Goethe: Faust's Sunset Speech (From German)

These are easily my favorite lines from Faust and some of the most famous in all of German literature. It is, in fact, an arguably programmatic poetic text for European Romanticism. Faust's sentiment in these lines is a blend of frustration at his own condition as a human being and his longing for infinite satisfaction. Observing the sun as it sets, Faust projects his desire to perpetuate the light through a kind of spiritual ascent. By envisaging himself moving in the sun's company, which increasingly assumes the guise of a feminine divinity (in German, the word for sun die Sonne is feminine, and therefore is referred to as die Göttin "the Goddess"), Faust also comes to identify himself with this divine figure, imagining himself beholding it from an ethereal vantage point. He sees himself as the mythical center of comic occurrence, balanced between heaven and earth, day and night, waves and sky. As the sun sinks and evening draws on, however, Faust returns to awareness of himself and a consciousness of his earthly, limited position atop the hill, acknowledging that his fantasy was no more than that. The concluding lines of his speech affirm the validity, nonetheless, for all humanity to maintain such transcendent longings, a quintessentially Faustian feeling of infinite desire embodied in the closing images of larks, eagles and cranes.

From Faust (lines 1070-1099)

By J.W. Goethe
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original German

Behold how by the evening’s solar fire

The cabins are aglow in greenery.
The day is lived and done; the reeling sun
Hurries away to foster life elsewhere,
And I want wings to take me up out there
To strive and follow on!
I'd see the silent world unfold
Before my feet in endless evening rays,
The quiet of the dells, the hills ablaze,
The silver brooks that run to streams of gold.
My course would be a god’s, unhindered by
The savage mountain and its craggy face;
Already now the sea with sun-warmed bays
Lies open to the dazzled eye.
And now that solar goddess falls from sight;
But a new urge impels the mind:
I'm off to drink her everlasting light,
With day before me and the night behind,
The waves below and, overhead, the sky.
It is a gorgeous dream. The sun must flee.
Alas! These spirit wings will never be
Conjoined corporeal wings on which to fly!
Yet it is utterly innate
For feeling to want out, to soar anew
When aimless skylarks jubilate
Above us in the spacious blue,
When over craggy, pine-clad highlands
The opened wings of eagles roam,
And, over meadowlands and islands,
The striving crane goes gliding home.

The Original:

Betrachte, wie in Abendsonne-Glut

Die grünumgebnen Hütten schimmern.
Sie rückt und weicht, der Tag ist überlebt,
Dort eilt sie hin und fördert neues Leben.
O dass kein Flügel mich vom Boden hebt,
Ihr nach und immer nach zu streben!
Ich säh’ im ewigen Abendstrahl
Die stille Welt zu meinen Füßen,
Entzündet alle Höhn, beruhigt jedes Tal,
Den Silberbach in goldne Ströme fließen.
Nicht hemmte dann den göttergleichen Lauf
Der wilde Berg mit allen seinen Schluchten;
Schon tut das Meer sich mit erwärmten Buchten
Vor den erstaunten Augen auf.
Doch scheint die Göttin endlich wegzusinken;
Allein der neue Trieb erwacht,
Ich eile fort, ihr ew’ges Licht zu trinken,
Vor mir den Tag und hinter mir die Nacht,
Den Himmel über mir und unter mir die Wellen.
Ein schöner Traum, indessen sie entweicht.
Ach! Zu des Geistes Flügeln wird so leicht
Kein körperlicher Flügel sich gesellen.
Doch ist es jedem eingeboren,
Dass sein Gefühl hinauf und vorwärts dringt,
Wenn über uns, im blauen Raum verloren,
Ihr schmetternd Lied die Lerche singt;
Wenn über schroffen Fichtenhöhen
Der Adler ausgebreitet schwebt,
Und über Flächen, über Seen
Der Kranich nach der Heimat strebt.

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