Notes: Goethe & Heidelberg

A Journey & Non-journey: August-November 1797
At 7 o'clock on the misty morning of 25 August he and his mother bade each other farewell— 'not unmoved, because it was the first ime after so long a while that we had got a little used to each other again'. Although he planned to come back through Frankfurt, 18th century separations tended to be long and Frau Goethe had reached an age when any parting might be their last. The day soon warmed up and Goethe had the fine weather he wanted for his journey down the Roman road between vineyards and laden peartrees, with panoramas of blue hills and then through the purple evening light, in which all the shadows were emerald green, to Heidelberg, which he and Geist reached at half-past nine at night. On the following day, to look across from the footpath along the right bank of the Neckar at Heidelberg in brilliant late-summer sunshine, and to 'recollect former times'— certainly including a journey to Italy that had finished here in 1775— was almost to put to the test his new theory of the unity of subject and object in the symbolic. From the town walls at the base of the forested rocks of the Königstuhl a trail of cottages marked the path up through the trees to the 'grand and earnest half-ruins' of the old castle, making up 'something of an ideal if one is familiar with landscape painting', and the new stone bridge had 'a noble dignity, especially in the eyes of one who remembered the old wooden bridge'. On 27 August Goethe's own recent work began to provide the significance of what he saw: leaving the valley of the Neckar at Neckar-Gemünd, the author of Herrmann and Dorothea noted in Wiesenbach the calm politeness of the men in their blue coats and white waistcoats embroidered with flowers, and 'the Catholic culture, far from disagreeable' of the women; and when he stopped for the middle of the day at the 'cheerful' little town of Sinsheim in the Kraichgau he saw the habit of piling middens under the windows of the houses, while leaving the roadway free, as a wise compromise which preserved public order without meddling in the freedom of the burgher to enjoy the disadvantages of his chosen way of life. Heilbronn, where he rejoined the Neckar in the evening, particularly interested him as a model of a [p. 551] self-governing community whose sober and affluent inhabitants enjoyed an excellent, Protestant, administration: 'it is based on a general equality of all the citizens... neither clergy nor nobility had much of a foothold in earlier times... no Jews are allowed...' Since he was well-lodged he decided to spend his birthday there too, walking round the antiquated fortifications, noting the old-fashioned costumes, the overhanging gables with big wooden rainspouts and the raised pavements for the comfort of pedestrians, and outside the walls enjoying the productive gardens that pressed right up to the avenue of chestnuts and limes around the town moat. [p. 552]

Secrets of the Self: June-December 1795
Around this time also Goethe showed a certain interest in cryptograms, and perhaps in mystical and symbolical alchemical writing, the forerunner of the scientific chemistry to which his optical studies were directing him. What was the secret which Goethe felt he was keeping from the audience he was increasingly, if at times ungraciously, reconciled to addressing?
    Perhaps it was something like that personal identity of the poet with which Friederike Brun had felt profound sympathy when reading his poems, a sympathy which Goethe clearly thought was misplaced. The poems were not insincere or inauthentic, but he himself, the 'ille ego', was not that easily grasped... Goethe knew that when he wrote a letter he adopted a pose, which he adjusted according to the recipient: similarly, he knew that the narrator, or the 'I', in a poem or novel was as artificial as the persona he presented to the world in his daily life. Yet these different personalities were not unrelated to each other, and for all their being artificial they were not vacuous; Goethe did not wish his identity as a writer or as a human being to be reduced to a mere grammatical or narrative convention, as if he were no more than the subject pronoun which, given the structure of the language, a verb necessarily requires. He could not have agreed with Lichtenberg who wrote in his commonplace book about his time:

One should say 'it is thinking' ['es denkt'], as one says 'it is raining' ['es blitzt']— To say cogito is already too much, as soon as it is translated by 'I think'. To assume, to 'postulate', the 'I' is a practical requirement.

Of all his contemporaries Goethe was, and remained, closest to Kant, for whom the soul— our substantial, monadic identity— was not something we or anyone could know from experience, but was not therefore an illusion. It was an Idea, a postulate necessary for coherent thought, especially about moral matters of 'practical' reason. Goethe felt he was real enought, and solid enough, but his readers should no more imagine that they could grasp him in his writings— or in any other form of self-expression— than that they could have empirical experience of an Idea. [p. 309]

Nicholas Boyle, Goethe: The Poet and the Age
Vol. II, Revolution and Renunciation (1790-1803)
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000, pp. 309, 551
[Stanford: PT2049.G66.1991.V.2]

Das Gingo-biloba-Gedicht in der Kunst
[Poem: Dieses Baums Blat, der, von Osten]
In einem Brief, der letzlich an Frau Willemer gerichtet war, bestätigt Goethe, dass er dieses Gedicht am 26. September 1815 in Heidelberg geschrieben hat. Den Titel erhielt es später.

Mit ihrem Alter von mehr als zweihundert Millionen Jahren ist die Ginkgo biloba ein beliebter Gegenstand des Kunsthandwerks wie der freien Kunst. Auf Goethes Gedicht gehen die Darstellungen nachweislich erst dann zurück, wenn sie das Blatt mit dem Motiv der Liebenden verbinden.

Goethe und Heidelberg
Ausstellung der Goethe-Gesellschaft Heidelberg in der Universitätsbibliothek
vom 23. April bis 28. August 1999
Einrichtung und Texte: Prof. Dr. Günther Debon
Verlag Brigitte Guderjahn, Heidelberg, 1999, p. 55
[Stanford: PT2145.H45.G64.1999]

| Top of Page | Goethe's Ginkgo Biloba | Meeting Goethe in Heidelberg | Notes to Poem | Goethe & Alchemy |
| Poems 2007 | Haikus 2007 | Poetry News | CPITS | Poetry & Power | Books | A-Z Portals | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (12-19-2007)