If nature is your teacher, your soul will awaken.
I do not know myself and God forbid that I should.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.
Happy Birthday Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German Novelist, Dramatist, Poet, Humanist, Scientist, and Philosopher (Born August 28, 1749) - Wikiquote
Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though ‘twere his own.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German novelist, dramatist, poet, humanist, scientist, philosopher, and for ten years chief minister of state at Weimar.
See also: Faust, and The Sorrows of Young Werther, and the German version of this page.
- There is strong shadow where there is much light.
- One lives but once in the world.
- Clavigo, Act I, sc. i (1774)
- […] misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.
- If you inquire what the people are like here,
I must answer, “The same as everywhere!”
- Getting along with women,
Knocking around with men,
Having more credit than money,
Thus one goes through the world.
- Claudine von Villa Bella (1776)
- When young one is confident to be able to build palaces for mankind, but when the time comes one has one’s hands full just to be able to remove their trash.
- Letter to Johann Kaspar Lavatar (6 March 1780)
- Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.
- Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He holds the boy in the crook of his arm
He holds him safe, he keeps him warm.
- Noble be man,
Helpful and good!
For that alone
Sets hims apart
From every other creature
- Das Göttliche (The Divine) (1783)
- In der Kunst ist das Beste gut genug.
- A noble person attracts noble people, and knows how to hold on to them.
- Torquato Tasso, Act I, sc. i (1790)
- A talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world’s torrent.
- Torquato Tasso, Act I, sc. ii (1790)
- Untersuchen was ist, und nicht was behagt
- Investigate what is, and not what pleases.
- Der Versuch als Vermittler von Objekt und Subjekt (The Attempt as Mediator of Object and Subject) (1792)
- Die Liebe herrscht nicht, aber sie bildet; und das ist mehr!
- Love does not dominate, it cultivates. And that is more.
- Das Märchen (1795), as translated by Hermann J. Weigand in Wisdom and Experience (1949); also translated elsewhere as The Fairy-Tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, and simply The Tale]
- Variant translations:
- Love does not rule; but it trains, and that is more.
- As translated by Thomas Carlyle The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily (1832)
- Love rules (and reigns) not, but it forms (builds and ‘trains’); and that is more!
- As quoted in “‘Human Immortalities : The Old and the New” by Thaddeus Burr Wakeman, in The Open Court Vol. XX, No. 1 (January 1906), p. 104
- We can’t form our children on our own concepts; we must take them and love them as God gives them to us.
- The spirits that I summoned up
I now can’t rid myself of.
- One of the most striking signs of the decay of art is the intermixing of different genres.
- Propylaea (1798) Introduction
- The true, prescriptive artist strives after artistic truth; the lawless artist, following blind instinct, after an appearance of naturalness. The one leads to the highest peaks of art, the other to its lowest depths.
- Propylaea (1798) Introduction
- In limitations he first shows himself the master,
And the law can only bring us freedom.
- One never goes so far as when one doesn’t know where one is going.
- Patriotism ruins history.
- Conversation with Friedrich Wilhem Riemer (July, 1817).
- Who wants to understand the poem
Must go to the land of poetry;
Who wishes to understand the poet
Must go to the poet’s land.
- West-östlicher Diwan, motto (1819)
- For I have been a man, and that means to have been a fighter.
- West-östlicher Diwan, Buch des Paradies (1819)
- Should I not be proud, when for twenty years I have had to admit to myself that the great Newton and all the mathematicians and noble calculators along with him were involved in a decisive error with respect to the doctrine of color, and that I among millions was the only one who knew what was right in this great subject of nature?
- Letter to Eckermann (December 30, 1823)
- All poetry is supposed to be instructive but in an unnoticeable manner; it is supposed to make us aware of what it would be valuable to instruct ourselves in; we must deduce the lesson on our own, just as with life.
- Letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter (November 26, 1825)
- One must be something in order to do something.
- Conversation with Eckermann (October 20, 1828)
- If I work incessantly to the last, nature owes me another form of existence when the present one collapses.
- Letter to Eckermann (February 4, 1829)
- The artist may be well advised to keep his work to himself till it is completed, because no one can readily help him or advise him with it…but the scientist is wiser not to withhold a single finding or a single conjecture from publicity.
- Willst du immer weiterschweifen?
Sieh, das Gute liegt so nah.
Lerne nur das Glück ergreifen,
denn das Glück ist immer da.
- Do you wish to roam farther and farther?
See the good that lies so near.
Just learn how to capture your luck,
for your luck is always there.
- Variant translation:
Do you wish to roam farther and farther?
See! The Good lies so near.
Only learn to seize good fortune,
For good fortune’s always here.
- O’er all the hilltops
Is quiet now,
In all the treetops
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees:
Wait; soon like these
Thou too shalt rest.
- Wandrers Nachtlied (Wanderer’s Nightsong)
- Welche Regierung die beste sei? Diejenige, die uns lehrt, uns selbst zu regieren.
- Which is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.
- The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe as translated by Bailey Saunders (1893) Maxim 225
- Amerika, du hast es besser—als unser Kontinent, der alte.
- America, you have it better than our continent, the old one.
- Wendts Musen-Almanach (1831)
- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others,
And in their pleasure takes joy, even as though ‘twere his own.
Not in the morning alone, not only at mid-day he charmeth;
Even at setting, the sun is still the same glorious planet.
- "Distichs" in The Poems of Goethe (1853) as translated in the original metres by Edgar Alfred Bowring
- None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
- Goethe’s Opinions on the World, Mankind, Literature, Science and Art (collected from his correspondence), as translated by Otto Wenckstern (1853)
- Ich singe, wie der Vogel singt
Der in den Zweigen wohnet.
- I sing as the bird sings
That lives in the boughs.
- Bk. II, Ch. 11
- Wer nichts wagt, gerwinnt nichts.
Wer nie sein Brod mit Tränen ass,
Wer nie die kummervollen Nächte
Auf seinem Bette weinend sass,
Der kennt euch nicht, ihr himmlischen Mächte.
- Nothing venture, nothing gain.
Who ne’er his bread in sorrow ate,
Who ne’er the mournful midnight hours
Weeping upon his bed has sate,
He knows you not, ye Heavenly Powers.
- Bk. II, Ch. 13; translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- Knowst thou the land where the lemon trees bloom,
Where the gold orange glows in the deep thicket’s gloom,
Where a wind ever soft from the blue heaven blows,
And the groves are of laurel and myrtle and rose?
- What’s it to you if I love you?
- Philine in Bk. IV, Ch. 9
- Variant translation: If I love you, what business is it of yours?
- One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.
- To know of someone here and there whom we accord with, who is living on with us, even in silence—this makes our earthly ball a peopled garden.
- Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity transient.
- Die Welt ist so leer, wenn man nur Berge, Flüsse und Städte darin denkt, aber hie und da jemand zu wissen, der mit uns übereinstimmt, mit dem wir auch stillschweigend fortleben, das macht uns dieses Erdenrund erst zu einem bewohnten Garten.
- The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us, and though distant, is close to us in spirit - this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.
- "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre," in Goethes Sämmtliche Werke, vol. 7 (Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1874), p. 520.
 Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787)
- Seeking with the soul the land of the Greeks.
- A useless life is an early death.
- One says a lot in vain, refusing;
The other mainly hears the “No.”
- Pleasure and love are the pinions of great deeds.
- Life teaches us to be less harsh with ourselves and with others.
- Tell me you stones, O speak, you towering palaces!
Streets, say a word! Spirit of this place, are you dumb?
All things are alive in your sacred walls
Eternal Rome, it’s only for me all is still.
- I’m gazing at church and palace, ruin and column,
Like a serious man making sensible use of a journey,
But soon it will happen, and all will be one vast temple,
Love’s temple, receiving its new initiate.
Though you’re a whole world, Rome, still, without Love,
The world isn’t the world, and Rome can’t be Rome.
- Ah, how often I’ve cursed those foolish pages,
That showed my youthful sufferings to everyone!
If Werther had been my brother, and I’d killed him,
His sad ghost could hardly have persecuted me more.
- A world without love would be no world.
- Beloved, don’t fret that you gave yourself so quickly!
Believe me, I don’t think badly or wrongly of you.
The arrows of Love are various: some scratch us,
And our hearts suffer for years from their slow poison.
But others strong-feathered with freshly sharpened points
Pierce to the marrow, and quickly inflame the blood.
In the heroic ages, when gods and goddesses loved,
Desire followed a look, and joy followed desire.
- I feel I’m happily inspired now on Classical soil:
The Past and Present speak louder, more charmingly.
Here, as advised, I leaf through the works of the Ancients
With busy hands, and, each day, with fresh delight.
But at night Love keeps me busy another way:
I become half a scholar but twice as contented.
And am I not learning, studying the shape
Of her lovely breasts: her hips guiding my hand?
 Venetian Epigrams (1790)
- All Nine often used to come to me, I mean the Muses:
But I ignored them: my girl was in my arms.
Now I’ve left my sweetheart: and they’ve left me,
And I roll my eyes, seeking a knife or rope.
But Heaven is full of gods: You came to aid me:
Greetings, Boredom, mother of the Muse.
- Is it so big a mystery
what god and man and world are?
No! but nobody knows how to solve it
so the mystery hangs on.
- As translated by Jerome Rothenberg
- Much there is I can stand. Most things not easy to suffer
I bear with quiet resolve, just as a God commands it.
Only a few things I find as repugnant as snakes and poison.
These four: tobacco smoke, bedbugs and garlic and Christ.
- Much there is I can stand, and most things not easy to suffer
I bear with quiet resolve, just as a god commands it.
Only a few I find as repugnant as snakes and poison —
These four: tobacco smoke, bedbugs, garlic, and †.
- Variant translation: Lots of things I can stomach. Most of what irks me
I take in my stride, as a god might command me.
But four things I hate more than poisons & vipers:
tobacco smoke, garlic, bedbugs, and Christ.
- Epigram 67, as translated by Jerome Rothenberg
- Doesn’t surprise me that Christ our Lord
preferred to live with whores
& sinners, seeing
I go in for that myself.
- As translated by Jerome Rothenberg
- Three things are to be looked to in a building: that it stand on the right spot; that it be securely founded; that it be successfully executed.
- The sum which two married people owe to one another defies calculation. It is an infinite debt, which can only be discharged through all eternity.
- One is never satisfied with a portrait of a person that one knows.
- The fate of the architect is the strangest of all. How often he expends his whole soul, his whole heart and passion, to produce buildings into which he himself may never enter.
- Let us live in as small a circle as we will, we are either debtors or creditors before we have had time to look round.
- No one would talk much in society, if he knew how often he misunderstands others.
- None are more enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
- A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows on rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.
- Was glänzt, ist für den Augenblick geboren;
das Echte bleibt der Nachwelt unverloren.
- What dazzles, for the Moment spends its spirit:
What’s genuine, shall Posterity inherit.
- Das Alter macht nicht kindisch, wie man spricht,
Es findet uns nur noch als wahre Kinder.
- Age does not make us childish, as they say.
It only finds us true children still.
- Es irrt der Mensch, so lang er strebt.
- Man errs as long as he strives.
- Da stehe ich nun, ich armer Thor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor.
- And here, poor fool! with all my lore
I stand! no wiser than before.
- Night, Faust in His Study
- Bin ich ein Gott? Mir wird so licht!
- Am I a god? I see so clearly!
- Night, Faust in His Study
- Die Botschaft hör ich wohl, allein, mir fehlt der Glaube
- The message well I hear, my faith alone is weak
- Zwey Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust.
- Two souls alas! dwell in my breast.
- Outside the Gate of the Town
- Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint.
- I am the Spirit that always denies!
- Blut ist ein ganz besondrer Saft.
- Blood is a juice of rarest quality.
- (Also translated as:) Blood is a very special juice.
- Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie,
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
- Dear friend, all theory is gray,
And green the golden tree of life.
- Mephistopheles and the Student
- Ein echter deutscher Mann mag keinen Franzen leiden,
Doch ihre Weine trinkt er gern.
- A true German can’t stand the French,
Yet willingly he drinks their wines.
- Wer Recht behalten will und hat nur eine Zunge,
- Whoever intends to have the right, if but his tongue be clever,
Will have it, certainly.
- (Sometimes translated as:) He who maintains he’s right—if his the gift of tongues—
Will have the last word certainly.
- Faust and Gretchen. A Street
- Meine Ruh’ ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer.
- My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy.
- Schön war ich auch, und das war mein Verderben.
- Fair I was also, and that was my ruin.
- Gut! Ein Mittel, ohne Geld
Und Arzt und Zauberei zu haben:
Begib dich gleich hinaus aufs Feld,
Fang an zu hacken und zu graben,
Erhalte dich und deinen Sinn
In einem ganz beschraunken Kreise,
Ernauhre dich mit ungemischter Speise,
Leb Mit dem Vieh als Vieh, and acht es nicht fur Raub,
Den Acker, den du erntest, selbst zu dungen;
Das ist das beste Mittel, glaub,
Auf achtzig Jahr dich zu verjungenl
- Good! A method can be used
without physicians, gold, or magic,
Go out into the open field
and start to dig and cultivate;
keep your body and your spirit
in a humble and restricted sphere,
sustain yourself by simple fare,
live with your herd and spread your own manure
on land from which you reap your nourishment.
Believe me, that’s the best procedure
to keep your youth for eighty years or more.
- A Witch’s Kitchen, Mephistopheles to Faust
- Alles Gescheite ist schon gedacht worden.
Man muss nur versuchen, es noch einmal zu denken.
- All intelligent thoughts have already been thought;
what is necessary is only to try to think them again.
- Variant: All truly wise thoughts have been thoughts already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.
- Bk. II, Observations in the Minset of the Wanderer: Art, Ethics, Nature
- Law is mighty, mightier necessity.
- Once a man’s thirty, he’s already old,
He is indeed as good as dead.
It’s best to kill him right away.
- Act II, The Gothic Chamber
- What wise or stupid thing can man conceive
That was not thought of in ages long ago?
- Act II, The Gothic Chamber
- I love those who yearn for the impossible.
- Act II, Classical Walpurgis Night
- The deed is everything, the glory nothing.
- Act IV, A High Mountain Range
- Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben der täglich sie erobern muss.
- Of freedom and of life he only is deserving
Who every day must conquer them anew.
- Freedom and life are earned by those alone
Who conquer them each day anew (tr. Walter Kaufmann)
- Act V, Court of the Palace
- Wer immer strebend sich bemüht,
Den können wir erlösen.
- Who strives always to the utmost,
For him there is salvation.
- Act V, Mountain Gorges
- Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis.
- All perishable is but an allegory
- Variant translation: All that is transitory is but a metaphor
- Act V, Chorus mysticus, last sentence, immediately before:
- Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan.
- The Eternal Feminine draws us on.
- Act V, Heaven, last line
 Sprüche in Prosa (Proverbs in Prose, 1819)
- Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art.
- Nothing is more damaging to a new truth than an old error.
- Doubt grows with knowledge.
- The greatest happiness for the thinking man is to have fathomed the fathomable, and to quietly revere the unfathomable.
- First and last, what is demanded of genius is love of truth.
- A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.
- All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.
- Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit.
- Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.
- Of all peoples the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life best.
- Everything that emancipates the spirit without giving us control over ourselves is harmful.
- The fashion of this world passeth away and I would fain occupy myself with the things that are abiding.
 From the Memoirs of a Superflous Man (1943), Albert Jay Nock
- Niebuhr was right when he saw a barbarous age coming. It is already here, we are in it, for in what does barbarism consist, if not in the failure to appreciate what is excellent?
- "As Goethe remarked, all eras in a state of decline and dissolution are subjective, while in all great eras which have been really in a state of progression, every effort is directed from the inward to the outward world; it is of an objective nature. I have always believed, as Goethe did, that here one comes on a true sense of the term classic.”
- "Goethe suggested, in the interest of clearness one might very well make a clean sweep of all terms like classic, modernist, realist, naturalist and substitute the simple terms healthy and sickly.”
- [Those who make the assumption that literacy carries with it the ability to read] do not know what time and trouble it costs to learn to read. I have been working at it for eighteen years, and I can’t say yet that I am completely successful.
- Goethe at the age of seventy-nine
- Man will become more clever and sagacious, but not better, happier or showing more resolute wisdom; or at least, only at periods.
- Was uns alle bändigt, das Gemeine.
- That which holds us all in bondage, the common and ignoble.
- [The next sentence after predicting that great progress is coming:] I foresee the time when God will have no further pleasure in man, but will break up everything for a new creation.
- If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.
- As quoted in Human Development : A Science of Growth (1961) by Justin Pikunas, p. 311; this might be based on a translation or paraphrase by Viktor Frankl, to whom it is also sometimes attributed.
- Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
- I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make a life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture, or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de–escalated, and a person humanized or dehumanized.
- Attributed to Goethe, however, the correct/complete quote:
- I have come to a frightening conclusion.
- I am the decisive element in the classroom.
- It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
- It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
- As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.
- I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
- I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
- In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis
- will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.
has been shown to belong to Dr. Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers (1972) at "Haim Ginott", Wikipedia.com and Teacher and Child “Notes from Haim Ginott’s Books”, EQI.org
 External links
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.
Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then it will gradually yield to him.