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Virgilian Retrospection in Goethe's Alexis und Dora

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Simon Richter
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
Daniel Purdy
Affiliation:
Pennsylvania State University
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Summary

“German poetry,” says Friedrich Kittler,“begins with a sigh.” Ach, the signifier of ineffability at the center of the German word for language (Sprache), launches, in this case, the spate of elegiac production most closely associated with Goethe's classical lyric.

Ach! unaufhaltsam strebet das Schiff mit jedem Momente

Durch die schäumende Flut weiter und weiter hinaus!

Langhin furcht sich die Gleise des Kiels,worin die Delphine

Springend folgen, als flöh' ihnen die Beute davon.

Alles deutet auf glückliche Fahrt: der ruhige Bootsmann

Ruckt am Segel gelind, das sich für alle bemüht;

Vorwärts dringt der Schiffenden Geist, wie Flaggen und Wimpel;

Einer nur steht rückwärts traurig gewendet am Mast,

Sieht die Berge schon blau, die scheidenden, sieht in das Meer sie

Niedersinken, es sinkt jegliche Freude vor ihm.

Written from 12 to 14 May 1796 and published that October in the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797, Alexis und Dora would prove to be the first in a series of elegiac poems occupying Goethe's interest for the next two years: Herrmann und Dorothea (the elegy, not the epic), from the end of 1796; Der neue Pausias und sein Blumenmädchen, from May 1797; Amyntas, from September 1797; Euphrosyne, finished in June 1798; and Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen, also from June 1798. If the grouping of these poems into a more or less coherent “classical phase” is a fiction of Goethe scholarship, it is a fiction that was begun by the poet himself.

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Goethe Yearbook 15 , pp. 75 - 98
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2008

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