heavy burden. It sinks the heart deep in the breast, and lies like a tombstone on all joys. Hatred is active, and envy passive, disgust; there is but one step from envy to hate. He alone is worthy of respect who knows what is of use to himself and others, and who labours to control his self-will. He in whom there is much to be developed will be later than others in acquiring true perceptions of himself and the world.
He is an unfortunate and on the way to ruin who will not do what he can, but is ambitious to do what he cannot. He that would reproach an author for obscurity should look into his own mind to see whether it is quite clear there. In the dusk the plainest writing is illegible. He who coldly lives to himself and his own will may gratify many a wish, but he who strives to guide others well must be able to dispense with much. He who conforms to the rule which the genius of the human understanding whispers secretly in the ear of every new-born being, viz. He who does not help us at the needful moment never helps; he who does not counsel at the needful moment never counsels.
He who has reason and good sense at his command needs few of the arts of the orator. He who is only half instructed speaks much, and is always wrong; he who knows it wholly, is content with acting, and speaks seldom or late. He who is servant to dient the public is a poor animal Thier ; he torments himself, and nobody thanks him for it.
He who means to teach others may indeed often suppress the best of what he knows, but he must not himself be half-instructed. He who reaches the goal receives the crown, and often he who deserves it goes without it.
He who will be great must collect himself; only in restriction does the master show himself. He who will work aright must not trouble himself about what is ill done, but only do well himself. How can we learn to know ourselves? Never by reflection, but only through action. Essay to do thy duty, and thou knowest at once what is in thee. How dire is love when one is so tortured; and yet lovers cannot exist without torturing themselves. How fortunate beyond all others is the man who, in order to adjust himself to fate, is not required to cast away his whole preceding life!
I am always as happy as I can be in meeting a man in whose society feelings are developed and thoughts defined. I am convinced that the Bible always becomes more beautiful the better it is understood, that is, the better we see that every word which we apprehend in general and apply in particular had a proper, peculiar, and immediately individual reference to certain circumstances, certain time and space relations, i.
I am fully convinced that the soul is indestructible, and that its activity will continue through eternity. It is like the sun, which, to our eyes, seems to set in night; but it has in reality only gone to diffuse its light elsewhere. I augur better of a youth who is wandering on a path of his own than of many who are walking aright upon paths which are not theirs.
I can tell you, honest friend, what to believe: believe life; it teaches better than book and orator. I had rather be Mercury, the smallest among seven planets , revolving round the sun, than the first among five moons revolving round Saturn. I had rather people laugh at me while they instruct me than praise me without benefiting me. I hate bungling as I do sin, but particularly bungling in politics, which leads to the misery and ruin of many thousands and millions of people. I have been too much occupied with things themselves to think either of their beginning or their end. I only look straight before me at each day as it comes, and do what is nearest me, without looking further afield.
I pity men who occupy themselves exclusively with the transitory in things and lose themselves in the study of what is perishable, since we are here for this very end that we may make the perishable imperishable, which we can do only after we have learned how to appreciate both. I would fain avoid men; we can give them no help, and they hinder us from helping ourselves. If a man have freedom enough to live healthily and work at his craft, he has enough; and so much all can easily obtain.
If a man write a book, let him set down only what he knows. I have guesses enough of my own. If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses. If destructive criticism is injurious in anything, it is in matters of religion, for here everything depends upon faith, to which we cannot return when we have once lost it. If each one does his duty as an individual, and if each one works rightly in his own vocation, it will be well with the whole. If I call bad bad, what do I gain? But if I call good bad, I do a great deal of mischief.
If I choose to take jest in earnest, no one shall put me to shame for doing so; and if I choose to carry on treiben earnest in jest, I shall be always myself immer derselbe bleiben. If I knew the way of the Lord, truly I would be only too glad to walk in it; if I were led into the temple of truth in der Wahrheit Hans , I would not, with the help of God bei Gott go out of it again. If in the course of our life we see that done by others for which we ourselves at one time felt a vocation, and which we were, with much else, compelled to relinquish, then the noble feeling comes in, that only humanity altogether is the true man, and that the individual can only rejoice and be happy when he has the heart Muth to feel himself in the whole.
If it be a bliss to enjoy the good, it is still greater happiness to discern the better; for in art the best only is good enough. If man had a higher idea of himself and his destiny, he would neither call his business amusement nor amuse himself instead of transacting business. If men duly felt the greatness of God, they would be dumb, and for very veneration unwilling to name Him. If people were constant, it would surprise me. For see, is not everything in the world subject to change? Why then should our affections continue?
If the eye were not of a sunny nature sonnenhaft , how could it see the sun? If we reflect on the number of men we have seen and know, and consider how little we have been to them and they to us, what must our feelings be? We meet with the man of genius Geistreich without conversing with him, with the scholar without learning from him, with the traveller without gaining information from him, the amiable man without making ourselves agreeable to him.
And this, alas! If we would put ourselves in the place of other people, the jealousy and dislike which we often feel towards them would depart, and if we put others in our place, our pride and self-conceit would very much decrease. If you do anything for the sake of the world, it will take good care that you shall not do it a second time. Ill-humour is nothing more than an inward feeling of our own want of merit, a dissatisfaction with ourselves. Immer zu! In any controversy, the instant we feel angry we have already ceased striving for truth and begun striving for ourselves. In art and in deeds, only that is properly achieved which, like Minerva, springs full-grown and armed from the head of the inventor.
In art, to express the infinite one should suggest infinitely more than is expressed. In breathing there are two kinds of blessings Guaden : inhaling the air and exhaling lit. Thank God when He lays a burden on thee, and thank Him when He takes it off. In every department one must begin as a child; throw a passionate interest over the subject; take pleasure in the shell till one has the happiness to arrive at the kernel. In high life every one is polished and courteous, but no one has the courage to be hearty and true. In intercourse with people of superior station, all that is required is not to be perfectly natural, but always to keep within the line of a certain conventional propriety.
In Nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it, and over it. In quite common things much depends on choice and determination, but the highest which falls to our lot comes from no man knows whence. In the family where the house-father rules secure, there dwells the peace Friede which thou wilt in vain seek for elsewhere in the wide world outside.
In the state nobody can enjoy life in peace, but everybody must govern; in art, nobody will enjoy what has been produced, but every one wants to reproduce on his own account. In well-regulated civil society there is scarcely a more melancholy suffering to be undergone than what is forced on us by the neighbourhood of an incipient player on the flute or violin.
It is a damnable audacity to bring forth that torturing Cross, and the Holy One who suffers on it, and to expose them to the light of the sun, which hid its face when a reckless world forced such a sight on it; to take these mysterious secrets, in which the divine depth of sorrow lies hid, and play with them, fondle them, trick them out, and rest not till the most reverend of all solemnities appears vulgar and paltry.
It is enough for thee to know what each day wills; and what each day wills the day itself will tell. It is in human nature soon to relax when not impelled by personal advantage or disadvantage. It is mere Philistinism on the part of private individuals to bestow too much interest on matters that do not concern them. It is much easier to recognise error than to find truth; the former lies on the surface, the latter rests in the depths.
It is not enough to know, one must also apply; it is not enough to will to do, one must also do. It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise. It is not fit to tell others anything but what they can take up. A man understands nothing but what is commensurate with him. It is only because they are not used to taste of what is excellent that the generality of people take delight in silly and insipid things, provided they be new.
It is only in their misery that we recognise the hand and finger of God leading good men to good. It is only necessary to grow old to become indulgent. I see no fault committed that I have not committed myself. It is sad to have to live in a place where all our activity must simmer within ourselves.
It is sad to see how an extraordinary man so often strangles himself, struggling in vain with himself, his circumstances, and his time, without once coming upon a green branch. It is said no man is a hero to his valet. The reason is that it requires a hero to recognise a hero. The valet however, will probably know well enough how to estimate his equals. It is the ambiguous distracted training which they are subject to that makes men uncertain; it awakens wishes when it should quicken tendencies. It is the strange fate of man that even in the greatest evils the fear of worse continues to haunt him.
It is with history as it is with nature, as it is with everything profound, past, present, or future; the deeper we earnestly search into them, the more difficult are the problems that arise. He who does not fear these, but boldly confronts them, will, with every step or advance, feel himself both more at his ease and more highly educated.
It matters little whether a man be mathematically, or philologically, or artistically cultivated, so he be cultivated. It may indeed be that man is frightfully threshed at times by public and domestic ill-fortune, but the ruthless destiny, if it smites the rich sheaves, only crumples the straw; the grains feel nothing of it, and bound merrily hither and thither on the threshing-floor, unconcerned whether they wander into the mill or the cornfield. It seems a law of society to despise a man who looks discontented because its requirements have compelled him to part with all he values in his life.
Wilt it not go out of thy way, why then, go thou out of its. Keep thyself perfectly still, however it may storm around thee. The more thou feelest thyself to be a man, so much the more dost thou resemble the gods. Kennst du das herrliche Gift der unbefriedigten Liebe? It withers up and quickens, consumes to the marrow and renews.
Faust to Margaret in the end. Faust to Margarite. Yet what will avail you lives in the past, and lies immortalised in what has been nobly done. Let a man be but born ten years sooner or ten years later, his whole aspect and performance shall be different. Let him who has hold of the devil keep hold of him; he is not likely to catch him a second time in a hurry.
Let man be noble, helpful, and good, for that alone distinguishes him from every other creature we know. Let no one so conceive of himself as if he were the Messiah the world was praying for. Let the shoemaker stick to his last, the peasant to his plough, and let the prince understand how to rule. Let those who believe in immortality enjoy their belief in silence, and give themselves no airs about it.
Let us leave the question of origins to those who busy themselves with insoluble problems, and have nothing better to do. Let woman learn betimes to serve according to her destination, for only by serving will she at last learn to rule, and attain the influence that belongs to her in the household. Love comes to meet you with quick footstep; fidelity will be sought out. Life lies before us as a huge quarry before the architect; and he deserves not the name of architect except when, out of this fortuitous mass, he can combine, with the greatest economy, fitness and durability, some form the pattern of which originated in his own soul.
Look not to what is wanting in any one; consider that rather which still remains to him. Love has the tendency of pressing together all the lights, all the rays emitted from the beloved object, by the burning-glass of fantasy, into one focus, and making of them one radiant sun without spots. Without hesitation, therefore, seize ye the holy mystery thus lying open to all.
Make the most of time, it flies away so fast; yet method will teach you to win time.
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Man does not willingly submit himself to reverence; or rather, he never so submits himself: it is a higher sense which must be communicated to his nature, which only in some peculiarly favoured individuals unfolds itself spontaneously, who on this account too have of old been looked upon as saints and gods. Man gives up all pretension to the infinite while he feels here that neither with thought nor without it is he equal to the finite. Man has quite a peculiar pleasure in making proselytes; in causing others to enjoy what he enjoys, in finding his own likeness represented and reflected back to him.
Man is a darkened being; he knows not whence he comes, nor whither he goes; he knows little of the world and least of himself. Man is born not to solve the problems of the universe, but to find out where the problem begins, and then to restrain himself within the limits of the comprehensible. Man is ever the most interesting object to man, and perhaps should be the only one to interest him. Man is intended for a limited condition; objects that are simple, near, determinate, he comprehends, and he becomes accustomed to employ such means as are at hand; but on entering a wider field he now knows neither what he would nor what he should.
Man is not born to be free, and for the noble there is no fairer fortune than to serve a prince whom he honours. Man is quite sufficiently saddened by his own passions and destiny, and need not make himself more so by the darkness of a barbaric past. He needs enlightening and cheering influences, and should therefore turn to those eras in art and literature during which remarkable men obtained perfect culture. Man is so prone to occupy himself with what is most common, the soul and the senses are so easily blunted to the impressions of the beautiful and perfect, that one ought by all means to preserve the capability of feeling it.
We ought every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see an excellent painting, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. A true German cannot abide the French, and yet he will drink their wines with the most genuine relish. Man must hold fast by the belief that the incomprehensible is comprehensible, otherwise he would not search. Man supposes that he directs his life and governs his actions, when his existence is irretrievably under the control of destiny.
Mankind will never lack obstacles to give it trouble, and the pressure of necessity to develop its powers. Many a discord betwixt man and man the returning seasons soften by degrees into sweetest harmony; but that which bridges over the greatest gap is Love, whose charm unites the earth with heaven above. Many men attain a knowledge of what is perfect, and of their own insufficiency, and go on doing things by halves to the end of their days. Many people take no care of their money till they have come nearly to an end of it, and others do just the same with their time.
Mathematics can remove no prejudices and soften no obduracy. It has no influence in sweetening the bitter strife of parties, and in the moral world generally its action is perfectly null. May the idea of pureness, extending itself even to the very morsel which I take into my mouth, become ever dearer and more luminous within me. It is quite a little Paris, and its people acquire an easy finished air lit.
Men are so constituted that everybody would rather undertake himself what he sees done by others, whether he has aptitude for it or not. Men deride what they do not understand, and snarl at the good and beautiful because it lies beyond their sympathies. Men fear only him who does not know them, and he who shuns them will soon misjudge them. Men in general experience a great joy in colour. The eye needs it as much as it does light.
Let any one recall the refreshing sensation one experiences when on a gloomy day the sun shines out on a particular spot on the landscape, and makes the colours of it visible. That healing powers were ascribed to coloured precious stones may have arisen out of the deep feeling of this inexpressible pleasure. Men of uncommon abilities generally fall into eccentricities when their sphere of life is not adequate to their powers. Men think they are quarrelling with one another, and both sides feel that they are in the wrong. Men, in spite of all their failings, best deserve our affections of all that exists.
Mental prayer mentale Gebet which includes and excludes all religions, and only in a few God-favoured men permeates the whole course of life, develops itself in most men as only a blazing, beatific feeling of the moment, immediately after the vanishing of which the man, thrown in upon himself unsatisfied and unoccupied, lapses back into the most utter and absolute weariness.
Mentally and bodily endowed men are the most modest, while, on the other hand, all who have some peculiar mental defect think a great deal more of themselves. Metaphysics, with which physics cannot dispense, is that wisdom of thought which was before all physics, lives with it, and will endure after it. Mind and body are intimately related; if the former is joyful, the latter feels free and well; and many an evil flies before cheerfulness.
Misfortune, when we look upon it with our eyes, is smaller than when our imagination sinks the evil down into the recesses of the soul. Misunderstanding goes on like a fallen stitch in a stocking, which in the beginning might have been taken up with a needle. Modesty and presumption are moral things of so spiritual a nature, that they have little to do with the body. Most men never reach the glorious epoch, that middle stage between despair and deification, in which the comprehensible appears to us common and insipid.
Much debating goes on about the good that has been done and the harm by the free circulation of the Bible. To me this is clear: it will do harm, as it has done, if used dogmatically and fancifully; and do good, as it has done, if used didactically and feelingly. Much in the world may be done by severity, more by love, but most of all by discernment and impartial justice.
Much there is that appears unequal in our life, yet the balance is soon and unexpectedly restored. In eternal alternation a weal counterbalances the woe, and swift sorrows our joys. Nothing is constant. And ah! Music fills up the present moment more decisively than anything else, whether it awakens thought or summons to action. Music in the best sense has little need of novelty Neuheit ; on the contrary, the older it is, the more one is accustomed to it, the greater is the effect it produces. Any one can live unrestrainedly.
Ach, wir Armen! Nature and art are too grand to go forth in pursuit of aims; nor is it necessary that they should, for there are relations everywhere, and relations constitute life. Nature cannot but always act rightly, quite unconcerned as to what may be the consequences.
Nature gives healthy children much; how much!
Wise education is a wise unfolding of this; often it unfolds itself better of its own accord. Nature gives you the impression as if there were nothing contradictory in the world; and yet, when you return back to the dwelling-place of man, be it lofty or low, wide or narrow, there is ever somewhat to contend with, to battle with, to smooth and put to rights. Nature goes her own way; and all that to us seems an exception, is really according to order.
Nature has given to each one all that as a man he needs, which it is the business of education to develop, if, as most frequently happens, it does not develop better of itself. Nature has made provision for all her children; the meanest is not hindered in its existence even by that of the most excellent. Nature has no feeling; the sun gives his light to good and bad alike, and moon and stars shine out for the worst of men as for the best. Nature is a Sibyl, who testifies beforehand to what has been determined from all eternity, and was not to be realised till late in time. Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and attaches her curse on all inaction.
Nature understands no jesting; she is always true, always serious, always severe; she is always right, and the errors and faults are always those of man. Him who is incapable of appreciating her she despises, and only to the apt, the pure, and the true, does she resign herself and reveal her secrets.
Nature works after such eternal, necessary, divine laws, that the Deity himself could alter nothing in them. After Spinoza. Nature, mysterious even under the light of day, is not to be robbed of her veil; and what she does not choose to reveal, you will not extort from her with levers and screws. Necessity is cruel, but it is the only test of inward strength. Every fool may live according to his own likings. Never by reflection, only by doing what it lies on him to do, is self-knowledge possible to any man.
No doubt every person is entitled to make and to think as much of himself as possible, only he ought not to worry others about this, for they have enough to do with and in themselves, if they too are to be of some account, both now and hereafter. No evil can touch him who looks on human beauty; he feels himself at one with himself and with the world. No greater misfortune can befall a man than to be the victim of an idea which has no hold on his life, still more which detaches him from it. No one can feel and exercise benevolence towards another who is ill at ease with himself.
No one can find himself in himself or others; in fact, he has himself to spin, from the centre of which he exercises his influence. No one easily arrives at the conclusion that reason and a brave will are given us that we may not only hold back from evil, but also from the extreme of good.
No one knows what he is doing while he is acting rightly, but of what is wrong we are always conscious. No one would talk much in society if he only knew how often he misunderstands others. No productiveness of the highest kind, no remarkable discovery, no great thought which bears fruit and has results, is in the power of any one; such things are exalted above all earthly control. No wonder we are all more or less pleased with mediocrity, since it leaves us at rest, and gives the same comfortable feeling as when one associates with his equals.
Not the maker of plans and promises, but rather he who offers faithful service in small matters is most welcome to one who would achieve what is good and lasting. Not to believe in God, but to acknowledge Him when and wheresoever He reveals Himself, is the one sole blessedness of man on earth.
Nothing altogether passes away without result. We are here to leave that behind us which will never die. Nothing can be so injurious to progress as to be altogether blamed or altogether praised. Nothing exposes us more to madness than distinguishing ourselves from others, and nothing more contributes to maintain our common-sense than living in community of feeling with other people.
Nothing is good for a nation but that which arises from its core and its own general wants. Nothing is more natural than that we should grow giddy at a great sight which comes unexpectedly before us, to make us feel at once our littleness and our greatness. But there is not in the world any truer enjoyment than at the moment when we are thus made giddy for the first time. Nothing on earth is without difficulty. Only the inner impulse, the pleasure it gives and love enable us to surmount obstacles; to make smooth our way, and lift ourselves out of the narrow grooves in which other people sorrowfully distress themselves.
Nur immer zu! In thy nothing hope I to find the all. O was sind wir Grossen auf der Woge der Menschheit? We fancy we rule over it, and it sways us up and down, hither and thither. Objects in pictures should be so arranged as by their very position to tell their own story. Of a thoroughly crazy and defective artist we may indeed say he has everything from himself; but of an excellent one, never. Of all the superstitions which infest the brains of weak mortals, the belief in prophecies, presentiments, and dreams, seems to me amongst the most pitiful and pernicious.
Of error we can talk for ever, but truth demands that we should lay it to heart and apply it. Of great men no one should speak but one who is as great as they, so as to be able to see all round them. Of the Beautiful we are seldom capable, oftener of the Good; and how highly should we value those who endeavour, with great sacrifices, to forward that good among their fellows! Old men lose one of the most precious rights of man, that of being judged by their peers. On this account is the Bible a book of eternally effective power, because, as long as the world lasts, no one will step forward and say: I comprehend it in the whole and understand it in the particular; but we modestly say: In the whole it is venerable, and in the particular practicable anwendar.
Once for all, beauty remains undemonstrable; it appears to us as in a dream, when we behold the works of the great poets and painters, and, in short, of all feeling artists. One born on the glebe comes by habit to belong to it; the two grow together, and the fairest ties are spun from the union. One can never know at the first moment what may, at a future time, separate itself from the rough experience as true substance.
One cannot say that the rational is always beautiful; but the beautiful is always rational, or at least ought to be so. One could not wish any man to fall into a fault; yet it is often precisely after a fault, or a crime even, that the morality which is in a man first unfolds itself, and what of strength he as a man possesses, now when all else is gone from him. One finds human nature everywhere great and little, beautiful and ugly. Go on bravely working. One must believe in simplicity, in what is simple, in what is originally productive, if one wants to go the right way.
This, however, is not granted to every one; we are born in an artificial state, and it is far easier to make it more artificial still than to return to what is simple. One must take a pleasure in the shell till one has the happiness to arrive at the kernel. One need only utter something that flatters indolence and conceit to be sure of plenty of adherents among commonplace people. One power rules another, but no power can cultivate another; in each endowment, and not elsewhere, lies the force that must complete it.
One should not neglect from time to time to renew friendly relations by personal intercourse. However he may reflect, each resolution he forms is but the work of a moment; the prudent alone seize the right one. One soul may have a decided influence upon another merely by means of its silent presence. Only by joy and sorrow does a man know anything about himself and his destiny, learn what he ought to seek and what to shun. Only he helps who unites with many at the proper hour; a single individual helps not. Only to the apt, the pure, and the true does Nature resign herself and reveal her secrets.
Oral delivery aims at persuasion, at making the listener believe he is convinced. Few persons are capable of being convinced; the majority allow themselves to be persuaded. Our ambiguous dissipating education awakens wishes when it should be animating tendencies; instead of forwarding our real capacities, it turns our efforts towards objects which are frequently discordant with the mind that aims at them. Our hand we open of our own free will, and the good flies which we can never recall.
Our love of truth is evinced by our ability to discover and appropriate what is good wherever we come upon it. Our moral impressions invariably prove strongest in those moments when we are most driven back upon ourselves. Our relations are far too artificial and complicated, our nutriment and mode of life are without their proper nature, and our social intercourse is without proper love and goodwill. Every one is polished and courteous, but no one has the courage to be hearty and true.
Our sacrifices are rarely of an active kind; we, as it were, abandon what we give away. It is not from resolution, but despair, that we renounce our property. Our virtues depend on our failings as their root, and the latter send forth as strong and manifold branches underground as the former do in the open light. Peacefully and reasonably to contemplate is at no time hurtful, and while we use ourselves to think of the advantages of others, our own mind comes insensibly to imitate them; and every false activity to which our fancy was alluring us is then willingly abandoned.
People in authority are accustomed merely to forbid, to hinder, to refuse, but rarely to bid, to further, and to reward. They let things go along till some mischief happens; then they fly into a rage, and lay about them. People dispute a great deal about the good that is done and the harm by disseminating the Bible Bibelverbreitung.
To me this is clear: the Bible will do harm if, as hitherto, it is used dogmatically and interpreted fancifully, and it will do good if it is treated feelingly and applied didactically. People do not mind their faults being spread out before them, but they become impatient if called upon to give them up. People may live as much retired from the world as they like, but sooner or later they find themselves debtor or creditor to some one. People that are like-minded Gleichgesinnten can never for any length be disunited entzweien ; they always come together again; whereas those that are not like-minded Widergesinnten try in vain to maintain harmony; the essential discord between them will be sure to break out some day.
People would do well if they would keep piety, which is so essential and lovable in life, distinct from art, where, owing to its very simplicity and dignity, it checks their energy, allowing only the very highest mind freedom to unite with, if not actually to master, it. People would do well if, tarrying here for years together, they observed a while a Pythagorean silence.
Pleasure and sympathy in things is all that is real and again produces reality; all else is empty and vain. Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting. Poetry was given to us to hide the little discords of life and to make man contented with the world and his condition. Follow thou dumb. Presumptuousness, which audaciously strides over all the steps of gradual culture, affords little encouragement to hope for any masterpiece.
Prudent and active men, who know their strength and use it with limitation and circumspection, alone go far in the affairs of the world. Quietly do the next thing that has to be done, and allow one thing to follow upon the other. Reality surpasses imagination; and we see breathing, brightening, and moving before our eyes sights dearer to our hearts than any we ever beheld in the land of dreams.
Reason can never be popular. Passions and feelings may become popular; but reason always remains the sole property of a few eminent individuals. Reason has only to do with the becoming, the living; but understanding with the become, the already fixed, that it may make use of it. Reason is directed to the process das Werdende understanding to the product das Gewordene. The former is nowise concerned about the whither, or the latter about the whence. Rejoice that you have still long to live before the thought comes to you that there is nothing more in the world to see.
Remember that with every breath we draw, an ethereal stream of Lethe runs through our whole being, so that we have but a partial recollection of our joys, and scarcely any of our sorrows. Renounce, thou must sollst renounce! That is the song which sounds for ever in the ears of every one, which every hour sings to us hoarsely our whole life long. Renown is not to be sought, and all pursuit of it is vain. A person may, indeed, by skilful conduct and various artificial means, make a sort of name for himself; but if the inner jewel is wanting, all is vanity, and will not last a day.
Revelation nowhere burns more purely and more beautifully than in the New Testament. Reverence Ehrfurcht which no child brings into the world along with him, is the one thing on which all depends for making a man in every point a man. Riches amassed in haste will diminish; but those collected by hand and little by little will multiply.
Sacrificed his life to the delineating of life. Of Schiller. Schadet ein Irrtum wohl? Nicht immer! Not always! In his youth and early manhood, Becher was a devout Whitmanite; later he programmatically declared his conversion from Whitman to Marx and Lenin. Yet, like many other Marxists, he continued to admire Whitman, even though the sonnet form of the poem included here suggests that the nature of this admiration had changed. Becher, first minister of culture in the GDR, was an influential, although self-serving, cultural politician, whose interest in Whitman helped to insure the poet's "survival" in the GDR.
Gabriele Eckart born in is one of the most gifted lyricists in contemporary German literature. At the time she wrote the poem included here, she was still in high school. Her "search for metres," in the course of which she encountered Whitman, already points to the original poetry she would write in the future.
By the mids, Eckart had become a dissident writer and eventually removed to the United States. The poem by Wellbrock born in , a Berlin-based writer of poems, short stories, and radio plays, is explicitly critical of Whitman and Whitman's rhetoric, yet it testifies to the power of Whitman's voice and the necessity for every poet to come to terms with it. Wellbrock himself speaks of his "ambivalent" attitude toward Whitman, whose expansiveness and freedom he admires but whose rhetoric and glorification of strength and body offend him. The poem is a clever montage of Whitman quotations that have become famous in Germany; Wellbrock carefully refutes each one.
No German poet has "talked back" in a more radical fashion to Whitman than Wellbrock. It remains unclear whether it is Whitman's belief in progress that is targeted here or whether the poem attempts to show that our plastic era does not do justice to our cultural-humanist legacy, the Bible, or Whitman; both interpretations seem possible. Sahl, born in Dresden in , was one of the most prominent German exiles in the literary field. Since he has worked as a cultural correspondent for several German-language dailies. He is also a prominent translator of American dramatists among them Williams, Miller, and Wilder.
The poem is the sophisticated product of a truly bicultural mind and deserves an important place in German-American literature. He became a bookseller, worked as a nurse's assistant, then studied medicine in Leipzig, where he specialized in internal medicine. This part-time poet's direct address to Whitman confronts the frequent attempts to pronounce Whitman dead. Yet, to this poet writing in the "mid-age" years of tranquility and "maturity," Whitman is still as provocative as ever. Kluge writes that "for somebody who was forced to live in a walled-in country, it can be a revelation to see the upright posture of a human being: self-determined instead of other-directedness, sensuality instead of prudishness, love of truth rather than hypocrisy.
To me, Walt Whitman was a great help. In a country where walls have come down, Whitman's German reception will no doubt develop in new and unsuspected ways as a result of the radical changes in East-Central Europe. Whereas the changes in Eastern and East-Central Europe have muted Marxist voices and thus also Marxist respondents to Whitman, a new kind of response is struck by Rolf Schwendter pseudonym of Rudolf Schesswendtner , born in in Vienna.
A professor of sociology at the University of Kassel in Germany, Schwendter's academic interests include subcultures, future studies, and research into social and cultural deviancy. His poem "You I Sing, Socialism" was written for the festival of the Austrian Communist press in Vienna and targets both conservative and Marxist orthodoxies from a libertarian, independently leftist point of view.
For the first time, Whitman's pluralist aesthetics have been appreciated by a leftist recipient. While it lacks Whitman's lyrical vision, Schwendter's poem is a programmatic and sophisticated piece of work, and it synthesizes the tradition of German responses to Whitman, while it opens up new modes of creative political interpretations of his poetry. The answer is, a poet! A new American poet! His admirers say, the first, the only poet America has as yet produced.
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The only American poet of specific character. No follower in the beaten track of the European muses, but fresh from the prairie and the new settlements, fresh from the coast and the great watercourses, fresh from the thronging humanity of seaports and cities, fresh from the battlefields of the South, and from the earthy smells in hair and beard and clothing of the soil from which he sprang.
A being not yet come to fullness of existence, a person standing firmly and consciously upon his own American feet, an utterer of a gross of great things, though often odd. And his admirers go still further: Walt Whitman is to them the only poet at all, in whom the age, this struggling, eagerly seeking age, in travail with thought and longing, has found its expression; the poet par excellence. Thus, on the one side his admirers, in whose ranks we find even an Emerson.
On the other, to be sure, are the critics, those whose business it is to abase aspirants. By the side of unmeasured praise and enthusiastic recognitions of his genius are bitter and biting scorn and injurious abuse. This, it is true, troubles not the poet. The praise he takes as his due; to the scorn he opposes scorn of his own.
He believes in himself; his self-reliance is unbounded. Rossetti, "to himself above all things the one man who cherishes earnest convictions, and avows that he, both now and hereafter, is the founder of a new poetical literature—a great literature—a literature such as will stand in due relation and proportion to the material grandeur and the incalculable destinies of America. He believes that the Columbus of the continent or the Washington of the States were not more truly founders and builders of this America than he himself will be in time to come.
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Surely a sublime conviction, and by the poet more than once expressed in stately words—none more so than the poem which begins with the line: "Come, indivisible will I make this continent. Is the man in his right mind, that he talks thus? Let us step nearer to him! Let us hearken to his life and his works.
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First of all let us open his book. Are these verses? The lines are arranged like verses, to be sure, but verses they are not. No metre, no rhyme, no stanzas. Rhythmical prose, ductile verses. At first sight rugged, inflexible, formless; but yet for a more delicate ear, not devoid of euphony. The language homely, hearty, straightforward, naming everything by its true name, shrinking for nothing, sometimes obscure.
The tone rhapsodical, like that of a seer, often unequal, the sublime mingled with the trivial even to the point of insipidity. He reminds us sometimes, with all the differences that exist besides, of our own Hamann. Or of Carlyle's oracular wisdom. Or of the Paroles d'un Croyant. Through all there sounds out the Bible—its language, not its creed. And what does the poet propound to us in this form? First of all: Himself, his I , Walt Whitman. This I however is part of America, a part of the earth, a part of mankind, a part of the All.
As such he is conscious of himself and revolves, knitting the greatest to the least, ever going out from America, and coming back to America ever agan only to a free people does the future belong! Through this individual Walt Whitman and his Americanism marches, we may say, a cosmical procession, such as may be suitable for reflective spirits, who, face to face with eternity, have passed solitary days on the sea-shore, solitary nights under the starry sky of the prairie.
He finds himself in all things and all things in himself. He, the one man, Walt Whitman, is mankind and the world. And the world and mankind are to him one great poem. What he sees and hears, what he comes in contact with, whatever approaches him, even the meanest, the most trifling, the most every-day matter—all is to him symbolical of a higher, of a spiritual fact. Or rather, matter and spirit, the real and the ideal are to him one and the same. Thus, produced by himself, he takes his stand; thus he strides along, singing as he goes; thus he opens from his soul, a proud free man, and only a man, world-wide, social and political vistas.
A wonderful appearance. We confess that it moves us, disturbs us, will not loose its hold upon us. At the same time, however, we would remark that we are not yet ready with our judgment of it, that we are still biased by our first impression. Meanwhile we, probably the first in Germany to do so, will take at least a provisional view of the scope and tendency of this new energy. It is fitting that our poets and thinkers should have a closer look at this strange new comrade, who threatens to overturn our entire Ars Poetica and all our theories and canons on the subject of aesthetics.
Indeed, when we have listened to all that is within these earnest pages, when we have grown familiar with the deep, resounding roar of those, as it were, surges of the sea in their unbroken sequence of rhapsodical verses breaking upon us, then will our ordinary verse-making, our system of forcing thought into all sorts of received forms, our playing with ring and sound, our syllable-counting and measure of quantity, our sonnet-writing and construction of strophes and stanzas, seem to us almost childish.
Are we really come to the point, when life, even in poetry, calls imperatively for new forms of expression? Has the age so much and such serious matter to say, that the old vessels no longer suffice for the new contents? Are we standing before a poetry of the ages to come, just as some years ago a music of the ages to come was announced before us? As to the person and the life of the poet, we learn that he is a man of almost fifty years. He was born on the 31st May, His father, in succession, innkeeper, carpenter, and architect, a descendant of English settlers; the mother, Louisa Van Velsor, of Dutch descent.
The boy received his first school teaching in Brooklyn, a suburb of New York. Compelled at an early age to rely upon his own exertions, he gained his living first as a printer, and later as a teacher, and a contributor to several New York newspapers. In the year we find him established as editor of a newspaper in New Orleans, two years later again a printer in Brooklyn.
After this he worked a long time, like his father, as carpenter and architect. In the year , after the breaking out of the great civil war as an enthusiastic Unionist and anti-slavery man he stood firmly on the side of the North , he undertook, by authority from Lincoln through Emerson's mediation, the care of the wounded in the field. And to be sure, he had it expressly stipulated beforehand, that it was to be without any sort of remuneration.
From the spring of onward, this nursing in the field, and in the hospitals at Washington, was his "only employment by day and by night. Every wounded man, from the North and the South alike, had the same careful and loving attendance at the hands of the poet. At the end of the war, it is said, he must have nursed with his own hands more than , sick and wounded. For six months he himself lay sick; a hospital fever, the first sickness of his life, had seized him.
After the war he obtained a minor office in the Department of the Interior at Washington, but lost it in June, , when the minister, Mr. Harlan, had it brought to his attention, that Whitman was the author of the book, "Leaves of Grass," the coarseness, or as it appeared to Mr. Harlan, the immorality of which filled the ministerial bosom with holy horror.
But the poet found soon another post of modest salary in the bureau of the Attorney General at Washington. There he is still living. On Sunday, and sometimes in the week also, he still keeps up his visits to the hospitals. Whitman is a plain man, a man of few needs. Poor, and, according to his own avowal, without talent for moneymaking. His strength, said he to a visitor, Mr. Conway, an American living in London, lay in "loafing and writing poems.
Conway found him while yet on Long Island—before the war, indeed , in a temperature of degrees, lying on his back in the grass, and staring at the sun. Just like Diogenes. His abode Conway found very plain and simple. A small room, poorly furnished, with only one window, which looked out on the sandy solitude of Long Island. Not a single book in the room. But he talked of the Bible, of Homer, and of Shakespeare as of favorite books which he owned.
For reading he had two especial study-rooms: one was the top of an omni-bus, the other Coney Island, an uninhabited little sand islet far out in the Atlantic Ocean, miles from the coast. His writings, up to this time, are the above-named "Leaves of Grass" first edition , set up and printed by the poet himself; second edition ; third edition ; then, after the war, "Drum-Taps" with a "Sequel" in which is a fine rhapsody on the death of Abraham Lincoln; and last year, a complete edition with a supplement called "Songs before Parting.
Rossetti, one of Whitman's English admirers. The coarse expressions of doubtful propriety which were in the New York original edition have been left out of this; and it is the purpose of the published by means of this issue to open a path for the preparation of a complete edition and for its unprejudiced reception in England. We are indebted to Mr. Rossetti's preface to this selection of his for the sketch given above of the poet's life. With these suggestions, we leave the subject for this time, but will soon recur to it, especially to give some translated specimens of the poet's productions.
Though it is a dubious business to estimate Whitman from specimens. The principle " ex pede Herculem " is hardly quite applicable to him; if in any way a poet, he will be recognised and honored as such in his totality. Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung , Wochenausgabe, no. Translation from New Eclectic Magazine 2 July : —; translator unknown. A little while ago, a few German magazines carried reports on the death of one of the most outstanding North American poets on March 26 of this year, Walt Whitman.
He had died in Camden near Philadelphia in the seventy-fourth year of his life. The few data on his life and work that accompanied this report, reminiscent of the laconicism of a literary encyclopedia, were hardly designed to inspire further interest in the deceased. To inspire such interest, however, is very desirable, because hardly anything relevant has as yet been published on Whitman in German.
After all, Whitman is not only the most significant poet of North America, but he belongs to world literature, and that, we believe, with greater justification than his countryman Edgar Poe, who is, in a manner of speaking, known to the whole world. Our essay does not make any pretensions. It wants to contribute its modest share to awaken the greater interest for Whitman by giving a short picture of the characteristics of the poet as far as we can gather them from the incomplete translation of his Leaves of Grass.
In the introduction to their translation, one of the translators, Karl Knortz, calls Whitman an "optimist par excellence. With such a phrase, little is said about a human being who said of himself with these proudly modest words: I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or to be understood, I see that the elementary laws never apologize.
The translators have used these lines as motto for their book and they characterize Whitman better than the dusty phrase of the "optimist par excellence. He can hardly deny his own self and is radically different from the incapacitated romanticism and the christianism from which the "Old World" is presently suffering, with hardly enough breath to throw all kinds of blasphemies against sour grapes. His "barbaric yawp" sounds "over the roofs of the world" like powerful dithyrambs of a new life and a new strength; they resound in the midst of the funeral hymns of the Old World and announce a new religion, a new art and a new meaning of life.
Whitman is neither optimist nor pessimist: he is strength. Whitman was born in on Long Island where his family owned a large farm whose fields the Whitmans tilled with their own hands. There, in the open countryside, in unspoilt nature, he spent the larger part of his youth. Later, in an American manner, he tried his hand in a variety of professions: he was a printer, teacher, carpenter, journalist, building contractor, etc. Although he was on his way to becoming successful and wealthy in a variety of trades, he eventually gave everything up and started to write poetry.
In the 60s, just after the Leaves had appeared, he spent the Civil War on the battlefield and worked as a nurse in the hospitals. During that time, he earned his living as a newspaper correspondent. For his various services, he received a small job at the Ministry of the Interior which he did not keep for long. He owed his dismissal to the Secretary of the Interior, James Harlan, a former Methodist preacher, who was morally outraged over the Leaves published in His friends procured for him a new position in the office of the Attorney General which he kept until At that time, he suffered a stroke.
His health was shattered as a consequence of the exertions in the war. He improved slowly without ever completely recovering. Later, he managed to make a small, very modest home for himself in Camden and this is where, without bitterness and complaint, he authored his best poetry which shows a "special religious consecration" I am quoting Rolleston, whose introduction to the translation of the Leaves serves me as a source for this short sketch of Whitman's life , "a quiet, transfigured beauty, contrasting with the mood of the earlier poems just as the starry nocturnal heavens contrast with the sunlit earth.
Thus he created his poetry while continuously changing locations, at times in the midst of the rich colorful traffic of the American metropolis, among the boldest and most enormous achievements of modern industry, at times in the great outdoors of his continent, always in the midst of battle and tumult of a colorful life. The spirit of his art is as different from the spirit of the middle ages as the medieval spirit was itself different from classical antiquity; it grows as organically out of the middle ages as the medieval spirit grew out of that of classical antiquity.
For today, my work is done. It is growing dusky. Tired and deadened from all my writing I lean out of the window and see how the sunlight at the facade of the high building across from me gradually disappears. And then, after all the reading and all the work, I feel how constricted our lives are, I understand and sense our misery. The street with the jumble and the noise of traffic reaches far down, loses itself in both directions in smoke and in the confusing bustle of the side streets. Above, a narrow, scanty piece of heaven, darkened and polluted by the rising food vapors. Behind the windows on the other side, all the way down the long street, next to me, above and below me, from all sides a pressing, shoving and constriction and confusion between the gray masses of stone.
And, like here, this extends in concentric circles for hours, far into the countryside. Far, far away somewhere, nature is alive with its free air of the heavens, and its free stars, with its meadows, fields and forests, with mountains, streams, lakes, and seas, far away, unreal like a legend, like a fabulous fairy tale which we read in our children's books. The countless threads through which our life, our feeling, and our perception are connected to infinite mysteries seem to be cut. We are alone, alone with ourselves, man with man, in the vibrating restlessness of this constriction and its nerve-shattering, confusing pell-mell.
Our suffering, our misery and our joys, however, turn into monsters in this all too obvious crowdedness, distorted by a devilish perspective. And all the refinements of our aged culture cannot hide the great, fundamental disease which we have been trying to cure with all kinds of medicines for some time: our lack of religion or, if we want, our lack of energy, the atrophy of our perception. Our recent ethical endeavors. So many half-hearted attempts to get to the root of our general malaise. But how can we help each other, if we have only an understanding of how we are connected with all things from close and far but not a living perception of them?
If we have no "religion" from which alone originates love, self-awareness, joy, force, art, ethics, manhood and comprehension of life? How can we get to the root of the thousandfold misery of a metropolis, the distress of the poor, if we cannot even stand looking at it and if it seduces us to blasphemies against the world? Now let's think about all the pessimism and all the decadence of our European world.
Let's think about all its art, its artifice, its artificiality, its refinements, its moral hangover, all its nervous and yearning distress—and then let's listen to the "optimist par excellence," Walt Whitman. How do we suddenly feel? In free verses, it appears before us with all of its miracles.
With unheard-of sounds and rhythms which seem like the fresh roaring of the wind, like the sea waves approaching with their vast rolling splendor. Unfamiliar, totally separate from the refinements from our aged and wizened art. Victory, union, faith, identity, time, The indissoluble compacts, riches, mystery, Eternal progress, the kosmos, and the modern reports. We are forced to stop.
This is a child's stammering. Helpless, unwieldy, unarticulate, ridiculous to our well-trained thinking and feeling. But we understand: it is the jubilant helplessness in the face of a new infinite wealth of penetrating perceptions, the surprised jubilant cry with which a child liberates itself from its sweet burden, joyfully, verifying the data it perceives.
There is the blessed, vigorous turmoil of living growth inside. All of this, then, this whole new fullness rushing in on us: This then is life, Here is what has come to the surface after so many throes and convulsions. How curious! Underfoot the divine soil, overhead the sun. See revolving the globe, The ancestor-continents away group'd together, The present and future continents north and south with the isthmus between.
See, vast trackless spaces, As in a dream they change, they swiftly fill, Countless masses debouch upon them, They are now cover'd with the foremost people, arts, institutions, known. See, projected through time, For me an audience interminable. With firm and regular step they wend, they never stop, Successions of men, Americanos, a hundred millions, One generation playing its part and passing on, Another generation playing its part and passing on in its turn, With faces turn'd sideways or backward towards me to listen, With eyes retrospective towards me.
What a language! And when we read on, and the deeper we read into him, the more we are carried away by the power of these old primeval songs. This is the power and the energy of the old Hebrew psalmists and prophets. And yet, everything is so new, so simple and so down-to-earth. No artful devices. Not even one as primitive as that reminiscent of the parallelismus membrorum of old Hebrew poetry.
This language is as earthly as one can imagine, oftentimes just stating, almost with American soberness, that which is. And yet it has as much passionate rhetoric, overwhelming and entrancing, as ever existed. An infinite rhythm, and an infinite melody. Just as the storm has a rhythm of rising and ebbing and newly rising, just as the sea waves have their rhythm, the air shimmering in the warmth of the sun, the song of the birds, the infinite movement of nature.
The power and the warmth of healthy blood, freely and freshly pulsating through the body, an unprecedented energy and original intimacy of perception penetrating distance and closeness and all appearances, surrendering to the movement of its becoming and changing with powerful terror, in which vibrations of the eternally moving atoms tremble, free respiration of healthy lungs, the light power of unspoilt eyes, the haleness and elasticity of unimpaired muscles: all of this gives power to these songs, their passion with which they liberate themselves from everything that they call art and artifice, or they expand to the audacity and the power of the living nature.
The naivete of a child perceiving a new object and calling its name ten, twenty, a hundred times in succession without becoming tired, with equal delight over the same activity of its vocal chords and over the properties of the object thus designated. A crowded wealth of impressions, only semi-conscious thoughts, impossible to express them fully in intelligible, measured sequence. They push and hold back in a disorderly race; obscurity, mysticism next to plainness and sober clarity. And by all of this, one feels repelled and attracted, just as nature attracts and repels, surrenders itself and denies itself, transparent and mystical with the eternal rhythm of appearances, monotonous yet of infinite variety.
And what a mood! Misery and happiness, poverty and wealth, all the incompressible oppositions which tortured us in our narrow life: they can no longer harm us or obscure the connectedness of all things. And yet: Everything is there, everything in its place, ordered and redeemed from all conflict through the powerful rhythm of all occurrences and appearances. Everything dissolves in one large feeling of strength and life emphasizing and enclosing all. All the connections with which the individual, the separate is infinitely connected with all that has happened since the first beginning, seemingly dissolved in the consciousness of life, here becomes apparent again in a powerful mood.
This is how powerful the religious mood is in Whitman and with how much energy it expresses itself. Everything lives in him, in you, in all of us, is contained and enclosed by us: humans, stars, times, animals, plants, stones. Everything is us and we are everything. What, then, are beginning and end, birth and death? Everything is eternal movement. Urge and urge and urge, Always the procreant urge of the world. We are everything there was and everything there will be; there is no difference between these two; everything is one.
Nothing is offensive or mean. Copulation is no more offensive than death. Everything is a miracle. The body is something miraculous that must be revered. In this spirit, he transfers the attributes of his body to everything that comes in touch with him. He speaks of broad and muscular fields etc.
He is in love with his body, with himself, with everything. Press close bare-bosom'd night—press close magnetic nourishing night! Night of south winds—night of the large few stars! Still nodding night—mad naked summer night. With mad, jubilant desire he throws his naked body against the waves, offers his chest to the storm. He does not utter the complaints heard everywhere in the world, that the months are only empty spaces and the ground is nothing but mud and mire. Everything is alive. Everything forces itself into him and he forces himself into everything. The ages are tormenting themselves by pointing to the best and differentiating it from the bad, but he remains silent, and while they are fighting, he goes swimming and admires himself, well-aware of the perfect state and severity of all things.
Although he is surrounded with questions and doubt, they are not his true self which is standing apart from all buffeting and twitching. The days of dispute and of confusion are behind him. He needs neither sarcasm nor proofs. He is identical with what others are trying to prove. An immense feeling of strength filling all distances and depths, an intimate feeling of oneness with everything is the foundation of his being and his songs.
This foundation could indeed be called religious, and his themes originate from it: love, democracy, and religion. And his main theme is the sublimity of religion. Science must be respected, to love a man and a woman in abundance is sublime, but there is something else that is truly sublime and which unifies everything, provides for everything with tireless hands: religion. Not the cult, the dogma with its imperatives, but the powerful broad awareness of life whose force comprises the cosmos with love and wonder, the religious feeling, the intimate, jubilant consciousness of belonging to everything.
He sings his songs only in order "to drop in the earth the germs of a greater religion. He does not pray, does not worship, does not bow and scrape before the eternal laws and does not participate in ceremonies. His worship is the mad desire to come into contact with the atmosphere, to throw himself jubilantly into the powerful movement of life, its becoming and passing, blooming, shining, raging, growing, glowing. Religion is the powerful feeling which makes him stand admiringly before the revolution of the stars, before the magnificence of the human and the animal body.
In one song, "I Sing the Body Electric," he enumerates all parts of the human body, pages of enraptured stammering like a child naming things with a bliss beyond expression and feeling the infinite fullness of life in this continued process of naming. It is religion when he enjoys the naked bodies of bathing youths and their elastic and youthful movements. It is religion when he loves flowers and the grass tenderly. And it is religion when the movement of the solar system, the orbit of the earth reveals itself to him in powerful visions, with all its miracles and its life.
Religion allows him to immerse himself in the infinitude of the microcosm, in the immeasurable miracles of the low, the scorned, the despised, and which allows him to see everywhere an identical, eternal movement of universal life, not comprehensible for a measuring, reasoning intellect. Religion allows him to admire the development and passing of human cultures. He is happy when he can touch a human body and when the electric touch communicates to him the life of what he is touching.
His feeling of love or his all-encompassing feeling of strength does not ask or measure "who" or "how much" somebody is. He is drawn to the slave in the cottonfield and he presses the brotherly kiss on his cheek and swears by his soul that he would never deny him. He makes higher claims for those who work with hammer and chisel than for all deific conceptions of past and present. The young workman is closest to him, the backwoodsman, the fieldhand, they will understand him best.
In all the people he sees himself, nobody is more, nobody even by a grain of barley less. He advocates the rights of those who are suppressed by others, the misshapen, the foolish, the insignificant, the simple-minded, the despised. He is the hounded slave, the firefighter with crushed chest. He is the spokesman of scorned criminals and looks at them with the eyes of kinship, defying all hypocrisy.
He is the bard of America and her democratic institutions. In jubilant devotion and love he enumerates the names of all of her states. He wanders through her prairies, her virgin forests, bathes at her sea shores, listens to her male and female orators in the public halls, admires her exhibitions, her cities, her buildings and arts, is at home with all of them and is truly the singer of her spirit: No dainty dolce affetuoso I, Bearded, sun-burnt, gray-neck'd, forbidding, I have arrived To be wrestled as I pass for the solid prizes of the universe.
He sings social revolutions and the future of democracy, he is a lover of cities. Thunder on! More than everything he loves the large cities and his "Manhattan. Untiringly, he is wandering through her streets and losing himself in her traffic which becomes alive in his lines, containing broad, powerful, colorful shining visions. In countless images endlessly strung together, his loving surprise rushes by us.
He does not want to leave anything out, does not want to miss anything. With a sharp, discerning eye he relates this colorful medley and lovingly animates each perception which, sometimes through a singular, extraordinarily vivid and characteristic epitheton, become poems for themselves. This wealth of images he strings together like countless small novels, dramas, lyrical poems, often hardly containing one line, a few words. There are slaves, auctions, soldiers, policemen, firemen, workmen, salespeople etc. He wanders through workshops and warehouses, walks along shore boulevards, through storehouses and construction sites.
What is the "supernatural" compared to reality, compared to this reality? There is no supernatural, outside of this reality. Everything is contained in the present and closest reality. The supernatural means nothing compared to a worm, a beetle, against the goings-on here on earth. This religious, all-encompassing feeling makes him the poet of love, of strength, of beauty and of hope.
Men with beautiful, powerful limbs, blossoming in strength and health; beautiful women highly capable of procreation with well-built lively children, the gigantic beauty of a stallion are his desire. He does not grow tired to admire them. He cannot get away from them. Energy, physical and intellectual, physical exercises, gymnastics with a beautiful, elastic play of the muscles are the object of his enthusiastic love.
A new, more developed culture is his most cheerful certainty, authenticated by the first beginning and by the development becoming alive in gigantic enormous visions in a poem such as "Passage to India. This feeling contains the ever-present compensation for all suffering and imperfection which appear when the world disintegrates as a consequence of our ruminating reasoning. In this feeling, all hopes and prophecies are fulfilled, an Other World beyond all weakness and morbid impotence.
The Other World of our imagination is no other than this feeling. In Whitman, there is not a trace of any of these morbid notions such as God, Other World and supernatural salvation. We deny such notions, fight against them, but frequently, because they are still in our blood, legacy of our ancestors, we behave as though they were something real and not mere fantasy; with a certain bitterness, we sulk in a tragicomical way as though anything at all were to be expected from them.
In Whitman, there is not a trace of these notions and of the pessimism which frequently expresses itself in this sulking. A beautiful poem by Paul Verlaine comes to mind: Vous, dieu de paix, de joie et de bonheur, Toutes mes peurs, toutes mes ignorances Vous, dieu de paix, de joie et de bonheur, Vous connaissez tout cela, tout cela, Et que je suis plus pauvre que personne, Vous connaissez tout cela, tout cela Mais ce que j'ai, mon dieu, je vous le donne. In Whitman we would vainly search for such an empty accusation.
No greater contrast between this decadence and Whitman. They are valuable inasfar as behind them, in a continuous development, there is always the same relationship to the world with its strong intimacy. Now, it will emerge and blossom again with new strength and more beautiful clarity with the youth of new generations, new conditions of life and human beings: Nature and Man shall be disjoin'd and diffused no more, The true son of God shall absolutely fuse them.
Year at whose wide-flung door I sing! Year of the purpose accomplish'd! Whitman has been judged in various ways. Not here, because we do not know him yet. But in his own country he has experienced all kinds of prudishness, all kinds of clericalism, hypocrisy, aesthetic and other forms of narrowmindedness and much misunderstanding.
In Europe, a Frenchman has written about him in the Revue des deux Mondes June , Rudolf Schmidt has written an essay, a few Englishmen, and good old Lombroso, in his collection of anecdotes Genius und Wahnsinn [ The Man of Genius ], has recently locked him into a cell with God knows how many literary and other world-famous mental patients. But he has also been overrated, praised excessively. For example when Emerson placed him next to Homer, Shakespeare and the psalmists.
In an age such as ours, where everybody is forced to show consideration for, or rather is influenced by, our crippled age of transition, it is difficult to be like one of these greatest of men, even for a genius like Whitman. His overloud enthusiasm, the prophetic reference to his own person and the new force which will turn into a new world, is a "sign of the times. He has no need to emphasize that the completion and implantation of this culture can be expected from poets, orators, singers and musicians yet to come and justify him. All of his songs are no more and no less than enormous dithyrambs, preludes to a coming new world, a new race, "native, athletic, continental, greater than before known.
Before Homer, there may have been great dithyrambic-"Dionysiam" poets who were prophets like Whitman, prophesying a greater poet yet to come, "optimistic" in the overabundancy of their visionary intoxication and in the power of their greatly increased awareness of life, like Whitman. Whitman has long been known in Europe but he is not known enough in Germany. But it will not be long until they build altars for him as well, put wreaths on his picture and call his writings a gospel. Already at present, some people call him all kinds of things that he is not, for example a great philosopher and a prophet of the modern laws of life.
Our age, with no culture and thoroughly without philosophy, has no longer a sense for dimensions. Enthusiastically they run after every true or false prophet. What have they made out of Nietzsche, of Emerson, even of Maeterlinck! Posterity will have a good and long laugh. And in this same vein there are already "Whitman communities," and other enterprises of aimless enthusiasm here and there. The author of Leaves of Grass was not the most gifted writer, but he was the greatest of all poets in human terms.
Actually, one would have to call him the only or at least the first "American" poet. Because he was the first who did not draw from the treasure or the junk shop of the old European cultures. Rather, he was grounded with all his roots in the American soil.
He intoned the first hymns coming from the soul of this young people of giants, he sings and rejoices out of a feeling of immense power, he knows nothing ancient, nothing that is behind him, but one single presentient proudly moving present and an immensely happy future.
He preaches health and strength, he is the orator of a young, strong people which prefers to dream of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren than her fathers. Therefore his dithyrambs are so frequently reminiscent of the voices of old people, of Moses, for example, and of Homer. But he belongs to today, therefore he preaches the Self, the free creative human being, in a way no less fiery.
With the proud joy of the unbroken fully-developed human being he speaks of himself, of his deeds and voyages, of his country. He sings how he, "Well-begotten, and rais'd by a perfect mother," comes from Paumanok, how he passed through the southern savannas and lived in tents as a soldier, how he saw Niagara and the mountains in California, the primeval forests and the buffalo herds in his country. He devotes his songs thankfully and enthusiastically to the people of America, to his people, which he considers an immense, powerful unity. Whoever reads in this book at the right moment will find something of the primeval world and something of the high mountains, the sea and the prairie in it.
Much will seem flashy and grotesque, but the whole will impress him just as America impresses us—against our own will. Gesammelte Werke Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, , — Reprinted with permission of Suhrkamp Verlag. In the first years of his youthful virility, when he was filled with eros, Walt Whitman expressed his homosexuality, which dominated him completely, most passionately.
This is proven by the "Calamus" cycle in his poetry which first appeared in , when the poet was forty-one years old. But his fear of the uncomprehending prejudice of public opinion led him to regret his openness. In the later editions he eliminated the most conclusive confessions, which are still missing from the Complete Edition. VII, Advanced in age, when eros had departed him, Whitman then attempted to deny the homosexual foundations of his poetry altogether, indeed to hide behind the mask of normal heterosexuality. When the Englishman John Addington Symonds, himself a homosexual, wrote him a letter in an attempt to urge him to comment on his psychosexuality, Whitman resolved to eliminate all suspicions by way of the fairy tale of his six illegitimate children.
I have proven the implausibility of this invention by the senile and almost childish poet in my book Whitman-Mysterien Berlin, His credulous biographer Henry Bryan Binns, on the other hand, author of A Life of Walt Whitman , has uncritically accepted the legend of these six children who never existed and has used them out of the fanatic heterosexual desire to hush up homosexual matters and ignored the obligation to truth on the part of scientific research. He supports his thesis by Whitman's only lyrical poem in which the poet paid homage to love with women.
On this evidence, Binns bases his chapter on "Romance. But for every critical Whitman-researcher, the absurd ridiculousness of this fantastic construction was apparent from the very beginning. Now, finally, the prudent point of view was unexpectedly confirmed in a most curious way. Thus, Whitman did not dare to remain faithful to himself, but the truth has now been brought to the light of day nevertheless, and all of the yarn by H. Binns is now exposed. The deficiency of a homosexual to admit to his nature, a deficiency which so greatly obstructs the just appreciation and eventual liberation of homosexuals, is only too understandable given the terrorism of the heterosexual society.
But a forgery of one's own works as occurred in this lyrical quick-change artistry of the American poet, who fearfully hides behinds a woman's apron, is a singular example of its kind. This sex change operation is certainly a first-rate curiosity in the area of biographical psychology. Incidentally, experiences such as the one mentioned in this poem were not the exception in Whitman's life, but the rule. As evidence, we may use his Diary in Canada , which is full of addresses by the same type of "rude and ignorant men" as the one mentioned in the poem, recommendations to kindred spirits which like-minded persons at home had given him for his trip.
Whitman loved unsophisticated rustic-type males and found them everywhere he went. The woman, however, whom he forged into the poem, which should actually have been a part of the "Calamus" cycle, is not grounded in the reality of his life. Whitman was purely a homosexual. The person of the poet Walt Whitman and everything he has written appears as though America, the United States, wanted to reply to Goethe's words "America, thou farest better than our old continent; thou hast no ruined castles and no basalt!
For Walt Whitman, America is the empire of the future, of a human community that is not yet complete but still growing together, emerging. To argue against Whitman that such a position shows a dangerous, exaggerated arrogance would amount to dull pedantry, maybe even political jealousy. In order to understand the conception Whitman has of himself and of his people, this sort of politics must be ignored; it is located a few floors below an interpretation of culture from the height of the powerful imagination of the poet.
Although he does not express it in these words, Whitman feels that his people have made a new beginning, that they are barbarians, freshly emerged from the amalgamation of peoples, that they are introducing a new age into history. Just think how the old Germanic tribes, already at the time of Arminius.
Whitman feels a great, savage nature, not refracted through any conventions, within himself. To him, Americans are a newly emerging people, barbarians, at the origin of their development: he wants to help them to create a new, strong belief, the new art which has to be a guiding light for any great nation. His self-awareness is much more a feeling for his people than for himself; one should not get confused by the mystical "Myself" of his verses. He has felt this very clearly and said that he is only a very small beginning, an early precursor of an American-Periclean age. Moreover, he has always stated that it is America's special calling to be just a few steps ahead, but that all peoples of the earth would go the same way.
Which way? He is telling us about it in his "Drum-Taps" which rang forth clearly during the war: Be not dishearten'd, affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet, Those who love each other shall become invincible. Were you looking to be held together by lawyers? Or by an agreement on a paper? Nay, nor the world, nor any living thing, will so cohere. His "Democracy" is a free people of active individuals who have left behind all obstacles related to class prejudice, who have broken with all chimeras of a superannuated past; each on his soil or in his trade, at his machine, a man for himself.
Just like Proudhon, to whom he is intellectually related in many ways, Whitman unites the conservative and the revolutionary spirit, individualism and socialism.