The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/The Metamorphosis of Plants


Thou art confused, my beloved, at seeing the thousandfold union
Shown in this flowery troop over the garden dispersed;
Many a name dost thou hear assigned; one after another
Falls on thy listening ear, with a barbarian sound.
None resembleth another, yet all their forms have a likeness;
Therefore a mystical law is by the chorus proclaimed;
Yes, a sacred enigma! Oh, dearest friend, could I only
Happily teach thee the word, which may the mystery solve!
Closely observe how the plant, by little and little progressing,
Step by step guided on, changeth to blossom and fruit!
First from the seed it unravels itself, as soon as the silent
Fruit-bearing womb of the earth kindly allows its escape.
And to the charms of the light, the holy, the ever-in-motion,
Trusteth the delicate leaves, feebly beginning to shoot.
Simply slumbered the force in the seed; a germ of the future.
Peacefully locked in itself, 'neath the integument lay,
Leaf, and root, and bud, still void of colour, and shapeless;
Thus doth the kernel, while dry, cover that motionless life.

Upward then strives it to swell, in gentle moisture confiding,
And, from the night where it dwelt, straightway ascendeth to light.
Yet still simple remaineth its figure, when first it appeareth;
And 'tis a token like this, points out the child 'mid the plants.
Soon a shoot, succeeding it, rises on high, and reneweth,
Piling up node upon node, ever the primitive form;
Yet not ever alike; for the following leaf, as thou seest,
Ever produceth itself, fashioned in manifold ways.
Longer, more indented, in points and in parts more divided,
Which, all-deformed until now, slept in the organ below.
So at length it attaineth the noble and destined perfection,
Which, in full many a tribe, fills thee with wondering awe.
Many ribbed and toothed, on a surface juicy and swelling,
Free and unending the shoot seemeth in fulness to be;
Yet here Nature restraineth, with powerful hands, the formation,
And to a perfect end, guided with softness its growth,
Less abundantly yielding the sap, contracting the vessels,
So that the figure ere long gentler effects doth disclose.
Soon and in silence is checked the growth of the vigorous branches,
And the rib of the stalk fuller becometh in form.

Leafless, however, and quick the tenderer stem then upspringeth,
And a miraculous sight doth the observer enchant.
Ranged in a circle in numbers that now are small, and now countless,
Gather the small-sized leaves close by the side of their like.
Round the axis compressed the sheltering calyx unfoldeth.
And, as the perfectest type, brilliant-hued coronals forms.
Thus doth Nature bloom, in glory still nobler and fuller,
Showing, in order arranged, member on member upreared.
Wonderment fresh dost thou feel, as soon as the stem rears the flower
Over the scaffolding frail of the alternating leaves.
But this glory is only the new creation's foreteller,
Yes, the leaf with its hues feeleth the hand all divine.
And on a sudden contracteth itself; the tenderest figures,
Twofold as yet, hasten on, destined to blend into one.
Lovingly now the beauteous pairs are standing together,
Gathered in countless array, there where the altar is raised.
Hymen hovereth o'er them, and scents delicious and mighty
Stream forth their fragrance so sweet, all things enlivening around.
Presently, parcelled out, unnumbered germs are seen swelling,
Sweetly concealed in the womb, where is made perfect the fruit.

Here doth Nature close the ring of her forces eternal;
Yet doth a new one, at once, cling to the one gone before,
So that the chain be prolonged for ever through all generations,
And that the whole may have life, e'en as enjoyed by each part.
Now, my beloved one, turn thy gaze on the many-hued thousands
Which, confusing no more, gladden the mind as they wave.
Every plant unto thee proclaimeth the laws everlasting.
Every floweret speaks louder and louder to thee;
But if thou here canst decipher the mystic words of the goddess,
Everywhere will they be seen, e'en though the features are changed.
Creeping insects may linger, the eager butterfly hasten,—
Plastic and forming, may man change e'en the figure decreed.
Oh, then, bethink thee, as well, how out of the germ of acquaintance,
Kindly intercourse sprang, slowly unfolding its leaves;
Soon how friendship with might unveiled itself in our bosoms.
And how Amor at length brought forth blossom and fruit!
Think of the manifold ways wherein Nature hath lent to our feelings,
Silently giving them birth, either the first or the last!
Yes, and rejoice in the present day! For love that is holy
Seeketh the noblest of fruits,—that where the thoughts are the same.

Where the opinions agree,—that the pair may, in rapt contemplation.
Lovingly blend into one,—find the more excellent world.