During Goethe’s travels to Italy at age thirty-seven, he developed a conception of nature that provided an alternative to the mathematical and spiritless mechanism that the Enlightenment seemed to offer. Goethe remarked of his experiences in Italy: “If I had not carried out the resolution I am now carrying out, I would simply have perished, so ripe had the desire become in my heart to see these sights with my own eyes”(The Essential Goethe, 23). He described Italy as “the land where lemon blossoms blow, /And through dark leaves the golden oranges glow.”

During this awakening of nature through Italy, Goethe tried to transform himself into a painter, combining his two great loves of art and nature.

In this blog, I am referencing the translation Goethe’s Natur und Kunst (Art and Nature), by William Norman Guthrie in the Sewanee Review, October, 1906.

Natur und Kunst by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen
und haben sich, eh’ man es denkt, gefunden;
der Widerwille ist auch mir verschwunden,
und beide scheinen gleich mich anzuziehen.

Es gilt wohl nur ein redliches Bemühen!
Und wenn wir erst in abgemessnen Stunden
mit Geist und Fleiß uns an die Kunst gebunden,
mag frei Natur im Herzen wieder glühen.

So ist’s mit aller Bildung auch beschaffen:
Vergebens werden ungebundne Geister
nach der Vollendung reiner Höhe streben.

Wer Großes will, muss sich zusammenraffen;
in der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.

Art and Nature

Nature and Art still shun each other’s sight,
Yet mate as fellows, ere one wotteth well.
My stubborn mood hath long since left me quite;
So, which most draweth me I scarce may tell.

There needs must be a strait and true endeavor:
But, the full doe once paid—of life we owe,
Bound mind and will as thralls of Art forever,
Fiercely at heart as erst may Nature glow!

Like token market every high emprise.
All spirits undisciplined strove in vain to stand
Where heights of pure perfection reach the skies.
Who great things would, shall hold his soul in hand.

Only self-mastered may man master be,
And law fulfilled, alone can speak us free!

Work Cited

Guthrie, William Norman. (1906). The Sewanee Review. The John Hopkins University Press. Vol. 14,4. P. 469.

Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)