The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Love as a Landscape Painter


On a rocky peak once sat I early,
Gazing on the mist with eyes unmoving;
Stretched out like a pall of grayish texture.
All things round, and all above it covered.

Suddenly a boy appeared beside me,
Saying "Friend, what meanest thou by gazing
On the vacant pall with such composure?
Hast thou lost for evermore all pleasure
Both in painting cunningly, and forming?"
On the child I gazed, and thought in secret:
"Would the boy pretend to be a master?"

"Wouldst thou be for ever dull and idle,"
Said the boy, "no wisdom thou'lt attain to;
See, I'll straightway paint for thee a figure,—
How to paint a beauteous figure, show thee."

And he then extended his forefinger—
(Ruddy was it as a youthful rosebud)
Toward the broad and far outstretching carpet,
And began to draw there with his finger.

First on high a radiant sun he painted,
Which upon mine eyes with splendour glistened,
And he made the clouds with golden border.
Through the clouds he let the sunbeams enter;

Painted then the soft and feathery summits
Of the fresh and quickened trees; behind them
One by one with freedom drew the mountains;
Underneath he left no lack of water,
But the river painted so like Nature,
That it seemed to glitter in the sunbeams,
That it seemed against its banks to murmur.

Ah, there blossomed flowers beside the river,
And bright colours gleamed upon the meadow,
Gold, and green, and purple, and enamelled,
All like carbuncles and emeralds seeming;

Bright and clear he added then the heavens,
And the blue-tinged mountains far and farther,
So that I, as though new-born, enraptured
Gazed on now the painter, now the picture.

Then spake he: "Although I have convinced thee
That this art I understand full surely,
Yet the hardest still is left to show thee."

Thereupon he traced with pointed finger,
And with anxious care, upon the forest,
At the utmost verge, where the strong sunbeams
From the shining ground appeared reflected,
Traced the figure of a lovely maiden,
Fair in form, and clad in graceful fashion;
Fresh the cheeks beneath her brown locks' ambush,
And the cheeks possessed the self-same colour
As the finger that had served to paint them.

"O thou boy!" exclaimed I then, "what master
In his school received thee as his pupil,
Teaching thee so truthfully and quickly
Wisely to begin, and well to finish?"

"Whilst I still was speaking, lo, a zephyr
Softly rose, and set the tree-tops moving,
Curling all the wavelets on the river,
And the perfect maiden's veil, too, filled it,
And to make my wonderment still greater,
Soon the maiden set her foot in motion.
On she came, approaching toward the station
Where still sat I with my arch instructor.

As now all, yes, all thus moved together,—
Flowers, rivers, trees, the veil,—all moving,—
And the gentle foot of that most fair one,
Can ye think that on my rock I lingered,
Like a rock, as though fast-chained and silent?