• Original Translation

Song of the Spirits on the Water by Johann Wolfgang Goethe


John Frederick Kensett's Near Newport, Rhode Island (1872)

The soul of mankind

Is like water:

From Heaven coming,

To Heaven rising,

Again descending –

As it must – Earthward,

Ever circling.

It streams from high on

The steep rock wall,

A clear, pure stream;

Then lovingly dusts

In swelling cloud-waves

Against smooth rock;

And striking lightly,

It surges, veil-wrapped,

In whispers,

To the depths below.

Then cascading

Against cliff towers,

It foams high, raging,

Unrelenting,

To the Abyss.

In sprawling stream-beds

It creeps in meadowed valleys,

And in the glassy lake

Shows the stars mirrored

All in its visage.

Wind is the great wave,

Lovingly cooling,

Stirring the depths up

To foaming whitecaps.

O soul of mankind,

How like unto water!

O fate of mankind,

How like unto wind!

Translation © Adam Sedia

Gesang der Geister über den Wassern

By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Des Menschen Seele Gleicht dem Wasser: Vom Himmel kommt es, Zum Himmel steigt es,

Und wieder nieder

Zur Erde muß es, Ewig wechselnd. Strömt von der hohen, Steilen Felswand

Der reine Strahl,

Dann stäubt er lieblich In Wolkenwellen Zum glatten Fels, Und leicht empfangen

Wallt er verschleyernd,

Leisrauschend, Zur Tiefe nieder. Ragen Klippen Dem Sturze entgegen,

Schäumt er unmuthig

Stufenweise Zum Abgrund. Im flachen Bette Schleicht er das Wiesenthal hin,

Und in dem glatten See

Weiden ihr Antlitz Alle Gestirne. Wind ist der Welle Lieblicher Buhler;

Wind mischt vom Grund aus

Schäumende Wogen. Seele des Menschen, Wie gleichst du dem Wasser! Schicksal des Menschen.

Wie gleichst du dem Wind!

Adam Sedia (b. 1984) lives in his native Indiana, where he practices as a civil and appellate litigation attorney. His poems have appeared in print and online publications, and he has published two volumes of poetry: The Spring's Autumn (2013) and Inquietude (2016). He also composes music, which may be heard on his YouTube channel. He lives with his wife, Ivana, their son and daughter.


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