Goethe, Faust and Tricky Translations
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. –Goethe
I’ve always liked this sentiment, romantic as it is, and I believe there is a certain kind of truth in it. The quote is all over the internet and I was thinking about jotting down some thoughts on the idea and was in turn trying to find the correct attribution. But as it turns out, Goethe never wrote those words. According to a story on the Goethe Society Website, the phrase is actually a paraphrasing of Goethe by W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition,1951. Murray’s text reads:
But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
Goethe, on the other hand actually wrote:
Enough words have been exchanged;
Now at last let me see some deeds!
While you turn compliments,
Something useful should transpire.
What use is it to speak of inspiration?
To the hesitant it never appears.
If you would be a poet,
Then take command of poetry.
You know what we require,
We want to down strong brew;
So get on with it!
What does not happen today, will not be done tomorrow,
And you should not let a day slip by,
Let resolution grasp what’s possible
and seize it boldly by the hair;
it will not get away
and it labors on, because it must.
[Der Worte sind genug gewechselt,
Laßt mich auch endlich Taten sehn!
Indes ihr Komplimente drechselt,
Kann etwas Nützliches geschehn.
Was hilft es, viel von Stimmung reden?
Dem Zaudernden erscheint sie nie.
Gebt ihr euch einmal für Poeten,
So kommandiert die Poesie.
Euch ist bekannt, was wir bedürfen,
Wir wollen stark Getränke schlürfen;
Nun braut mir unverzüglich dran!
Was heute nicht geschieht, ist morgen nicht getan,
Und keinen Tag soll man verpassen,
Das Mögliche soll der Entschluß
Beherzt sogleich beim Schopfe fassen,
Er will es dann nicht fahren lassen
Und wirket weiter, weil er muß.]
- Goethe, Faust I, Zeilen 214-230
So what’s a poor blogger to do? Idleness must eventually acquiesce to action, for without action, there is nothing. Without action, there can be no ‘this’ or ‘that’, but only ‘potential’. We recognize the person of action when we meet one. We call them ‘a force of nature’ and ‘bigger than life’. They convey a sense of confidence and authority without pretense. What of the rest of us?
J. says ‘just show up, it’s half the battle’. Not bad. For now, I will print these lines and post them on my monitor:
Grasp what is possible and seize it boldly by the hair..
And then I set my quota. I’ll report back on this on Friday.
Note: It seems IBM has been brushing-up on its Goethe too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziOG_GHNVq0 :