• Translation

Human Limitations by Johann Wolfgang Goethe



When the almighty

Father of all things,

Using his steady hand,

Calmly unleashed his shafts

Of lightning through the world,

Scattering on Earth

His celestial light,

I kissed the hems

And folds of his garments,

And my faith-filled heart

Filled with childlike awe.


Let no man compare

His mind and his strength

With that of the Gods.

When he tries to extend

His arms and tries to

Reach the twinkling stars,

He loses his footing,

And tumbles and falls,

Or helplessly drifts

In a sea of clouds.


Yet if he stands strong

With a firm foothold

On the earth's lasting

Foundations,

How does he compare

With the solemn oak

Or the aged vine?

What becomes his worth?


This is the difference

Between Gods and man:

The waves rush onward

In one endless stream,

But unlike we mortals,

The Gods are unmoved—

The waves swallow us

And carry us off.


Our life is rounded

In a little ring:

Many generations

Succeed each other

On the eternal chain

Of their existence.


Translation © David B. Gosselin