David Bell (Manchester)
'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' in Goethe's West-östlicher Divan
'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' in Goethe's West-östlicher Divan
The motif of separation and reunion is a literary commonplace that can have trivial and sentimental or profound and existential implications. The recurrence of this theme in Goethe's work reflects a way of thinking which unites his philosophical, moral and scientific outlook in a vision of man and nature as a unified whole. The pattern of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' in human experience is perceived to have an archetypal character that corresponds to the 'Urphänomene' of nature and the concepts of 'Polarität' and 'Steigerung'. An analysis of this motif in the West-östlicher Divan demonstrates that it follows an alternating rhythm between the poles of ecstatic togetherness and despairing separation, reaching a climax in 'Wiederfinden'. The pattern suggests a means to overcome this opposition and it is shown to be based on a consistent monism that reflects Goethe's indebtedness to Spinoza. The solution is found to lie not on an elegiac or transcendental plane, but in the realisation of the immanence of God or Nature in all existence, thereby shedding new light on Goethe's concept of time and memory and his understanding of the relationship between the infinite 'One and All' and individual, finite existence.
1 The motif of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden'
The motif of parting, separation and the possibility or impossibility of reunion has a very long tradition in world literature and clearly resonates with a universal human experience. It has permeated our consciousness and can be the source of both sentimental cliché and also profound existential reflection. The persistent recurrence of the motif in Goethe's work derives not simply from personal experiences in his own life, but from the recognition of a pattern identified as an archetypal human experience that must face up to the inescapable realities of human relationships and their impermanence. In examining Goethe's treatment of this theme, above all in the West-östlicher Divan, it will be possible to gain insight into his understanding of the relationship between the physical and mental or spiritual worlds and to show that the confrontation with the suffering of parting and separation aspires to a reconciliation that is not to be found on a transcendental plane, but is rooted in a consistent philosophy of immanence, which in turn casts fresh light on the concept of time and how the transient and the permanent dimensions of existence can be brought together.
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Furthermore, it will be shown that Goethe's monistic approach recognizes that these archetypal patterns in human experience are comparable to the 'Urphänomene' that he identifies in his scientific thinking.
The motifs of parting, separation and reunion have of course been extensively commented on in relation to interpretations of the individual works in which they occur, but relatively little direct attention has been devoted to the recovery of those patterns which will be traced here, not only in terms of representative or symbolic human experience but also in terms of a consistent philosophical consideration of what Goethe regards as scientifically identifiable 'Urphänomene'. A dissertation by Christoph Widmer, published in 1959, brings together a range of material and examples, which serves to highlight questions, rather than suggest answers, but in so doing draws much needed attention to recurrent patterns as well as discontinuities (Widmer 1959). Karl Heinz Bohrer's major study, Der Abschied (1997), offers, however, a thought-provoking investigation of 'Abschied' as a literary figure, although it is not Goethe, but Baudelaire who is at the centre of his thesis and provides the measure for the analysis of 'Abschied' as a paradigm of thought. Bohrer distinguishes the elegiac treatment of parting that we recognize in traditional treatments of this motif throughout world literature and which, he argues, implies a 'Wiedersehen', from a more radical act of consciousness, expressed to perfection in Baudelaire, and which has profound existential implications in its finality: "Es handelt sich nicht um das schmerzliche oder elegische Gefühl angesichts eines erfahrenen Verlusts, sondern um die Erkenntnis von dessen strukturell angelegter Vorgegebenheit: als Reflexionsfigur des Präsens als eines je schon Gewesenseins" (Bohrer 1997:10).
This sense of "der Baudelairesche Schmerz des Verlusts von Ewigkeit" (Bohrer 1997: 324) is free of all baggage deriving from an understanding based on any philosophy of history that would impose some meaning on it by raising the possibility of reconciliation (or 'Wiedersehen'). In this context Goethe is identified as the only significant precursor, where the radical existential finality of Tasso's 'Abschied' is seen not only as a rejection of the elegiac mode but also as a break with the certainty of the transcendental. The agony of the classical 'Abschied' motif is restrospectively highlighted by what is interpreted as the ambivalence of the later Goethe, exemplified in the Trilogie der Leidenschaft, which allows for the possibility of reconciliation and even transcendence in the reality of the present moment: "Man sieht vor dem im Alterswerk pragmatisch-lakonisch versöhnten Abschied noch genauer, wie dieser in seiner klassizistischen Phase Transzendenz verabschiedet hat" (Bohrer 1997: 415).
While recognizing the seminal importance of the 'Abschied' motif in the classical phase as identified by Bohrer, this study will aim to show that the reconciliation and potential recovery of transcendence in the later Goethe continues to confirm that Goethe's treatment of this motif cannot neatly be accommodated within the philosophy of history of idealism.
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At the same time it is not simply to be characterized as a pragmatic response or a softening of a previously held position of existential isolation. Rather, it can be shown, with the example of the Divan, to be a hard-won position, wrested from the brink of despair that is explored in Torquato Tasso, but nonetheless survived. This reconciliation is approached through a mental and spiritual process that focuses on the time-less moment; in highlighting 'Trennung' it does, indeed, imply 'Wiederfinden', but not, as Bohrer rightly argues, by seeking to realize the past in the present in the manner of the elegy or by locating it on an idealistic transcendental plane. Instead it is based on the same concept of immanence that informs all Goethe's philosophical, religious and scientific thought. The monistic precept that God or Nature is a unity that is simultaneously 'One and All' is a fundamental stratum in Goethe's thinking that binds him to Spinoza and leads him to a vision of man, who is but part of nature, as a reflection of that unity and totality. His treatment of the motif of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' in turn draws on the notion that the fundamental patterns and rhythms that he perceives in nature are operative in human experience: human relationships in some sense reflect archetypal structures and that even those elements that may seem separate or disparate are united from the perspective of the whole.
2 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' as archetypal patterns in experience and nature
The idea that the poet's experience is in some sense representative or, as Goethe would call it, symbolic,1 is central to the West-östlicher Divan. It is this that makes possible the transformation of the relationship between the lovers in the 'Buch Suleika' into something with a universal significance. Even earlier, the 'Buch der Liebe' introduces in its opening poem a series of renowned lovers from the oriental world as 'Musterbilder' (HA 2: 27), who offer different paradigms that inspire the poet, but whose representative quality emerges more clearly as the poet's own individual example takes on this dimension. Following the citation of these exemplary couples, the poet reflects on the patterns of experience that can be charted in the 'Lesebuch' of love:
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The archetypal patterns of life are reflected in this ebb and flow. The Persian poet Nisami is apostrophized as the poet par excellence, who takes as his main theme "die Wechselwirkungen innigster Liebe",2 including patterns of separation and reunion, who thus taps into this fundamental rhythm in human relationships. There is, the poet intimates, an insoluble mystery here, but if, paradoxically, it is to be solved then it will be the work of "Liebende sich wieder findend". Set against this background the poet's individual narrative of his relationship with Suleika will take on a powerful resonating force, illuminating the senses in which that 'Wiederfinden' can, by tapping in to that immanent presence beyond time and space, bring an end to those contradictions.
The treatment of this motif in the Divan naturally forms part of a much wider trajectory that cannot be detailed here, but there are instances enough which explore the agony of parting and link it with death and madness, while reflecting on the hope for or despair of reunion. Werther and Tasso spring immediately to mind, as does Goethe's comment anticipating departure from Rome in April 1788: "In jeder großen Trennung liegt ein Keim von Wahnsinn, man muß sich hüten, ihn nachdenklich auszubrüten und zu pflegen."3 It is above all in the Divan and its context, however, that the integral unity of the 'Trennung-Wiederfinden' motif finds its most significant expression and provides a new perspective on the existential crisis in his classical phase that is analysed by Bohrer. Goethe's first allusion to this theme is found very early, in an ode written after he took leave of his companion Behrisch in 1767:
The sentiments remain conventional and unremarkable, but the reflex coupling of separation with its polar counterpart sets a pattern that will recur. The pattern is one where the experience of 'Trennung' threatens loss, total collapse, madness or death, with a degree of danger commensurate with the intensity of the experience possibility of reunion. This existential situation is debilitating for Tasso, but the prospect raised in the Divan is: Can that threat be overcome and in what might it consist? Or must tragedy prevail? Can 'Trennung' be counterbalanced by 'Wiederfinden'? In those instances where reunion is impossible or is voluntarily renounced, the counterbalancing can only take place in a spiritual dimension that reconciles togetherness and separation in a sense which draws on Goethe's postulation of the immanent unity of all being, a process that may itself defined as a form of 'Wiederfinden', understood in this higher and non-physical sense. This phenomenon is at the very heart of the 'Buch Suleika' and the Divan.
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The word 'phenomenon' reminds us that Goethe sees this pattern as an empirical representation of an archetypal rhythm fundamental not only to all human existence, but to nature itself, for it is essentially a polar relationship. 'Polarität', along with the complementary notion of 'Steigerung', is one of the "zwei großen Triebräder aller Natur",4 informing both the material and the spiritual worlds. The operations of both physical motion and mental activity exhibit attraction and repulsion, and thought itself is a constant process of separation and combination.5 Similarly, the essay Polarität points to manifestations in nature that display a fundamental "Dualität der Erscheinung als Gegensatz" (WA II.11: 164) identifying pairings that are not simply categories for analysing the attributes of nature: the key point at issue here is that they express the indivisible unity and totality of nature, that manifests itself in an alternating and continuous rhythm.
Whereas Schiller's dualistic thinking led him, as an idealist, to oppose rigorously the freedom that we have as moral beings to the determinism of our existence as physical beings, Goethe's realistic thinking is by contrast monistic and holistic. Like Herder, he envisages a concordance between the physical realm of matter and the moral realm of the spirit, which means that the same system of law operates in both, expressed in different ways.
The connection with Spinoza's monism is profound and illustrates the fundamental level on which the latter's impact can be traced. Spinoza postulates a single substance: God or Nature (Natura naturans), which manifests itself through infinite attributes. Mind and matter express the essence of substance through the attributes of thought and extension respectively, and are infinite, one and indivisible when conceived through the intellect sub specie aeternitatis. In the empirical realm of Natura naturata, however, they appear to the imagination to be finite, multiple and composed of separate parts.6
These are perspectives that can be applied to the concept of polarity: what manifests itself as a process of dividing and combining can from another perspective be seen as an unchanging totality based on a monistic world-view. Moreover, drawing on that Spinozistic concept of unity and the immanent presence of the divine in all phenomena, we can make inferences from the observation of natural phenomena and apply them to human behaviour. For Goethe there is no leap here; it is not even thinking by analogy. It is a logical step that follows from his monistic view of the unity of nature. He is therefore able to make what appear to be scientific conclusions about human behaviour, arguing from phenomena in the physical world:
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As the second quotation illustrates, the notions of separation and combination presuppose an underlying unity, as do the other alternating organic patterns found in nature. The fact that it is based on a 'duality of phenomena' should not disguise this unity that informs both the physical and the moral worlds.
One of the most striking instances of this alternating rhythm for Goethe was the image of the pulsating heart, corresponding to the inhalation and exhalation of breath, the alternation of contraction and expansion, the systole and diastole of the heart. He took this image to illustrate the essential unity underlying polar opposites, in a sense coming together and separating, and in that process creating an organic whole that is alive. Goethe includes the single phrase "Atemholen" in the list of phenomena he provides in the essay Polarität. That he sees this not simply as a biological phenomenon, but as a particular that represents an essential pattern in life is suggested by the inclusion of this image in the opening book of the Divan:
The rhythm of the body's physical life, with its alternation of oppressive contraction and refreshing expansion, provides a paradigm for the experience of joy and sorrow in life itself; the one is meaningless, indeed impossible without the other, and we must accepting of and grateful for both as a totality. Such joy and sorrow may well be part of the human experience of togetherness and separation but at the same time suggests that the 'duality of phenomena' can be encompassed in an overarching whole. What the polar pattern of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' in the Divan shows is the possibility of transformation and reconciliation on a higher plane, which in turn parallels the notion of 'Steigerung' in the realm of phenomena. This, it will be argued, is precisely what we find in the Divan, and the 'Buch Suleika' revolves around it in its entirety.
3 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' as the core of the "Buch Suleika"
In a sense, the West-östlicher Divan itself is built around the idea and the experience of meeting. Most fundamentally, the cycle gives expression to a unique encounter between west and east, sparked by Goethe's discovery of the poetry of Hafis and his rich cultural heritage.
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The gestation of this encounter also coincided with the journey undertaken in 1814, and again in 1815, to visit Frankfurt and the Rhine, Main and Neckar regions, where he met old friends like J.G. Schlosser (his brother-in-law), Sulpiz Boisserée, J.J. Willemer and, most significant of all, Marianne Jung, who, when they met again later in the summer of 1814, was by then married to Willemer. The relationship with Marianne was remarkably intense: it was coloured, indeed shaped by the shared experience of the world of Hafis and the poetry it inspired in Goethe. He takes on the role of Hatem, the older lover, to Marianne's Suleika. The relationship is characterized by a sequence of intermittent meetings, often very brief: a relationship marked, then, by parting and reunion. Returning to Weimar in late October 1814, Goethe immersed himself in his oriental studies and the Divan-poems swelled considerably in number in the ensuing months. The following summer he was drawn back once more. Here, in late May 1815 he ordered for the first time the extant poems that would form the core of the Divan. On 12 August he was reunited with Marianne and spent an idyllic five weeks in the Willemers' Frankfurt home and their country retreat, the Gerbermühle. It is during these weeks that many of the poems in the 'Buch Suleika', including Marianne's contributions, were composed. After leaving the Willemers on 18 September, there was a brief reunion in Heidelberg on 23-26 September, and this, although it was not envisaged by either Goethe or the Willemers at the time, was to be their final meeting. Contact was maintained by letter to the very end of Goethe's life, but there was to be no reunion, despite ample opportunity.
An awareness of Goethe's contact with Marianne, together with their correspondence after their parting, may help us to grasp the wider ramifications of the theme of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' that runs through the 'Buch Suleika', which can be read as a kind of narrative embodying the fate of the fictive lovers, Hatem and Suleika: their relationship is formed around an alternating pattern of togetherness, parting and separation, but which is subsumed in a sense of oneness when viewed, after Spinoza's fashion, sub specie aeternitatis. This narrative thread will provide a framework to explore the insight that the pattern has an archetypal dimension, representing a fundamental and essential characteristic of the natural order of things, both in the physical and in the moral worlds. The corollary of the polar relationship is the tendency, through a process of intensification, towards a renewed unity on a higher level, in this case a 'Wiederfinden' that demands a re-appraisal of everyday notions of time and place and highlights the role of poetry itself in enabling and realising that transformation.
3.1 The alternation of togetherness, parting and reunion
The Book stands under the sign of Suleika, implying that it is a story of both love and separation, for Suleika, with Jussuph one of the 'Musterbilder' cited in the 'Buch der Liebe', is in Islamic tradition an embodiment of selfless love and renunciation.
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The very naming of the beloved as Suleika in the opening poems immediately suggests that the poet experiences the relationship with a degree of self-consciousness, with an awareness of the fact their experience of the bliss of togetherness and the pain of separation has an exemplary dimension. The keynote is struck by the epigraph which anticipates the glory that Suleika brings and shares:
The dawning of the relationship is swiftly developed into a sense of joy and fulfilment in the beloved's presence, a feeling likened to "Paradieses Wonne" ('Da du nun Suleika heißest', HA 2: 63). A high point is quickly reached in the pair of poems in the form of a dialogue between Hatem and Suleika, 'Nicht Gelegenheit macht Diebe' and 'Hochbeglückt in deiner Liebe' respectively.
Hatem mischievously suggests that 'Gelegenheit' has robbed his heart of all his love and given it to her, so that his very being is now inextricably bound up with hers:
Suleika's reply contains a gentle reproof and intimates that together they are supremely rich and her happiness unmatched:
This sets the baseline for a rhythm that will now reverberate through the Book as a whole. Intense as the feeling seems, it has yet to be intensified to new heights, which will be brought about by the consciousness of imminent separation.
The first shadow of separation occurs early, in the seventh poem, Suleika's 'Als ich auf dem Euphrat schiffte' and Hatem's reply. Suleika dreams that her ring, a gift from her lover, slips from her finger and is lost in the Euphrates, and fears that this portends loss and separation. On this occasion the shadow seems easily dispelled as Hatem reminds her of the traditional Venetian ceremony whereby the Doge is 'married' to the sea, reassuring her:
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The anxiety appears to be overcome as he contemplates this 'marriage', which will keep his spirit always with her. Already we can see the possibility of a 'Wiederfinden' that is not defined by physical presence. Strength is given by this reassurance, and in the following poems there is a concentration on the mystery of duality and unity, exemplified in 'Gingo biloba', whose leaf seems to be simultaneously a single whole that has divided and two parts that have joined together to form a unity. Even more striking is the image of the crescent moon embracing the sun in 'Die Sonne kommt! Ein Prachterscheinen!' Like the ginkgo leaf, it poses a conundrum: how can this pair be seen so close together simultaneously? The answer given by Hatem plays on the Ottoman military order of the sun and moon: the sultan has the power to bring this pair together, and so too does the poet have the power to unite himself with the beloved as he envisages them together:
In adopting the image the poet appropriates the power of the sultan and through his virtuosity brings together that which is fated to be apart. But the undercurrent remains: the 'Wonne' is all the more intense in direct proportion to the sense that there is a contradiction or impossibility in their remaining together.
It seems that the stakes are being raised in this narrative of the lovers' relationship. This is especially evident in two poems that follow closely: 'Die schön geschriebenen' and 'Volk und Knecht und Überwinder'. In the former we read:
Quite apart from the delightful playfulness with which the generous reciprocity of giving and taking is evoked, beneath the surface there is an intimation that what is at stake is the very being of the lovers.
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The bliss captured here is that of a single moment, but the reality is, or will be, separation. The response of the poet in years to come is to re-create through memory and reflection that sense of being, to unpick "die bunte Schnur meines Glückes" (HA 2: 70), and thus to give a kind of permanence to what was transient. In the second of these poems a similar intensity is expressed: his very being depends on Suleika. In response to her suggestion that people have always sought pursued the realisation of their individuality, Hatem puts a different slant on it:
His sense of self can only be realized in her, without her he is lost, pointing to their ultimate oneness. The solution to this threatened loss of identity is the playful notion that he can, by a process of metempsychosis, be reborn in the shape of her new lover. This metamorphic trick suggests the possibility continued togetherness, but as a solution it lacks finality; it smacks rather of the ingenious conceit, rather than something that has evolved organically from plumbing the depths of such experience and surviving it.
3.2 'Wiederfinden' and the overcoming of separation
What we have seen in the first half of the 'Buch Suleika', is the emergence of the pattern of union threatened by separation and intimations of how the sheer intensity of feeling may inspire a response. The emphasis is, indeed, on the bliss of togetherness and merged identities, intimated in the extraordinary words of Suleika: "Denn das Leben ist die Liebe, / Und des Lebens Leben Geist" ('Nimmer will ich dich verlieren', HA 2: 75). All this is about to change; for a little while longer, however, a kind of plateau is reached. Despite the shadows there seems to be a kind of confidence that nothing can touch them, even when apart. This even leads him to extrapolate from individual experience and make what appears to be a statement with general validity:
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The city of Baghdad stands as a symbol of a place of safety for lovers, a refuge from the pressures of life; though the lovers may be poles apart, Baghdad, for Goethe the quintessence of the imagined world in which the Divan is located, is a reminder that they are never far away in spirit. Interestingly, in another related but unpublished verse Goethe goes one step further:
The statement that East and West are no longer to be separated suggests that the poles of East and West have in some sense been brought together. This is arguably the central rationale of the Divan and operates in a number of ways: the meeting of East and West, the eastern alter ego of the western poet, the counterpoint of Hafis and Goethe, and not least, the transmutation of the Goethe-Marianne experience into the narrative of Hatem and Suleika. If the lovers can overcome the distance of separation, so too can the apparent opposition of East and West be overcome.
The culmination of this process has yet to be realized in the 'Buch Suleika', however. The quasi-proverbial Baghdad motif, occurring roughly half-way through the Book (it is the 21st of 42 poems), precedes a short series of poems which reiterate the feeling that even from afar, the poet can easily be with his beloved, in Baghdad, so to speak.10 There is playfulness, too, in the image of Hatem's poems, the natural product of both their togetherness and separation, falling on Suleika's lap like ripe chestnuts from the tree, and ironic humour at Hatem's expense when he mistakes Suleika's own verses, written in his absence, for the work of a rival.11 But even as earlier it was possible to identify an intensification of feeling to the point of ecstatic bliss, there now follows an intensification of the pain of separation to the point of torment. The painful note first strikes a major chord in 'Deinem Blick mich zu bequemen' and deals not so much with separation as parting. It is compared to the extinguishing of light and fire, the very source of life, and unless Allah should choose to reunite them, he concludes, "Gibt mir Sonne, Mond und Welt / Nur Gelegenheit zum Weinen" (HA 2: 80).
What follows is the start of an extraordinary crescendo that continues to the end of the 'Buch Suleika'. Marianne's poem 'Was bedeutet die Bewegung?' blends seamlessly into this, as the east wind brings whispered greetings from the beloved, bringing a measure of relief to the wounds of the heart. There is hope, it seems, but it is a desperate hope. Even where there is hope of meeting again it is undercut by a tragic note that resounds fully for the first time in 'Hochbild'.
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The use of western mythology reminds us where the origins of this poet lie, despite his oriental alias; at the same time, however, it is an indication of the coalescence of east and west. It is no accident that a natural phenomenon is the basis for the theme: the production and destruction of the rainbow, told in terms of the sun-god Helios looking down on the rainbow-goddess Iris, who reflects his light in a myriad of colours, but who dissipates when Helios, moved by love and compassion for her tears, seeks to embrace her. Such a coming together is, of course, impossible and is tragic in its destruction. This natural phenomenon, parallel to the process of 'Trennen' and 'Verbinden', is echoed finally in the destiny of lovers:
The tone borders on despair, but is relativized in the next poem, 'Nachklang', by self-deprecation: he mocks the comparison with a god, but reveals a despair that cuts even deeper, expressed in the apostrophe of the beloved in terms of almost unbearable longing:
The intensification is palpable and reaches its climax in 'Wiederfinden'. In terms of the narrative it seems at first sight that, against all hope, the lovers have found one another again and the first stanza expresses the trepidation felt at the prospect of reunion after the abysmal pain of the 'Nacht der Ferne'. The bond between the pair is stressed: the beloved is his "Süßer, lieber Widerpart", suggesting, as before, that they are really one. The essence and significance of this personal 'Wiederfinden' is illuminated by a another narrative: a cosmological one, which recounts the story of creation in terms of the laws of 'Polarität' and 'Steigerung' and thereby underlines the fundamental unity and totality of the universe. The creation of the material universe is presented as existence outside the mind of God; it is in a sense a separation from its divine source:
Moreover, the first act of creation, that of light, is presented as a process of separation from the dark. The cosmological origins of the universe are based then on a polar division, that results in a lonely God, who feels agony he is wrenched apart.
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In essence, however, things cannot lose their divine source and the underlying unity is restored through a further act of creation which makes the phenomenon of colour possible: "Ein erklingend Farbenspiel". The very existence of colour, produced through intensification of the polar opposites, is a sign that there is no final separation, 'Wiederfinden' is the counterpart to 'Trennung' and colour and beauty are testimony to this. The patterns that define human life, then, are also to be seen in terms of this law: "Allah braucht nicht mehr zu schaffen, / Wir erschaffen seine Welt" (HA 2: 84).
In fulfilling his destiny, in suffering the pain of separation and the bliss of reunion, mankind is in effect reiterating God's creation, recreating the pattern that underlies the created world and that underlying unity is no less real. Indeed, the inference must be that there is no ultimate separation. The last stanza of the poem applies the cosmological example to the poet's own story, begun in the first stanza:
The exemplary quality of the lovers' experience is spelled out: their fate stands for the fate of all and reflects a fundamental truth. The assertion that they are never to be parted again is plainly not to be taken literally. On the contrary, we know their relationship is fated to be one where ultimate separation is recognized by both. The claim that they will never again be separated can only be meant in a different sense. Indeed, in the very next poem, 'Vollmondnacht' it is abundantly clear that the lovers are apart once more. However, they have made a kind of tryst out of the night of the full moon:
The last line is crucial: it is in the moment that the secret lies. Here is the possibility to escape the limitations imposed by physical separation, to experience a 'Wiederfinden' that is not transient. In the essay Polarität Goethe defines the outcome that can result in nature from the interaction of polarity and intensification:
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The contention advanced here is that this is helps us to interpret what takes place in the 'Buch Suleika' in terms of an 'Urphänomen'. The separation is not followed by a neutral recombination: the lovers do not simply get back together. Instead, through the intensification of the extremes of experience, reunification takes place on a higher level, which produces something new, namely a 'Wiederfinden' that is beyond time and space and which reflects the reality of the unity of nature which is immanent in human existence. This is the climax that the 'Buch Suleika' reaches.
'Wiederfinden' is followed by sequence of poems - 'Abglanz', 'Wie mit innigstem Behagen' and 'Laß den Weltenspiegel Alexandern' - which share the image of a mirror, and a fourth, 'Die Welt ist durchaus lieblich anzuschauen', uses the image of the eyeglass. They have in common the idea that the insight provided by 'Wiederfinden' is in a very sense real and can, therefore, be seen. The medium through which it is most easily visible and communicable is poetry, and, in terms of the narrative, the songs of the Divan themselves. The ultimate expression of this insight comes in the final poem of the Book, the incomparable 'In tausend Formen'. There is here no further to-ing and fro-ing between meeting and parting. The togetherness declared at the end of 'Wiederfinden' is quite simply seen and lived. It is a real experience, not a flight of fancy, Hatem has found Suleika in a sense that knows no parting. The opening stanza sets the pattern:
The pattern is repeated with a series of remarkable neologisms: "Allschöngewachsene", "Allschmeichelhafte", "Allspielende", "Allmannigfaltige", "Allbuntbesternte", "Allumklammernde", "Allerheiternde", "Allherzerweiternde", and "Allbelehrende". The hymn of praise and devotion is directed to the beloved but is simultaneously a hymn of praise to God, drawing on the Islamic notion of "Allahs Namenhundert".13 Both are immanent in nature, so the experienced world is for the poet a real connection to both, and in the manner of the oriental poetry Goethe discovered in Hafis, earthly love can be seen as a metaphor for divine love, the erotic a metaphor for the mystical, rendering time and place immaterial. What seems to point to a transcendental, religious realm is in fact a reaffirmation of a Spinozistic doctrine of immanence.14
4 Time, memory and the present moment
The evolution of the idea of 'Wiederfinden' in the 'Buch Suleika' throws new light on Goethe's emphasis on the present moment.
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This is more than a celebration of the carpe diem theme of Horace, with whom comparisons have frequently been made, even though Goethe warns against such comparisons as potentially misleading in the imposition of different cultural norms.15 The value of seizing the moment for Goethe lies in the conviction that it can give access to the eternal. The pure moment is infinitesimally small and as far removed from any finite period of time as is its opposite pole, eternity; both are, in a sense, outside time and are to that extent akin. As Goethe laconically puts it in 'Vermächtnis', "Der Augenblick ist Ewigkeit." (HA 1: 370), reminding us of Spinoza's definition of eternity as "existence itself" (Spinoza 1955: N. 46, Part I, Definition VIII). This possibility of accessing a higher level is also intimated in one of the most moving renditions of parting in Goethe's work, in the elegy 'Alexis und Dora' (1796). Alexis, having grown up alongside Dora, realizes in an instant what she means to him, and this is occasioned by the fact that he is about to take his leave:
It is precisely the awareness that they must separate that enables him to see and feel something beyond the transient. Bohrer observes that the significance of this moment lies in the fact that the reality of parting is already encompassed in the moment of meeting.16 He also notes that the question of reunion remains unresolved, and so, just as Alexis transcends normal time in the experience of that moment, so too the climax of the 'Buch Suleika' offers 'Wiederfinden' in a manner that overcomes the pain of actual separation. For Goethe it means that there can be a response to transience; in 1823, in the midst of his doomed relationship with Ulrike von Levetzow, he writes, "Alles dieses Vorübergehende lassen wir uns gefallen; bleibt uns nur das Ewige jeden Augenblick gegenwärtig, so leiden wir nicht an der vergänglichen Zeit."17 Seeing the eternal present in every moment and the unity of all things: this is the insight that Hatem achieves from his experience with Suleika.
The stress on the moment as the "Repräsentant einer ganzen Ewigkeit"18 should not, however, lead us to the false conclusion that reaching that insight can only be achieved fleetingly. The point is that it has inestimable value because it takes us out of the flow of time, and more than that, it can be recreated through acts of memory or reflection, and can be given an objective expression in poetry. In such cases time becomes purely relative, the validity of the experience is independent of time. Einstein tells us that, "The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one."19 Goethe may not be anticipating the theory of relativity, but his way of conceiving things sub specie aeternitatis was something he learned from Spinoza, whom Einstein also admired.
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Moreover, as we have seen, the experience of 'Wiederfinden' on this level in the Divan is equated with a perception of the divine as present in the earthly, a mode of perception that unites Goethe's concept of 'Anschauung' with Spinoza's definition of the highest form of intuitive knowledge as the "intellectual love of God" (Spinoza 1955: 264-6, Part V, Proposition XXXVI; cf. 260, Prop. XXIV). The idea that the perception of the divine is linked to love in the present moment is intimated when Goethe writes:
Goethe's power to do this is founded on an intensely visual imagination, that is perhaps eidetic.20 Indeed, the remarkable thing about this memory is that it is not simply a re-collection, but a re-living of the original experience. In a toast made to 'memory' at a dinner held in honour of the pianist Mme Szymanovska in 1823, Goethe observes:
This makes clear that it is not a case of using memory to recapture something lost and mourned in an elegiac sense. There is a positive emphasis on the higher, 'better' level that is reached which reflects that Spinozistic intuitive knowledge that recognizes the inter-connectedness of all things when viewed sub specie aeternitatis and corresponds to the process that has been traced in the 'Buch Suleika'.
Aspiring to this level of knowledge was Goethe's life's work, not least as a scientist, but it also helps to account for the unique coexistence of the dominant motifs of fulfilment and renunciation in his work. It may also shed light on that remarkable process whereby he seems able to survive the most profound crises. The insight serves as a kind of mental survival tactic, evidence of which extends beyond the Divan. Two such examples may suffice. In Die natürliche Tochter (1803), the Duke believes his daughter Eugenie to be dead, but through an intense visualization sees her as present and, by the same token, as eternal:
This is more than a memory; she continues to be an active and productive power and in a meaningful sense lives and is reunited with her father. Next, the sonnet 'Abschied' (1807/8) which reflects Goethe's intense but short-lived relationship with Minna Herzlieb: the poem visualizes parting by sea, but concludes:
The tone is clearly positive: the fulfilment that has been enjoyed continues to be real, even though that fulfilment has been renounced. The language of these instances reminds us that this is the same process that is elaborated in the Divan, while the allusion to partaking of the infinite and eternal, which are immanent in the finite and transient, succinctly reinforces the philosophical dimension.
5 The Reconciliation of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden'
In the case of the Divan Goethe shows how poetry can mediate this philosophical insight and actually realize, through aesthetic means, the transformation of our perspective on the relationship between the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the transient. That this perspective forms a crucial part of Goethe's philosophical outlook that is more than a mere aesthetic motif, is corroborated not only by the instances in other works referred to, but also by the testimony of his highly revealing correspondence with the Willemers up to his death. When Goethe parted from Marianne in September 1815, there was no reason to suppose that they would never see each other again. Indeed, the following summer he actually set out on a third journey to his homeland and to the Willemers. On 20 July, just a short distance outside Weimar, his carriage overturned and he repaired to Bad Tennstedt and immediately aborted the planned trip. The accident was minor, yet Goethe seems to have abandoned the plan with a haste that he stuck to stubbornly. As he concedes in the Tag- und Jahreshefte, "Aus Unmuth und Aberglaube ward die vorgesetzte Reise vielleicht übereilt aufgegeben".21
Virtually each year thereafter Marianne and her husband were to extend invitations to Goethe, which express both longing and hope. As the editor of their correspondence, H.-J. Weitz, remarks: "Der Gedanke des Wiedersehens geht wie ein Irrlicht darin um; aber die beiden wissen es längst anders" (Willemer 1965: 871). It seems that Marianne did believe Goethe would return, but his alacrity in abandoning the third trip seems to suggest that he had already renounced the possibility and took the carriage accident as a sign of fate. Indeed, in the days immediately following his parting from Marianne in September 1815 he seems to have had a presentiment of this.
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On October 6th, even before he left Heidelberg, he writes to Willemer, "daß ich, ohne Willkür und Widerstreben, den vorgezeichneten Weg wandle und um desto reiner meine Sehnsucht nach denen richten kann, die ich verlasse" (Willemer 1965: 29). Goethe strikes a note that will become a leitmotif in his subsequent letters, albeit relatively few in total, but which were to continue right up to his death. The last, returning Marianne's letters, was written on 29 February 1832, just twenty-two days before his death. It expresses precisely what we have seen in the poems of the 'Buch Suleika', the intimation that despite separation he experiences their presence: he sees the places they frequented "lebhafter als in der Gegenwart" (Willemer 1965: 28).
Despite constant reminders from both the Willemers Goethe never responds enthusiastically or unequivocally to their invitations and hopes. Evidently Marianne found the situation harder to bear than Goethe, for she fell ill with depression in the winter of 1816-17 and again in 1818, causing her husband almost to reproach Goethe for his absence: "Warum mußten wir so lang getrennt sein, es war außerdem so weit nicht gekommen".22 For Goethe, however, it seems to have been possible to maintain that heightened sense of presence when immersing himself in that mental re-creation of the moment. There are too many instances of this in the letters to be cited in full here. Goethe's letter of 26 October 181523 may serve as an example. Having left the Willemers a month before, he notes that they are "immer gegenwärtig"; he is also deeply moved by a vivid account in Marianne's hand of the evening of 18 October 1814, when together they had witnessed the fires lit on the hilltops to celebrate the fall of Napoleon, and welcomes her suggestion to count "die von Anfang der Welt sich herschreibende Jahrzahl" from this day. This plainly recalls the idea at the centre of 'Wiederfinden': the creation myth and its re-enactment through the eternal example of the lovers.
The fact that the first anniversary of this day in 1815 was a full moon adds to the intensity of the experience and should be taken, Goethe reminds his friends, as a source of strength to lovers who are apart. Mention should also be made of the fact that in the months following their separation Goethe and Marianne exchanged a number of so-called 'Chiffernbriefe', letters in cipher, where the key was Joseph von Hammer's translation of Hafis's Diwan published in 1812-13. The numerical references to Hafis produce, when deciphered, new creations and the most frequent motif is the pain of separation and the finding of the lover amid that separation.24 The constancy of these allusions to a sense of togetherness that is independent of time and space implies that there is something far deeper at stake here that mere assertions of attachment and it is to be understood in the light of the above analysis of this theme in the Divan and its philosophical implications.
Perhaps this explains why Goethe felt it unnecessary to accept the Willemers' invitations and return to Frankfurt; Baghdad was nearer, so to speak.
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More important than this, however, is the light it sheds on his philosophical outlook and how that connects with his science. A Spinozistic reading of the 'Urphänomen' and the theory of 'Polarität' shows how profoundly that monism penetrates Goethe's thinking and finds sublime expression in the poetry of the Divan. Moreover, the poetry itself becomes the agent for realising that insight and transforming our perceptions. Goethe's contention that 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' represent an archetypal phenomenon would also lead us to conclude that further correspondences between scientific theory and human experience might also be valid. One wonders what Goethe would make, for example, of the theory of 'quantum entanglement', which states that particles which may be separated by the entire universe can nevertheless be connected and exert instantaneous effects on one another. In a way that recalls Goethe's holistic approach, the artist-mathematician Justin Mullins has presented the equation for quantum entanglement as an example of mathematical beauty with the heading 'Romance'.25 Similarly, Goethe's integration of Spinoza's monism with his scientific thinking continues to find echoes today in, for example, the work of the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose theory of emotion as a kind of mental map of the body's states is aligned with Spinoza's concept of the correspondence between mental activity and bodily action as postulated in his theory of attributes. (Damasio 2003)
These modern parallels remind us of the vitality of Goethe's holistic approach that has been traced in the Divan. The 'Buch Suleika' revolves around the 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' of the lovers, but at the end of the Divan they are reunited in paradise. As we have seen, however, the treatment of the theme has already pre-empted the need for a transcendental solution. 'Wiederfinden' reflects a possibility that exists in this life and is rooted in that monistic doctrine of divine immanence that links Goethe so closely with Spinoza. The depiction of paradise in the Divan, then, is itself a representation through poetry of the presence of the heavenly in the earthly that is so characteristic of the cycle as a whole and that is highlighted in the theme of 'Trennung' and 'Wiederfinden' which lies at the very core of the work and of Goethe's thought.
Bohrer, Karl Heinz (1997): Der Abschied. Theorie der Trauer: Baudelaire, Goethe, Nietzsche, Benjamin. 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Damasio, Antonio (2003): Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain. London: Heinemann.
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Davies, Paul (2002): How To Build A Time Machine. London: Penguin.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (1987-99): Sämtliche Werke, Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche, Frankfurter Ausgabe. 40 vols. Ed. Friedmar Apel et al. Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag. Cited as FA.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (1948ff.): Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, 14 vols. Ed. Erich Trunz et al. Hamburg: Wegner (later editions Munich: Beck). Cited as HA.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (1887-1919): Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe. 143 vols in 4 Abteilungen. Weimar: Böhlau. Cited as WA.
Individual works by Goethe cited:
'Abschied'. HA 1: 297-8.
'Alexis und Dora'. HA 1: 185-90.
'Dem aufgehenden Vollmonde. Dornburg, 25. August 1828'. HA 1: 391
Die natürliche Tochter. HA 5.
Erläuterung zu dem aphoristischen Aufsatz „Die Natur“. HA 13.
Italienische Reise. HA 11.
Maximen und Reflexionen. HA 12.
'Nähe des Geliebten'. HA 1: 242-3.
'Oden an meinen Freund. 1767. Dritte Ode'. HA 1: 23-4.
Polarität. WA II.11: 164-6.
West-östlicher Divan and Noten und Abhandlungen zu besserem Verständnis des West-östlichen Divans. HA 2.
Hafis, Mohammed Schemsed-din (1812-14): Der Diwan Aus dem Persischen zum erstenmal ganz übersetzt von Joseph von Hammer. 2 vols. Stuttgart and Tübingen: Cotta. Facsimile edition, Hildesheim: Olms, 1973.
Mommsen, Katharina (1988): Goethe und die arabische Welt. Frankfurt am Main: Insel.
Randerson, James (2006): 'Mathematician defines beauty in new exhibition', The Guardian, 1.2.2006.
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Spinoza, Benedict (1955): Ethics in The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza. Vol. 2. Translated by R.H.M. Elwes. New York: Dover.
Widmer, Christoph (1959): Der Abschied in Goethes Dichtung Rüti-Zürich: Köhler.
Willemer, Marianne and Johann Jakob (1965): Briefwechsel mit Goethe. Ed. Hans-J. Weitz, Frankfurt am Main: Insel.
1 "Das ist die wahre Symbolik, wo das Besondere das Allgemeinere repräsentiert, nicht als Traum und Schatten, sondern als lebendig-augenblickliche Offenbarung des Unerforschlichen." Maximen und Reflexionen #752. HA 12: 471.
2 'Nisami', Noten und Abhandlungen zu besserem Verständnis des West-östlichen Divans. HA 2: 155. Goethe observes that Nisami presents to us the changing fate of lovers who are "durch Ahndung, Geschick, Natur, Gewohnheit, Neigung, Leidenschaft für einander bestimmt, sich entschieden gewogen; dann aber durch Grille, Eigensinn, Zufall, Nötigung und Zwang getrennt, ebenso wunderlich wieder zusammengeführt und am Ende doch wieder auf eine oder die andere Weise weggerissen und geschieden" (155).
3 Rom, den 22. März, 1788, HA 11: 531. These words from the Italienische Reise, themselves taken from a journal, were later included the Maximen und Reflexionen (HA 12: 534, #1257), thus suggesting that the observation had more than personal validity.
4 Erläuterung zu dem aphoristischen Aufsatz „Die Natur“, HA 13: 48.
5 "[…]wie derjenige nur allein zu denken vermag, der genugsam getrennt hat, um zu verbinden, genugsam verbunden hat, um wieder trennen zu mögen", HA 13: 48.
6 See Spinoza, (1955: 55-9, Part I, Note to Proposition XV).
7 'Talismane', HA 2: 10. Compare the verses sent to Auguste von Stolberg (17.7.1777): "Alles gaben Götter, die unendlichen, / Ihren Lieblingen ganz, / Alle Freuden, die unendlichen, / Alle Schmerzen, die unendlichen, ganz" (HA 1: 142).
8 HA 2: 172. It is noteworthy that this poem was written on 26 September 1815, the day after Goethe's final parting from Marianne.
9 HA 2: 75. Compare the use of the Baghdad motif in a poem sent in a letter to Marianne in December 1819, 'Hudhud als einladender Bote': "Dich beglückte ja mein Gesang, / Nun dräng' er gern zu dir ins Ferne. / Ich singe Morgen und Abend entlang, / Sie sagen: Besser! Das hör ich gerne. / Kommt auch ein Blatt von Zeit zu Zeit, / Bringt einen Gruß, laß dich nicht stören! / Aber ist denn Bagdad so weit? / Willst du mich denn gar nicht wieder hören?" (Willemer 1965: 95). After four years without seeing Marianne, the use of the motif is clearly intended to suggest a feeling of continued togetherness and presence. For the background to this motif see Mommsen (1988: 608-10).
10 See e.g. 'Auch in der Ferne dir so nah!', HA 2: 76.
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11 See respectively 'An vollen Büschelzweigen', HA 2: 77 and 'Kaum daß ich dich wieder habe', HA 2: 78-9.
12 HA 2: 85. It appears that Goethe and Marianne did indeed promise to think of each other when it was full moon. On 23 October 1828 he sent Marianne the poem 'Dem aufgehenden Vollmonde. Dornburg, 25. August 1828' (HA 1: 391). The moon reminds him that he is loved, even though his beloved is far away, and concludes with a hint of that intensity of feeling that characterizes the Divan poems: "Schlägt mein Herz auch schmerzlich schneller, / Überselig ist die Nacht". The word 'überselig' has religious connotations and suggests a bond that goes beyond the physical. The impact of the image of the full moon is also demonstrated in the observations he made on leaving Rome in April 1788; the experience is felt to be both magical and portentous: see HA 11: 554-5.
13 HA 2: 88. The connection of Suleika with the divine is further developed in the 'Buch des Paradieses'; for example, the poet is met by a houri who takes on her form, and we learn that it is through his songs to Suleika that he gains entry to paradise. See 'Anklang', HA 2: 111-15. A comparison might also be made with the stages expressed in 'Nähe des Geliebten' (1796), which moves from "Ich denke dein", to "Ich sehe dich", to "Ich höre dich", and culminates in "Ich bin bei dir, du seist auch noch so ferne, / Du bist mir nah!", HA 1: 242-3.
14 "God is the indwelling [causa immanens] and not the transient cause of all things", Spinoza, Ethics: 62 (Part I, Proposition XVIII).
15 See the chapter 'Warnung' in the Noten und Abhandlungen zu besserem Verständnis des West-östlichen Divans, HA 2: 182-3.
16 "Begegnung und Abschied fallen zusammen" (Bohrer 1997: 408).
17 Goethe to Auguste von Stolberg, 17.4.1823, WA IV.37: 19.
18 3.11.1823, "Jeder Zustand, ja jeder Augenblick ist von unendlichem Wert, denn er ist der Repräsentant einer ganzen Ewigkeit", FA 39: 68.
20 In a comment to Reinhard, 14.11.1812, Goethe refers to his ability to visualize accurately the person of the Empress Maria Ludovica: "da ich das Glück gehabt habe, ihre besonderen Züge mir zu vergegenwärtigen und sie festzuhalten", WA IV.23: 149.
21 WA I.36: 112-13. See also diary entry 20.7.1816, WA III.5: 255 and letter to Willemer (and others), 22.7.1816, WA IV.27:116.
22 20.2.1818, Willemer 1965: 73. Goethe's reply of 4.11.1818 encloses a number of Divan poems, in the hope that they may recall for Marianne "jene schönen Tage [...], die mir unvergeßlich bleiben", (Willemer 1965: 75.)
23 (Willemer 1965: 31-2). Other examples of this thread as it runs through the correspondence and which is taken up by Marianne are: Marianne's letter of 28.8.1819, (Willemer 1965: 87-8), which gives rise to the poem 'Hudhud sprach: mit Einem Blicke', FA 3/1: 612; Goethe's letter of 18.10.1823, (Willemer 1965: 145); Marianne's letter of 18.10.1825, containing her poem 'Zarter Blumen leicht Gewinde' (for his birthday on 28 August) and Goethe's response with the dialogue poem that adapts Marianne's verses and gives his reply, including the lines, "Du empfindest in der Ferne / Was ich in der Fern empfinde, / So als wär kein Raum dazwischen", (Willemer 1965: 169-71); Goethe's letter of 22.10.1829, (Willemer 1965: 221-2); the verses sent with the letters returned to Marianne by Goethe on 29.2.1832, (Willemer 1965: 275).
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24 There are seven such letters, three by Goethe and four by Marianne: see Willemer (1965: 328, 333, 339-40, 344-5, 346-7, 351, 356); see also FA (3/1: 595-7, 600, 604, 607). Compare also the poem 'Geheimschrift' in the 'Buch Suleika', HA 2: 85-6 and the chapter 'Chiffer' in the Noten und Abhandlungen, HA 2: 193-4.