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Grenzen der Menschheit (1821) D716

Grenzen der Menschheit

Wenn der uralte,
Heilige Vater
Mit gelassener Hand
Aus rollenden Wolken
Segnende Blitze
Über die Erde sä’t,
Küss’ ich den letzten
Saum seines Kleides,
Kindliche Schauer
Tief in der Brust.
Denn mit Göttern
Soll sich nicht messen
Irgend ein Mensch.
Hebt er sich aufwärts
Und berührt
Mit dem Scheitel die Sterne,
Nirgends haften dann
Die unsichern Sohlen,
Und mit ihm spielen
Wolken und Winde.
Steht er mit festen,
Markigen Knochen
Auf der wohlgegründeten
Dauernden Erde;
Reicht er nicht auf,
Nur mit der Eiche
Oder der Rebe
Sich zu vergleichen.
Was unterscheidet
Götter von Menschen?
Dass viele Wellen
Vor jenen wandeln,
Ein ewiger Strom:
Uns hebt die Welle,
Verschlingt die Welle,
Und wir versinken.
Ein kleiner Ring
Begränzt unser Leben,
Und viele Geschlechter
Reihen sich dauernd
An ihres Daseins
Unendliche Kette.

Limitations of mankind

When the ancient of days,
The holy father
With a serene hand
From rolling clouds
Scatters beneficent lightning
Over the earth,
I kiss the extreme
Hem of his garment,
Childlike awe
Deep in my breast.
For no man
Should measure himself
Against the gods.
If he reaches up
And touches
The stars with his head,
His uncertain feet
Lose their hold,
And clouds and winds
Make sport of him.
If he stands with firm,
Sturdy limbs
On the sold
Enduring earth,
He cannot even reach up
To compare himself
With the oak
Or vine.
What distinguishes
Gods from men?
Before the,
Many waves roll onwards,
An eternal river:
We are tossed by the wave,
Engulfed by the wave,
And we founder.
A little ring
Bounds our life,
And many generations
Constantly succeed each other
Like links in the endless chain
Of existence.
Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

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Franz Peter Schubert was an late Classical and early Romantic composer. He produced a vast oeuvre during his short life, composing more the 600 vocal works (largely Lieder), and well as several symphonies, operas, and a large body of piano music. He was uncommonly gifted from a young age, but appreciation of his music was limited during his lifetime. His work became more popular in the decades after his death, and was praised by 19th century composers, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Liszt.

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Johann Wolfgang Goethe was a German writer and statesman. His body of work includes epic and lyric poetry written in a variety of metres and styles; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour; and four novels. In addition, numerous literary and scientific fragments, more than 10,000 letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings by him exist. A literary celebrity by the age of 25, Goethe was ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl August in 1782 after first taking up residence there in November 1775 following the success of his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. He was an early participant in the Sturm und Drang literary movement. During his first ten years in Weimar, Goethe served as a member of the Duke's privy council, sat on the war and highway commissions, oversaw the reopening of silver mines in nearby Ilmenau, and implemented a series of administrative reforms at the University of Jena. He also contributed to the planning of Weimar's botanical park and the rebuilding of its Ducal Palace, which in 1998 were together designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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