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Goethe's Development of the Wanderer Theme from 1771 to 1789

A discussion of "Der Wandrer", "Wandrers Sturmlied" and the "Römische Elegien"


with Special Reference to "Der Wandrer", "Wandrer's Sturmlied" and the R?mische Elegien (Roman Elegies)


Professor Willoughby , when commenting on the nature of the relationship between "Der Wandrer" and "Wandrers Sturmlied" made this observation: Both belong to the early period in Goethe's literary career between his student years in Leipzig and his move to Weimar. In this period Goethe first expressed basic concerns about the nature of the poet and the poetic imagination in poems associated by title or otherwise with the word "Wanderer". According to Professor Willoughby, Goethe achieved a balance between the demands of self-expression and objectivity in giving the figure of the Wanderer a dramatic voice in the dialogue between the so-named speaker and a young peasant woman in "Der Wandrer". During the same period of experimentation Goethe revealed a more personal and confessional aspect of "the Wanderer" in "Wandrers Sturmlied", a poem which Goethe long concealed from public attention, ostensibly because it appeared to Goethe to be little more than a poetic rambling, in fact "half-nonsense". The true reasons for Goethe's reticence lie in the sensitive nature of the issues raised by the word "Wanderer" and its implications. To consider this is to recognise that the word "Wanderer" is no mere conventional label or means of defining a persona.

The poetic work entitled R?mische Elegien (Roman Elegies) was composed when Goethe concluded his two periods of residence in Italy from 1786 to 1789. Their connection with the "Der Wandrer" and "Wandrers Nachtlied" lies in the contrast between the mentality of the restless searcher striving for self-fulfilment presented in both early poems and that of the the mature observer and connoisseur of Rome's cultural and artistic heritage. "Der Wandrer " anticipates this development. A passage belonging to the R?mische Elegien Goethe - in what seems to be an allusion to "Wandrers Sturmlied" - recalls those earlier days when he braved the elements during wandering excursions in his northern homeland.


There follow excerpts from William Taylor of Norwich's translation of "Der Wandrer", which evidently exerted a considerable influence on William Wordsworth's development (I have place certain lines in bold letter for a reason that will become clear later):


God bless you, woman, and the sucking child
Upon your bosom! Here I'll sit awhile
Against the rock, and at the elm-tree's foot
Lay down the burden that has wearied me.

What business brings you up these sandy paths
During the heat of day ? Have you brought toys,

Or other ware, from town to sell i'th'country ?
You seem to smile, good stranger, at my question.

I bring no city-wares about for sale.
The evening's very sultry. I'm athirst.
Show me, good woman, where you draw your water.

Here, up these steps of rock, athwart thc thicket.
Do you go first: you'll soon be at the hut
That I inhabit. We've a spring hard by it.

Traces of man's arranging hand are these!
Thine--'twas not liberal Nature, to unite
These blocks of marble thus--' 30.



Ere long my husband will return from labor, 112
Stay and partake with us our evening loaf.

'Tis here you dwell ?

Yes, in these very walls.
My father built our cottage up himself,
Of tiles and stones he found among the ruins;
Here we all dwelt. He gave me to a ploughman,
And died within our arms.
Hope of my life,
My darling, see how playful 'tis; he smiles.

All bounteous Nature, ever teeming mother,
Thou hast created all unto enjoyment;
Like a good furnish'd all thy children
With one inheritance--a hut a home.
High on the architrave the swallow builds,
Unconscious of the beauties she beclays;
The golden bud with webs the grub surrounds,
To form a winter dwelling for her offspring:
And thou, O Man, between antiquity's
Sublimest remnants patchest up a cot--

Art happy among tombs. Farewell, kind woman

You will not stay ?

God bless you and your child !

Good journey to you.

Whither leads the road
Across yon mountain ?

That's the way to Cuma.

How far may't be ?

About three miles. Farewell !

Nature, be thou conductress of my way,
Guide the unusual path that I have chosen
Among the hallow'd graves of mighty dead,
And mouldering monuments of ages gone;
Then to a home direct thy wanderer's step,
so To some asylum, from the north wind safe,
And with a platane grove to shade the noon,
Where, when his evening steps the hut revisit,
A wife like this may clasp him in her arms,
The nursling smiling at her happy breast.

"Der Wandrer", a poetic dialogue that originally belonged to a collection of poems belonging to the genre of K?nstlergedicht (Poetry on the Theme of Artists), describes an encounter between a young peasant woman and a wandering traveller engaged in a walking tour through mountainous terrain near the town of Cuma in southern Italy. The poem uncannily anticipates Goethe's Italian travels, which then lay more than ten years in the future.
Towards the end of his life Goethe cited "Der Wandrer" as a poem demonstrating that phenomenon of allowing poets an insight at times runs ahead of real events. 1 In other respect, the poem also heralds motifs that would assume great significance in Goethe's poetry, notably one to which Professor Willoughby has drawn attention - the encounter of a wanderer with a young woman who epitomises humble life and domestic virtues. The image of a young woman accompanied by a child in "Der Wandrer", as elsewhere, evokes strong religious connotations, pre-eminent among them that of the Madonna and Child. In "Der Wandrer" this topos merges with biblical images associated with stories telling of travellers' encounters with girls or young woman drawing water from a well. The traveller in "Der Wandrer" implicitly represents the poet as one in whom divine power resides. In requesting the young woman to give him a drink of water water the traveller recalls events described in the Pentateuch and the Gospels, such as the the well-known occasions when a servant of Abraham asks Rebecca for a drink of water, and when Jesus makes such a request to a Samaritan woman (John 4). This poem anticipates the explicit associations of the poet with the figure of Christ made later by Goethe himself, Jean Paul, Blake and others. The dialogue between the Wanderer and the young woman acquires an almost comic dimension in that it reveals a tension between the Wanderer's transports of the spirit and the young woman's concern with the immediate practicalities of life. As the young woman leads him along the upward path toward a well and her cottage, the Wanderer, stimulated by the sight of ancient stones that were once part of classical buildings, indulges in a monologue of praise and poetic utterance.
The interpolations of the young woman as she gives directions about the path they should follow or imparts factual information, serve to keep the Wanderer in touch with physical reality and counterbalance his proclivities to wander off in high self-communion. Taken to the extreme, such contrast might lead to the almost farcical scenarios depicted in Goethe's K?nstlergedichte, in which the artist is held back from full devotion to his vocation by the necessity of contending with bawling nfants and a shrewish wife. "Der Wandrer" evinces no crude irony but rather a touch of gentle irony illuminating the necessary inter-relationship between two planes of reality, those represented by the young woman and the Wanderer respectively. It is also possible to find in the contrasting attitudes and modes of speech of the young woman and the Wanderer a dichotomy that Schiller would focus on his essay "?ber naive und sentimentale Dichtung". The woman is a child of nature living in the present. The traveller seeks to find a means of transcending the barrier between the present and the past, the world he perceives physically and the world his mind imaginatively apprehends. The traveller in "Der Wandrer" reveals traits of a certain kind of 18th-century tourist, the would-be Rousseau or travelling "culture vulture", who imbibed impressions of ancient ruins in Italy and France. If the Wanderer is a poet in his mode of expression, he is also, like Werther, one endowed with an artist's special perception, if not with the ability to transpose his vision onto the physical medium of canvas or paper.
Der "Wandrer" furnishes an early example of Goethe's frequently applied stratagem of establishingestablishing antitheses before showing how their differences and contradictions are capable of being resolved. Goethe did not claim to be able to solve the contradictions of life and existence in purely logical terms, but he was able to accommodate seemingly irreconcilable differences within a world-view based on experience as well as philosophical thought. Goethe was helped in this by a sense of humour (and therefore of perspective), shared perhaps only by Lord Byron among the English Romantics. As L.A. Willoughby and Elizabeth M. Wilkinson have noted, this sense of humour allowed Goethe to make fun even of his own high-flown aspirations. 2
"Der Wandrer" treats two sets of interlocking antitheses. The restless progress of the traveller is set against the fixedness of the young woman's home and established way of life. The woman, contending with the every day needs of her family, lives in the present, while the traveller allows his mind to wander into the distant past. On seeing the remains of an ancient temple, the Wanderer reproaches Nature for having destroyed and deformed great works of art with the words:

Sch?tzest Du so, Natur / Deines Meisters Meisterst?ck?

Dost thou so esteem , O Nature, the masterpiece of thy Master

He is painfully aware of the discrepancy between the ruins he sees and the glory of what they represented in antiquity. For the young woman the ancient remains have direct practical value as building material for her home. Her attitude to the stones that were once part of a temple poses a stark contrast with the Wanderer's aesthetic and imaginative raptures, though in Goethe's poem no criticism of the young woman's utilitarianism is voiced or even implied.
In Goldsmith's The Traveller, which Goethe probably held in mind when composing "Der Wandrer", the author censured what he saw as the disrespect that his contemporaries evinced towards ancient monuments. 3 In Goldsmith's poem the travelogue still retains an element of social satire that typified the famous descriptions of journeys in the heyday of the classical or Augustan period. In Goldsmith's eyes the cannibalisation of ancient monuments for the purpose of building homes for the poor was a symptom of cultural decline and disrespect for the achievements of classical antiquity. Goethe, in this poem as elsewhere, does not disparage what is practical and useful as something belonging to a category inferior to that of art and spirituality.
The turning-point of the poem coincides with the juncture at which the Wanderer and the young woman reach the well situated near the latter's cottage. Then, significantly, the child in her arms wakes up. The Wanderer experiences an aesthetic and spiritual awakening which allows him to recognise unity where earlier he has seen division. The apparent antagonism between the demands of nature and art, between living in the present and the Wanderer's self-immersion in a vision of the past, gives way to the recognition that a universal process is evident both in natural
forces and human activity, be this artistic or mundane. In the following lines the wanderer expresses a vision in which past and present merge. Art and nature, far from negating each other, express the same vital principle. All nature's "children" from the caterpillar to the human being are seen to be engaged in the same collective enterprise of constructing, weaving, and home-building. We note one of the first appearances of the Wanderer-H?tte duality in Goethe's poetry.

Natur, du ewig keimende!
Schaffst jeden Genu? des Lebens;

Deine Kinder all hast m?tterlich mit einem Erbteil ausgestattet,

Einer H?tte. Hoch baut die Schwalb' am Architrav,
Unf?hlend, welchen Zierat, Sie verklebt,
Die Raup' umspinnt den goldnen
Zweig Zum Winterhaus f?r ihre Brut,
Und du flickst zwischen der Vergangenheit
Erhabne Tr?mmer
F?r dein Bed?rfnis
Eine H?tt', o Mensch,

. (line 127 - 142) (See translation of these lines by William of Norwich shown in bold lettering)

In "Der Wandrer" the domains of nature, society and poetry meet pre-eminently in the person of the young woman. She represents the figure of an archetypal mother, perhaps Mother Nature herself, in the image of a young woman with her child in her arms at the beginning of the poem. She is the epitome of the industrious wife and mother, who sustains the basic unit of society, the family. The final lines of the poem associate her with the poet's muse. At the literal level of meaning the poem concludes by expressing the hope that the Wanderer should one day be married to a woman, like the one he meets near Cuma, with whom he will enjoy the consolations and bliss of domestic life. The Wanderer looks forward to a day when he perhaps might return to his wife at the close of day. The close of day has in religious and poetic metaphor a wider sense. In this context, the reference to a grove of poplar trees recalls the association of poplars with the entrance of the underworld in classical mythology.4 The Wanderer imagines returning home when the evening sun sheds its last golden light; hitherto the sun has carried negative associations throughout the poem when the thirsty and weary traveller sought refuge from the sun's oppressive rays in the shade of trees. The image of the oppressive mid-day sun, present not only in this poem but in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Wordsworth's The Evening Walk and other treatments of the theme of walking in the country, is not only rooted metaphor but doubtless also in the experience of seasoned ramblers, a class to which the poets in question all belonged.
The image of a woman awaiting the traveller at nightfall associates a female with night and death, with the Passion and the return of the soul to its final resting place. As we have noted, in earlier discussions, poets in the Romantic age used religious imagery to express the experience of a poet in the process of discovering the true self. The ancient Gnostic belief that the Passion was founded on a purely spiritual truth rather than a historical fact involving physical death seems to anticipate Hartman's concept of a poetic death and resurrection. At another level, the association of night and a female figure mirrors the paradigm of the libidinal quest for union with the female principle in the self. The proposition that the same figure finds a framework or contexts different planes of reference might seem confusing or contradictory to those defending certain ideological positions regarding the relation of poetry to life beyond literature, ideas concerning religious truth and fundamental psychology. However, the power of words in literary texts, and probably in common language, to simultaneously acquire significance from different, though intersecting planes of significance, defies reduction to any one theory, such as that which rules that symbolism in poetry concerns only poetical aims and effects.



1. In answer to Karl Friedrich Zelter, who had sent Goethe a letter from Felix Mendelsohn, in which the writer claimed that he had identified the location providing the setting of "Der Wandrer", Goethe wrote in a letter dated 28th June 1831: "Das Gedicht "Der Wandrer" ist im Jahre 1771 geschrieben, also viele Jahre vor meiner italienischen Reise. Aber es ist der Vorteil des Dichters, da? er das voraus ahnet und wert h?lt, was der die Wirklichkeit suchende, wenn er es im Dasein findet und erkennt, doppelt 1ieben und h?chlich daran sich freuen mu?." ("The poem "Der Wandrer" was written in 1771, that is to say many years before my Italian journey. But it is the advantage of the poet that he intuitively foresees and esteems what the seeker after reality , having found and recognized it in the real world, doubly loves and enjoys with highest delight).

2. L.A. Willoughby and Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, "'Wandrers Sturmlied' A Study in poetic Vagrancy", in: German Life and Letters, 1948, I, 102-116. The authors comment

Without destroying his rapture, the poet can smile at it, playing upon the incongruity between uplifting and the down-to-earth aspects of his fantasy." P. 105. Also: "The whole movement of the poem's form inevitably grows out of the mood and the theme, a serious subject treated with sense of humour. Humour springs from a profound impulse of self-protection. It is a means of preserving inner security; but it is also a sign of it." P. 113

3. Oliver Goldsmith, The Traveller, 1764, 159-162. Richard J. Jaarsma, commenting on these lines in his article "Satire, Theme, and Structure in The Traveller in: Tennessee Studies in Literature, Vol. XXV (Knoxville,1979) sees evidence of Goldsmith's belief in "the progressive decline of the human spirit." P. 52.

4. Robert Graves notes the symbolic associations of black poplars with death and the underworld in The Greek Myths I & 2. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Book: 1955, rev. 60):
Black poplars were sacred to the Death-goddess...; and white poplars, or aspens, either to Persephone as goddess of regeneration, or to Heracles..(32.4). Also: "Persephone's black poplar grove lay in the far-western Tartarus, and Odysseus did not descend' into it - like Heracles.... Aeneas, and Dante - though Circe assumed that he had done so. 170.6.

5. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson: 1980), p. 95. Referring to The Gospel Truth attributed to Valentius, the author writes: "Contrary to orthodox sources, which interpret Christ's death as a sacrifice redeeming humanity from guilt and sin, this Gnostic gospel sees the Crucifixion as an occasion for discovering the divine self within.


1. The Problem of the Original Text

"Wandrers Sturmlied" confronts the interpreter with a number of problems relating to the origins of the poem. These problems are not merely of "academic interest", as different conclusions on this point entail significant differences of interpretation. The poem was composed some time between March 1772 and September 1773, when Goethe sent a manuscript version to Betty Jacobi. This version differs somewhat from the revised one which Goethe felt obliged to publish almost forty years later in 1810 (shortly after the poem had appeared in print without his permission). The first version of the poem differed from that published by Goethe in 1810 in the organisation of the strophes addressed to the Wanderer's "Genius". This opening section comprised three strophes of almost equal length, suggesting the beginning of a poem with a regular formal structure, indicative perhaps of Goethe's original intention to imitate Pindar's organisation of strophes in triadic groups.1 One critic, Klaus Weimar, goes so far as to doubt that the last strophe of the poem was included in the version sent to Betty Jacobi in 1773.2 Weimar argues that Goethe must have composed the fourteen lines beginning "Wenn die Raeder rasselten" ("when the wheels rattle") later and sent in a letter them to Friedrich Jacobi in 1774. This conclusion leads Weimar to believe that "the original version''. ending according to Weimar with the word "Theokrit", was conceived by Goethe as a hymn dedicated to Zeus after the manner of Pindar, in which there is evidence of a close self-identification with Zeus on the part of the Wanderer and the poet. After sending this version to Betty Jacobi, Weimar's theory goes, Goethe retracted from what he now held to be a presumptuous, well-nigh blasphemous, self-over-evaluation and wrote an additional strophe to redress matters. There is, however, the internal evidence provided by the text of the poem to consider, and this does not appear to vindicate Weimar's contention.

2. Mythological Figures and Tropes

The mythological landscape of the poems derives much of its imagery from Greek legends associated with mountains - particularly Olympus, the home of the gods and Parnassus, sacred both to Apollo and the Muses. In the Greek version of the Deluge story, Deucalion (Gk. "new-wine sailor"), son of Prometheus, and Pyrrha, his wife, reached terra firma on Mount Parnassus. It was also in the region of this mountain that Apollo slew the serpent Python. Apollo, the Muses, and Deucalion' Flood enter as motifs into the texture of "Wandrers Sturmlied" and help to demarcate the main elements of the poem's structure. The Flood legend underlies the associations of water, earth and mud. Mud has great symbolic value in this poem, at least representing as it does a merging or confusion of the elements earth and water. The first person speaker praises water as the Jovian element of utmost purity against wine, a delectable though inferior liquid attributable to the demigod Dionysus. 3 When composing the poem, Goethe may well have had Pindar's Ode Olympian 1 in mind, for this begins with a eulogy of water:

Water is the best thing of all, and gold
Shines like flaming fire at night
More than all a great man's wealth. 4

Motifs: e.g. Ascent/Descent, evoking Spirits and Gods and "the Elements"

The mythological topography of "Wandrers Sturmlied" has both a vertical and a horizontal axis. In terms of poetic imagery, the Wanderer ascends through the operation of a spiritual levitating force, only to descend, as though down a slippery slope, to a low level at which he must wade through mud in order to reach a refuge perched on a hill ahead of him. Climbing the hill pose in an ascent of a kind, though hardly on the grand scale envisioned earlier. While the motif of elevation, or ascent is common to many of Goethe's poems (e.g. "Zueignung"), "Wandrers Sturmlied" is uncharacteristic of Goethe's typical treatment of analogous themes in its disarmingly frank exposure of the sense of inadequacy the poet feels in meeting the challenge imposed on him by his ambition of becoming at one with the gods. The Wanderer displays no open defiance of Jupiter, as in Prometheus, nor sustained confidence in attaining unity with him, as in Ganymed. Feelings of inadequacy well up within him even at the contemplation of "the fiery black peasant" that appears in the seventh strophe, who possesses that firm resolution of spirit the Wanderer feels to be lacking in himself despite help received from Muses, graces and gods. Wafting precariously between earth and sky, the Wanderer feels himself to be missing out - both as a human being, who should share the concerns and enjoyments of ordinary mortals, and as an aspirant to the spiritual realm.
The desire to extricate himself from his muddy path motivates the Wanderer's appeal for help addressed to his "Genius" or guardian spirit.

Den du nicht verl?ssest, Genius,Wirst ihn heben ?bern Schlammpfad Mit den Feuerfl?geln.

Him, whom thou dost not not forsake, Genius, shalt raise from the mud path with fiery wings

The image of mud as the child of water and earth produces a humourous element in keeping with the mock heroic spirit that suffuses the poem, and we should not forget that humour and self-irony serve as a defence against the discomforts of self-exposure. For all the real or apparent humour in the poem, the fact that it treats highly sensitive issues is evident in the long delay of its publication.
The section of the poem which traces the Wanderer's ascent towards Jupiter is divisible into three subsections, in which the Poet-Wanderer addresses first his genius, second the graces (Charites) and muses, and third the gods. The fact that Apollo alone among the denizens of Olympus is not apostrophized need not surprise us in view of his aloof and threateningly vindictive aspect. In the second phase of ascent, the Wanderer, now escorted by Muses and graces, wafts or hovers over the muddy terrain with which he was contending when he addressed his "genius". We note the change of tense from the future in the second strophe:

Wandeln wird er / Wie mit Blumenf?ssen / ?ber Deukalions Flutschlamm,

He shall waft as though with flowery feet above Deucalion's muddy deluge

to the present in the sixth:

Ihr umschwebt mich, und ich schwebe / ?ber Wasser, ?ber Erde, / G?ttergleich.

Ye hover round me, I hover ) Over water, Over earth /

At the same juncture, the Wanderer becomes aware of a separation of earth and water into distinguishable bodies or masses, for he exclaims:

Das ist Wasser, das ist Erde.
That is water, that is earth.

It is interesting to note in passing that the emergence of earth, water and air from an undifferentiated mass constitutes a central element of the various creation (and related deluge myths) belonging to many cultural traditions. Perhaps references to the opposites of fire and water allude to contemporary rival theories about the Creation (viz. Vulcanism and Neptunism). In the second phase of ascent, the Wanderer perceives the little black (swarthy) fiery peasant, whose dark colour suggests his affinity to the earth.
In the third phase of ascent, and then only in the presence of the-third and highest of the deities to which reference is made, the Wanderer finds the pure water he longs for at its Castalian source. At this level of heightened awareness, the Wanderer speaks of his song as that which flows to the god who is himself the source of water in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Dich, dich str?mt mein Lied" (l 0th strophe).
Thee, thee, my song flows

The transitive use of an intransitive verb shows the trace of Klopstock's influence in breaking the bounds of ordinary grammatically regulated utterances in order to achieve a higher language more fitted to be the vehicle of rapturous emotion Klopstock anticipated Goethe in favouring the image of the flowing stream to inculcate a feeling of the essential qualities of poetry or inspired language. Even at the apex of his spiritual elevation, the Wanderer is still mindful of his responsibilities towards common humanity. Not only should his song flow back to divinity; from the Castalian fount a rivulet flows down to happy mortals below.

Pindar occupies a position of pre-eminence among the poets analogous to Jupiter's pre-eminence among the gods, as a parallel between the gods and poets is evident in the very structure of the poem. The eighth, ninth and tenth strophes of the poem refer in turn to Dionysus, Apolloand Jupiter. The importance of this ordering is emphasized in the rhetorical question:

"Warum nennt mein Lied dich zuletzt?"
("Why doth my song name thee last") in the first line of the tenth strophe).

The final three strophes refer in turn to Anacreon famed for poetry about the joys of wine; Theocritus, generally considered to be the originator of idyllic poetry (the words "Sonnebeglaenzte Stirn" ("sun-illumined brow") suggest a connection with Apollo); and finally Pindar. The last strophe is introduced by the image of turning wheels and racing chariots, a fitting evocation of Pindar's celebration of the events and achievements of those competing in the Olympic and similar festive games. The dust thrown up by the chariots is likened to a flurry of grit, hail or sleet sweeping down a mountain-side. "Kieselwetter" ("sleet") incorporates meanings that pertain to the mineralogical.and to meteorological domains, and in the context of the poems furnishes an image that fittingly marks the transition from one scene to another. 6 The vision of an Olympian and Olympic past yields to the dreary reality of a traveller contending with the meteorological conditions of winter in a more northerly clime.

4. Elements in the Poem which do not Conform to its Macro-Structure:
A Discussion of their Implications

The Wanderer's ascent was not achieved without the experience of a trauma -that namely which resulted from his encounter with Apollo, that most implacable of Greek deities, whom the Wanderer may have offended by his very choice of the dithyrambic mode, customarily dedicated to Dionysus, a mere demigod. Though he felt able to enter into a reciprocal relation with Jupiter, he was totally overawed by Apollo's brilliant sun-like radiance as well as perplexed by his own inability to reciprocate in like manner - to "glow back". The following lines from the ninth strophe express the Wanderer's sense of crisis in urgent tone:

Weh! Weh! Innere W?rme,
Gl?h entgegen
Phoeb Apollen.

Woe, woe, inner warmth,
Soul warmth,
The centre! Glow against
Phoebus Apollo

These lines find an echo in the last strophe:

"Mut.--Gl?hte?--/Armes Herz!"
("Courage - glowed - Poor heart")

Scaling down his ambition, the Wanderer declares himself content with just enough self-generated heat to enable him to get through the mud that separates him from his goal, a mountain hut. Though the Wanderer may be perplexed by his inability to produce or sustain inner fire, not all references to fire, or heat at least, carry negative or fear-engendering associations. Different qualities of heat are referenced in the poem. The wings of Jove, metamorphosed into a birdlike creature generate a comforting, protective warmth. There is the inner warmth produced by wine. There is the inborn ardour of the fiery peasant.
One reason why Goethe entertained misgivings about this poem has arguably less to do with the poem's apparent formlessness than with the tensions and unresolved conflicts to which it gives expression. The stage-by-stage ascent from earth to the heights of Parnassus might be graphically represented as stairs leading upward. However, various cross-connecting links between the lower and upper levels break the clean lines of the poem's tectonic structure. The genius, the personal guardian spirit assigned to each mortal from birth to death (lower in the hierarchy of spiritual beings than muses or gods), is identified in the eighth strophe with Dionysus.

Vater Bromius! Du bist Genius, Jahrhunderts Genius,
Bist, was innre Glut Pindarn war,
Was der Welt Phoebus Apoll ist.

Father Bromius! Thou art genius, century's genius.
Art what was inner warmth to Pindar,
and what the world is to Phoebus Apollo.

An intimate association between the poet's "Genius" and Jupiter is intimated by the lines at the beginning of the tenth strophe:

Warum nennt mein Lied dich zuletzt? Dich, von dem es begann,
Why doth my song name thee last, thou from whom it began,

An underlying fear of being unable to distinguish the subjective consciousness from the Universal Mind belies all attempts to enter the state of harmony and unity. To judge by the outline of its structure, "Wanders Sturmlied" constitutes an affirmation of the traditional Olympian order, with Jupiter stationed at its apex and Pindar occupying an analogous position among poets. Other indications in the poem, however, point to trends that work against the official hierarchy. The reason for the structural and emotional collapse revealed by the last strophe result not from Goethe's sudden change of heart after the writing of the poem, but from the inner conflicts that he experienced when writing it. On the one hand, Dionysus is linked in the structural context of the poem with Anacreon and Anacreontic poetry of the kind Goethe had grown out of; on the other, we find in the eighth strophe evidence of a close association of Dionysus (and Apollo) with modernity (viz. "Jahrhundertsgenius") and the suggestion that Pindar is "pass?" (viz. "Bist, was innre Glut / Pindarn war" - "(Thou art what to Pindar was inner warmth"). What seems to be called for here is not a downgrading of Dionysus but his re-evaluation in modern terms

5.The Poem's Inner Tensions

The reasons for arguing that the poem as we have it is not substantially different from the poem as originally composed can be summarised as follows: Considering the recurrent triadic structures in the poem, we would expect that a third strophe referring to Pindar would complete the triad of strophes dedicated to the poets. Recognising this, Weimar argues that Goethe originally considered reference to Pindar superfluous as so much had been said about him in the poem earlier. 7

Second, the metaphysical doubt. which, according to Weimar, suddenly beset Goethe after the completion of the poem (i.e., without the final strophe) manifests itself throughout the poem. There is no need to consult the final strophe to recognise in it the signs of deep metaphysical anxiety, self-doubt and tension. The formal structure of the poem notwithstanding, a eading of "Wandrers Sturmlied" (with or without the final strophe) not only reveals a close identification of the Wanderer with Jupiter but also with Vater Bromius, or Dionysus. The wanderer at last follows the peasant's footsteps to the security of an enclosed building. The Wanderer, Goethe himself, will never return to the easy ways celebrated by Anacreon. His understanding of Dionysus has deepened. This is not to say, either, that he has given up any hope of approaching Jupiter thereafter. Many later poems prove the contrary. But he had learnt to tread (or waft) more warily in the upper regions of Olympus.


1. As C. M. Bowra explains in his introduction to The Odes of Pindar in Penguin Classics, Pindar often uses a series of triads, each of which consists of strophe, antistrophe, and epode. See "Introduction," p. xiii, in: The Odes of Pindar, translated and edited by C. M. Bowra, Harmondsworth, 1969.

2. Klaus Weimar, Goethes Gedichte 1769-1775: Interpretationen zu einem Anfang (Paderborn Schoeningh, 1982), pp. 66-68.

3. In this connection it is interesting to note that Robert Graves concludes from his research into the evolution of the Greek version of the Deluge story that Deucalion, as his name suggests, was originally a Noachic figure responsible for the invention of wine. Reference to his importance in such a rle was subsequently suppressed in deference to Dionysian claims.

4. C. M. Bowra, The Odes of Pindar (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 64.

5. Greek philosophers before Plato were much concerned with identifying the primordial essence of the universe in terms of one of, or a combination of "the elements". For Thales this was water, for Anaximenes air (pneuma), for later philosophers a combination of the so-called "four elements" - earth, water, fire and air.

6. While "Kies" in standard German means gravel or grit, "Kiesel" and "kieseln" have much the same meaning as "hail" or "to hail" in Grimm's dictionary. See footnote 73 in: Weimar, Goethes Gedichte, p. 150.

7. Ibid., p. 83


Goethe's Elegien (later termed Elegien, r?mische (1806) before finally receiving the present title), were written during or shortly after the poet's second period of residence in Italy and published by Schiller in the Horen in 1795-6 without a declaration of their author's identity. It was in the Neue Schriften of 1800 that Goethe officially acclaimed the Elegien as his own works. As the first formal cycle of poems Goethe wrote, the collection of elegies poses a striking contrast to the apparently rambling poems about "The Wanderer" written by Goethe in his pre-Weimar days. First, and most obviously, in writing them Goethe subjected himself to the discipline of conforming to rules laid down by ancient classical traditions, at least to the extent that this was appropriate to poetry written in German. The R?mische Elegien themselves contain two references to the metrical pattern which Goethe followed during their composition. The basic metric unit of the Elegien is the distich, a pair of lines consisting of a hexameter followed by a pentameter.
Goethe's commitment to metrical regularity, which stands in complete contrast to the metrical variations in "Wandrers Sturmlied", marks the arrival of Goethe's high classical period. This had its beginnings in his first Weimar years and would last beyond the end of the eighteenth century. Poems composed in his early years in Weimar still express the spirit of restlessness so characteristic of Goethe's poems in the early 1770s. However, in poems describing walks and journeys, such as "Harzreise" and "Ilmenau", the Wanderer, though still betraying signs of restlessness, has become an acute observer of his surroundings. Goethe's classicism involved more than adherence to a regular metre. Schiller, when alluding to the R?mische Elegien in his essay "?ber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung" - (contrasting the intuitive and unselfconscious Greek poet with the sharply critical and self-conscious modern poet), referred to Goethe as "the Roman and German Propertius" 1 Propertius had indeed served Goethe as a mode and source of inspiration. Like Propertius, Goethe promoted love, erotic love in particular, to a major theme of his poetry, and, when so doing, adopted the standpoint of a first person speaker. His choice of traditional model brought a special advantage. In conforming to a classical precedent, Goethe could forestall comments that the R?mische Elegien provided a record of his amorous adventures in Rome. On the other hand, there could be very little doubt that the joi de vivre expressed in the Elegien corresponded closely to Goethe's elevated mood at a time when he enjoyed fulfilment in his personal relationships. Though "Faustina", the figure who represents the poet's lover in the Elegien, is a fictional character, she incorporates characteristics and aspects of a real woman in Goethe's life. At least Frau von Stein as one of the first readers of the Elegien on their publication was quick to identify Faustina, mentioned by name only once in the work (XVIII,9) as Christiane Vulpius, Goethe's life companion and later wife. Faustina may also incorporate traits of an Italian woman with whom Goethe had a brief affair during his residence in Rome. 2
However, the spirit of exuberance that pervades the Elegien did not result only from personal fulfilment in love relationships. In Rome itself Goethe discovered a spiritual and cultural home that far surpassed any Northern city in its wealth of historical monuments and works of art. Goethe exulted in the brightness of colour and the clarity of form that the Italian climate bestowed on his Italian environment. For him, Rome meant primarily an aesthetic experience as he himself observed in a letter dated 8th June 1787 to Charlotte von Stein:

Wo ich nun sitze. hier oder in Frankfurt, das ist eins und Rom ist der einzige Ort in der Welt f?r den K?nstler und ich bin einmal nichts anders.

Where I am now located, here or in Frankfurt, makes no difference, and Rome is the only place in the world for artists, and I am no different from

In the R?mische Elegien Goethe presents love as a power not only manifested in a personal relationship but in Rome, its history and present life. In mythological terms the god of Love exerted an influence on Rome no less great than that of Mars. Indeed, Rome, as the offspring of Mars and Rhea Silvia, is revealed in the Elegien as a city owing its existence to an amourous impulse. Feeling himself to be in direct spiritual communion with the spirit of Rome, the poet perceives no division between the classical past and the immediate present. The poet sees more than the material record of a past age; he senses here the creative energy that found expression in it. In Goethe's view the products of artistic creation, such as paintings or sculptures, though static in one sense, are both the product of and the producers of dynamic and creative mental and emotional powers., whether acting on the artist or the beholder of artistic creation.

It may seem on the surface that the R?mische Elegien have little in common with "Wandrers Sturmlied". However, there is evidence (shortly to be considered) that Goethe had the latter in mind during the composition of the Elegies.
The word "Wandrer" appears only twice in the R?mische Elegien, which in such a long work hardly seems noteworthy on the basis of a statistical word count. However, the contextual setting of the word in the second and seventh elegies is significant in the following respect: only in the case of these elegies are there significant variations between the published version in the Horen and one appearing in an unpublished manuscript.3 In the case of the second elegy these divergences are particulary marked .The speaker complains that the "Wanderer" is dogged wherever he goes by politically motivated and arbitrary tittle-tattle in much the same way that contemporary British tourists excited by their presence a then popular ditty entitled "Marlborough".This reference corresponds to lines in the unpublished manuscript in which Goethe expresses relief that he was shielded from the celebrity of Werther and Lotte, characters in his sensationally popular novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of young Werther), simply because he was not recognised as the author of that work.
A question arises. Why did Goethe expunge any reference to Werther in the published version of the R?mische Elegien? Most probably because he wished to divest the lyrical "I" of any explicit reference to himself after he had come to realise that his very choice of poetic genre precluded an explicit identification of the speaker with himself as a private individual. Any desire to avoid personal embarrassment could hardly have been a decisive factor, as there was no disguising the fact that the events and experiences described in the Elegies were drawn from real occurrences in Goethe's life before and during his residence in Italy. By inserting the word Wandrer" in the second elegy Goethe could both allude to his own person and cast the speaker as a universal traveller and poet. Set in the context of the second elegy the "Wanderer" is in the first place a traveller, tourist or ex-patriot. In that of the seventh elegy the Wanderer is to be identified with the poet and artist in a mythological setting, as the following lines make clear:

Wie ich hereingekommen, ich kann's nicht sagen; es fa?te
Hebe den Wandrer und zog mich in die Hallen heran.

How it came about that I entered I cannot tell. Hebe
clasped the Wanderer and drew me into the halls.
VII, 15,

An explicit association of the "Wanderer" with "the poet" follows a few lines further on: addressing Jupiter Xenius, the protector of travellers, the speaker pleads:

Bist du der wirtliche Gott? O dann so versto?e den Gastfreund
Nicht von deinem Olymp wieder zur Erde hinab!

Art thou the hospitable god. O do not therefore cast thy guest
down from Olympus to earth again

These words call forth the reprimand:

"Dichter" wohin versteigest du dich?

"Poet", whither dost thou raise thyself high?

The speaker makes an important discovery: to enjoy the presence and companionship of Jupiter, he need not attempt a hazardous mountain climb. Having asked Jupiter's forgiveness for such a foolish assumption, he avers:

der hohe / KapitolinischeBerg ist dir ein zweiter Olymp.
the high Capitoline hill is a second Olympus"

It is almost as if the Wanderer is still smarting from the memory of an earlier traumatic attempt to scale the abode of the gods before plunging into rivers of mud. In the light of the feelings expressed in the opening lines of the seventh elegy we are probably justified in assuming that Goethe did have "Wandrers Sturmlied"in mind when treating the theme of encountering Jupiter, for they recall his earlier days of wandering under a grey northern sky. However, even if we concede that Goethe here mockingly belittles all that he once associated with the Wanderer as a figure in his early poetry, the very use of the word "Wandrer" implies that a continuous development embraces the contradictions that emerge from a comparison of "Wandrers Sturmlied" and the R?mische Elegien. The poet's original attempt to reach Zeus finds its inverted corollary in the removal from Olympus to the Capitoline Hill. Far from being a remote and unapproachable deity, Jupiter Xenius seeks and finds the poet in his earthy urban environs.

In his classical period Goethe discarded his earlier notion that his ruling deity, whatever called, could be approached directly, without the help of a mediating power or influence. This Goethe found in art. The image of Jupiter Xenius, the god who condescends to move among mortals as an unrecognised stranger, was greatly favoured by the Augustan poets of Rome, and of these, by Ovid in particular. His Metamorphoses contains the story of Philemon and Baucis, who entertained Jove and Mercury unawares. Faust and Jupiter merge into the figure of the Wanderer, who enters the cottage of Philemon and Baucis shortly before Faust's apotheosis. In the R?mische Elegien Jupiter is closely associated with artistic creativity, either as a figure represented by sculptors and other artists, or as the power of art itself. Plotinus, we recall, identified Zeus as the source of artistic creativity (cf. H?lderlin; "Jupiter und Saturn"). In the R?mische Elegien a similar connection between the ancient gods of Rome and artistic creativity is implied rather that stated. According to the fifteenth and sixteenth lines of the seventh elegy, Hebe takes the Wanderer to an inner space or room ("Raum" connotes both). In later elegies the word "Raum" is closely associated with the artist's "Werkstatt", his studio or atelier. The close juxtaposition of the words in the following lines and the parallelism they imply are hardly coincidental:

Du betrachtest mit Staunen die Tr?mmern alter Geb?ude
Und durchwandelst mit Sinn diesen heiligen Raum.
Du verehrst noch mehr die werten Reste des Bildens
Einziger K?nstler, die stets ich in der Werkstatt besucht.
(XIII, 9-12)

Thou contemplatest amazed the ruins of ancient buildings
and wander about this holy place with purpose.
Thou admirest still more the noble remains of the creations of particular artists whom I constantly visit in the artist's workshop.

Words in the final strophe of the poem associate the poet's pen, and by implication the written poem, with "the reed" and by extension with the pastoral music often associated with the pipes of Pan. Goethe did not develop so deep an appreciation of music - the music of Beethoven at least - as he evinced in the sphere of the visual and plastic arts, yet few poets have succeeded in achieving the quality and diversity of the sonorous or "musical" effects of which poetry is capable. The analogy between his songs and he reeds or rushes swaying in the wind further imply an affinity between the processes of artistic creation and the growth of plants.


1. Friedrich Schiller, as the editor of the Horen, however, evidently contended with the objections and misgivings of certain readers of the Elegien. A.W. Schlegel doubted that they could be classified as "sentimental" in the sense of bespeaking the sensibility of medieval or modern poets. Despite, the appeal of the Elegien to tradition, their impact was revolutionary, even shocking. The theme of erotic love itself had many precedents in Roman classical poetry, but the very suggestion that this had some connection with a modern poet's life was evidently disturbing, for Frau von Stein among a good number of other people.

2. Goethe's amorous relationship with an Italian woman seems to have been of short duration, lasting from January to April 1787.

3. Apart from the elegies which never appeared in the Horen, for being considered too explicit for public taste (see:Weimar Ausgabe von Goethes Werken ,143 volumes, 1887-1919, vol. 53, p.3-7), the second elegy as rendered in a manuscript entitled Erotica Romana, explicitly attributes the poet's unwanted celebrity to the fame of his novelle Die Lieden des Jungen Werther, adding that if the hero in this work, had been his own brother, he would have readily beaten him to death!

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