Table of Contents

Johann Wolfgang Gthe
  1. The Mason Lodge
  2. A Symbol
  3. Song Of Fellowship
  4. Notes and Biography


The first two poems are both translations of the same original, written in 1827, but so different that they even have different titles! The rhyme scheme of the Carlyle version (made during Goethe's lifetime) is a-b-b-a-x, with the x unrhymed. The Bowring version (made 20 years after Goethe's demise) uses a scheme of a-b-b-a-c, d-e-e-d-c.
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The Mason Lodge

translated from the German by Thomas Carlyle

The Mason's ways are
A type of Existance
And his persistance
Is as the days are
Of men in this world.

The future hides in it
Gladness and sorrow;
We press still thorow,
Naught that abides in it
Daunting us, onward.

And solemn before us
Veiled, the dark Portal,
Goal of all mortal;
Stars silent o'er us,
Graves under us silent.

While earnest thou gazest
Comes boding of terror,
Comes phantasm and error,
Perplexes the bravest
With doubt and misgiving.

But heard are the Voices,
Heard are the Sages,
The Worlds and the Ages:
"Choose well; your choice is
Brief and yet endless;"

Here eyes do regard you
In Eternity's stillness;
Here is all fulness,
Ye brave, to reward you.
Work, and dispair not.

(see note above)

A Symbol

As translated from the German by Edgar Alfred Bowring

The mason's trade
Resembles life,
With all its strife,
Is like the stir made
By man on earth's face.

Though weal and woe
The future may hide,
Unterrified
We onward go
In ne'er changing race.

A veil of dread
Hangs heavier still.
Deep slumbers fill
The stars over-head,
And the foot-trodden grave.

Observe them well,
And watch them revealing
How solemn feeling
And wonderment swell
The hearts of the brave.

The voice of the blest,
And of spirits on high
Seems loudly to cry:
"To do what is best,
Unceasing endeavour!"

In silence eterne
Here chaplets are twin'd,
That each noble mind
Its guerdon may earn.
Then hope ye for ever!

An amusing aside: this poem has been reproduced many places on the Net. In perhaps its first appearance, it was printed in 2 columns in PDF format. In subsequent copies, the two columns were often compressed to one, but because of the awkward way that PDF treats columnar text, the poem thus ended up with the lines interleaved: lines 1, 15, 2, 16, 3, 17... Even when not broken to separate lines, the right hand column usually has a ragged left margin, making this look like the order the lines are to be read in. And since Goethe is such an abstruse poet anyway (at least in English translation), apparently no one has ever noticed!
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Song Of Fellowship

As translated from the German by Edgar Alfred Bowring

In ev'ry hour of joy
that love and wine prolong,
The moments we'll employ
to carol forth this song!
We've gathered in His name,
whose power has brought us here;
He kindled first our flame,
He bids it burn more clear.

Then gladly glow tonight
and let our hreats combine!
Up! Quaff with fresh delight
this glass of sparkling wine!
Up! Hail the joyous hour,
and let your kiss be true;
With each new bond of power
the old becomes the new!

Who in our circle lives,
and is not happy there?
True liberty it gives,
and brothers' love so fair.
Thus heart and heart through life
with mutual love are filled;
And by no causeless strife
our union e'er is chilled.

Our hopes a God has crowned
with life-discernment free,
And all we view around,
renews our ecstasy.
Ne'er by caprice oppressed,
our bliss is ne'er destroyed;
More freely throbs our breast,
by fancies ne'er alloyed.

Where'er our foot we set,
the more life's path extends,
And brighter, brighter yet
our gaze on high ascends.
We know no grief or pain,
though all things fall and rise;
Long may may we thus remain!
Eternal be our ties!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

{The German "" is pronounced like "er" in English, and "the" in German is pronounced between "ta" or "da" in English, leading to much mispronunciation of his name, which should be pronounced as if it were "Gertda." To add to the confusion, the noble prefix "von" was added to his surname when he became Geheimer Rat (literally Secret Counsel, or cabinet advisor) to the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar.}

The poems above translated by Bowring are from "The Poems of Goethe, Translated in the Original Metres," available several places on the Net. The bio below is compiled from an online essay by Matthew M. Ryder, and a paper in "Ars Quatuor Coronatorum," vol. 118 for 2005, by Evert Kwaadgras.

Johann Wolfgang Gthe was born in Frankfurt-on-Maine on August 29, 1749. He joined Amalia Lodge in Weimar as an EA in June of 1780, and became a Master Mason in March of 1782; but largely because of internal politics in German Masonry in that era, he vacillated between actively supporting and actively opposing Masonry throughout his life.

Gthe is considered to be the greatest of German poets, comparable to Shakespeare in English. Although few of Gthe's voluminous writings are explicitly Masonic, several may have been inspired by Masonic teachings. His novel The Society of the Tower is probably based on the many Freemasons' lodges which grew up in eighteenth-century Germany, and which played an important part in its social and cultural life. His most important work is his drama Faust. Throughout the tragedy there is a struggle between good and evil just as there is in the Masonic initiatory drama. Soon after Mozart's (also a Freemason) operatic stage success of the Magic Flute Gthe also brought Masonic thinking to his play Gross-Kaphta by presenting the 'Grand-Master' of an 'Egyptian' society on the lines of the Freemasons.

Gthe died on March 22, 1832. His lasts words are perhaps most telling about Gthe as a Freemason and as a writer: "More light!"

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