(Roman Elegy V – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) *
I find myself on Classic soil;
the past and present speak to me.
As I was told to, I leaf through the works of Ancients and find joy.
Through the nights, love keeps me busy at other things;
even though I am half-educated, I am twice happy.
And am I not educated when I take in the forms of a breast,
or let my hands glide down hips?
I begin to understand marble statues, I think and compare;
I see with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand.
And though my love steals a few hours of my day,
she gives me hours of the night in return.
We not only kiss, we talk great talks;
and when she falls asleep, I lie awake and think.
I have composed poems in her arms,
have tapped and counted out hexameters on her back.
She breathes softly when she sleeps,
and warms me with her breath.
Meanwhile, Cupid stokes the fires,
as he did for his other great poets.
I am on a Goethe kick these days. It is one of those instances where I find myself getting into the work of one writer and, when I look up his sign, am endeared to them even more. And not just because he is a Virgo like myself. It is that he is such a Virgo.
I find myself referring to the poem above in particular when talking to people about the man. I mean, alone, the line: “I see with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand” is both motto and manifesto for poets everywhere. And couple that (ahem) with the sensuous nature of the poem, and it is quite the performance.
Seriously, he is famous for the line about counting out hexameters on his lady’s back – but, few realize that the man is truly keeping count. The Virgo loves to multitask. This whole poem – a great love poem, yes – is also an ode to the multitasking spirit. He is in Rome reading as much as he can while on a romantic vacation. And why else the defensive tone of, “We not only kiss, we talk…”
The bit about her being asleep and him lying awake thinking – I’ve totally been there. A Virgo makes use of every moment to the point that they forget how to live in the moment. I have a feeling, though, that Goethe, like me, figured out that much of what drives this spirit is restlessness.
Restlessness can be a great generator of creativity if approached the right way. Hence the line: “though I am half-educated, I am twice happy.” I can tell he really means what he says here, and that it is a hard-won victory.
To not only work hard but also to stop, assess, celebrate and dream – these are lessons it takes a life to learn.
* the translation here is my own rendition of a more scholarly translation by Stanley Applebaum. (word to your Dover Thrift editions!)