And thus I shall now close for this time, in the hope of soon seeing something from your dear hand once more.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
Tennstaedt, September 1, 1816. The great work to which you, dearest friend, have devoted a large portion of your life, could not have reached me at a better time; it finds me here in Tennstaedt, a little provincial Thuringian bathing town which is probably not entirely unknown to you. Here I have now been for five weeks, and alone, since my friend Meyer left me.
Here, at first, I indulged in a cursory reading both of the introduction and of the drama itself, to my no small edification; and inasmuch as I am now, for the second time, enjoying the details together with the whole, I will no longer withhold my thanks for this gift.
For even though one sympathetically concerns one’s self with all the praiseworthy and with all the good that the most ancient and the most modern times afford, nevertheless, such a pre-ancient giant figure, formed like a prodigy, appears amazing to us, and we must collect all our senses to stand over against it in an attitude even approximately worthy of it. At such a moment there is no doubt that here the work of all works of art is seen, or, in more moderate language, a model of the highest type. That we now can control this easily is our indebtedness to you; and continuous thanks must fervently reward your efforts, though in themselves they bring their own reward.
This drama has always been to me one of those most worthy of consideration, and through your interest it has been made accessible earlier than the rest. But, more than ever, the texture of this primeval tapestry now seems most marvelous to me; past, present, and future are so happily interwoven that the reader himself becomes the seer, that is, he becomes like unto God, and yet, in the last resort, that is the triumph of all poetry in the greatest and in the least.
But if we here perceive how the poet had at his service each and every means by which so tremendous an effort may be produced, we cannot refrain from the highest admiration. How happily the epic, lyric, and dramatic diction is interwoven, not compelling, but enticing us to sympathize with such cruel fates! And how well the scanty didactic reflection becomes the chorus as it speaks! All this cannot receive too high a mead of praise.
Forgive me, then, for bringing owls to Athens as a thanks-offering. I could truly continue thus forever, and tell you what you yourself have long since better known. Thus I have once more been astonished to see that each character, except Clytemnestra, the linker of evil unto evil, has her exclusive Aristeia, so that each one acts an entire poem, and does not return later for the possible purpose of again burdening us with her affairs. In every good poem poetry in its entirety must be contained; but this is a flugleman.