On The Divine by Goethe


Let man be noble,
Generous and good;
For that alone
Distinguishes him
From all the living
Beings we know.

Hail to the unknown
Higher beings
Of our intuition!
Let man resemble them;
Let his example
Teach us to believe in them.

For the realm of nature
Is unfeeling;
The sun sheds its light
Over evil and good
And the moon and the stars
Shine on the criminal
As on the best of us.

The wind and the rivers
The hail and the thunder
Storm on their way
And snatch one victim
After another
As they rush past.

So too does blind fortune
Grope through the crowd, now
Seizing a young boy’s
Curly-haired innocence
And now the bald pate
Of the old and guilty.

As great, everlasting,
Adamantine laws
Dictate, we must all
Complete the cycles
Of our existence.

Only mankind
Can do the impossible:
He can distinguish,
He chooses and judges,
He can give permanence
To the moment.

He alone may
Reward the good
And punish the wicked;
He may heal and save
And usefully bind
All that strays and wanders.

And we revere
The immortals, as if
They were human beings
Who do on a great scale
What little the best of us
Does or endeavors.

Let the noble man
Be generous and good,
Tirelessly achieving
What is just and useful:
Let him be a model
For those beings whom he surmises.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
        Translation by David Luke



2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. European Studies | Ms. Gardner's English Classes  |  May 13, 2015 at 8:25 am

    […] and several other women hiding in an abandoned factory, she quoted a line from Goethe’s poem “On the Divine“: “Nobel be man, merciful and good.” Even though the poem was written in 1793, it […]

  • 2. English 2 – Ms. Gardner's English Classes  |  April 27, 2018 at 5:41 am

    […] class: Vocab review test. Then read Goethe’s poem “On the Divine“. I’ll ask you on Monday to write about what you think it means and how it might […]


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