Nature and Art

poetry by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

translated from the German by Steven A. Petersheim


Nature and art alike elude me
for before I conjure them, they appear
and against my will they disappear;
and both alike, it seems, appeal to me.

Only genuine effort can bring them together,
for when we first, in leisurely hours,
with spirit and diligence, bind ourselves to art,
then free nature glows afresh in our hearts.

So it is with all images that we find,
for it is in vain that halfhearted spirits
reach for the thrill of lofty summits.

Those who would be great must place themselves
first in service to the master of nature:
this act alone can bring us freedom.


Steven Petersheim lives in Richmond, Indiana, and teaches at Indiana University East. His poetry has appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, Kudzu House Quarterly, The Wayfarer, and elsewhere.



Natur und Kunst

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen
und haben sich, eh’ man es denkt, gefunden;
der Widerwille ist auch mir verschwunden,
und beide scheinen gleich mich anzuziehen.

Es gilt wohl nur ein redliches Bemühen!
Und wenn wir erst in abgemessnen Stunden
mit Geist und Fleiß uns an die Kunst gebunden,
mag frei Natur im Herzen wieder glühen.

So ist’s mit aller Bildung auch beschaffen:
Vergebens werden ungebundne Geister
nach der Vollendung reiner Höhe streben.

Wer Großes will, muss sich zusammenraffen;
in der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was perhaps the most prolific and famous German writer of his time, publishing volumes of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. His early writing was associated with neoclassicism, but by the time he wrote “Nature and Art,” he had begun embracing the romanticism of the Sturm and Drang movement. “Nature and Art” attempts to achieve a balance between these two often-conflicting cultural developments of Goethe’s time.