Roman Elegies XI

The Poet’s study

by Goethe

Goethe, perhaps Germany’s greatest writer, bridged major literary periods and styles. Here, deeply impressed by a visit to Rome in the 1780s, he writes about the Gods of Olympus as they feature in the classical décor of his writing room (did he also have a pair of Heavenly Twins inkwells, one wonders). He has used exactly the same metre, elegiac couplets, as such Latin poets as Ovid and Propertius for this classical piece. Not his best poetry, but it helps to show that many important writers from the more recent past can’t be appreciated fully without reference to the influence that Latin poets and poems had on them.

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XI

Euch, o Grazien, legt die wenigen Blätter ein Dichter
Auf den reinen Altar, Knospen der Rose dazu,
Und er tut es getrost. Der Künstler freut sich seiner
Werkstatt, wenn sie um ihn immer ein Pantheon scheint.
Jupiter senket die göttliche Stirn, und Juno erhebt sie;
Phöbus schreitet hervor, schüttelt das lockige Haupt;
Trocken schauet Minerva herab, und Hermes, der leichte
Wendet zur Seite den Blick, schalkisch und zärtlich zugleich.
Aber nach Bacchus, dem weichen, dem träumenden, hebet Cythere
Blicke der süßen Begier, selbst in dem Marmor noch feucht.
Seiner Umarmung gedenket sie gern und scheinet zu fragen:
Sollte der herrliche Sohn uns an der Seite nicht stehn?

Reader: Tatjana Pisarski

XI

For you, O Graces, a Poet lays his few leaves
upon your pure altar, rosebuds with them,
and does so confidently. The Artist takes pleasure in his
study, if it constantly seems a Pantheon around him.
Jupiter lowers his godlike brow, and Juno raises hers;
Phoebus strides forth, shakes his curly head;
drily, Minerva looks down, and easy-going Hermes
bends his glance sidelong, tender and teasing
at once.
But it’s towards Bacchus, the tender, the dreamer that Venus
lifts glances of sweet desire, meltingly even though she be marble.
She thinks gladly of his embrace and seems
to ask: should
Cupid my wonderful son not be standing by our side?

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