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  • Original Translation

Wanderer’s Night Song II by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Christmas Eve (1866) - George Inness


Over the hilltops

Is quietness,

And in the treetops


There's hardly a sigh.

The birds are soundless in the forest;

With patience abide

You too will rest.

Translation © David B. Gosselin


"Über allen Gipfeln Ist Ruh; In allen Wipfeln Spürest Du Kaum einen Hauch. Die Vöglein schweigen im Walde. Warte nur, balde, Ruhest Du auch."


This little poem is one of Goethe's most famous pieces. The great composer Johannes Brahms, who set many of the greatest German poets' poems to music, provided a very insightful look into how the composer or any thorough reading might approach a small but dense piece of classical poetry.

Memo by Brahm's friend Bill Roth Sunday forenoon with Brahms. I wanted to hear from him about the formation of melodies, about the indicators of "beauty" in a melody. He countered with a Goethean poem [above] ...and analyzed the same in an interesting way:

The beauty and greatness of the overall. From the heavens over the summits down to the treetops of the forest. The silence as well in bustling nature; the allusion to sleep and the death of the person. Man as a part of nature, yet containing and assimilating all of nature in himself. Now the beauty of the form. The lovely cadences "Ist Ruh", "Spürest Du". The lovely interruption of the verse length-pattern in the sixth line, and then the return to shorter verses. The lovely sound of the rhymes, the "Hauch" that lies over the whole: one could not change one word, without destroying. The simplicity and brevity of the whole.

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