"Wanderer's Nightsong" (German: Wandrers Nachtlied) is the title of two poems by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Written in 1776 (Der du von dem Himmel bist) and in 1780 (Über allen Gipfeln), they are among Goethe's most famous works. Both were first edited together in his 1815 Works Vol. I with the headings Wandrers Nachtlied and Ein gleiches ("Another one").
Wanderer's Nightsong I
The manuscript of Wanderer's Nightsong (Der du von dem Himmel bist) was among Goethe's letters to his friend Charlotte von Stein and bears the signature "At the slope of Ettersberg, on 12 Feb. 76"; supposedly it was written under the tree later called the Goethe Oak. One translation is by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Thou that from the heavens art,
Every pain and sorrow stillest,
And the doubly wretched heart
Doubly with refreshment fillest,
I am weary with contending!
Why this pain and desire?
Come ah, come into my breast!
- Wandrers Nachtlied (German)
Der du von dem Himmel bist,
Alles Leid und Schmerzen stillest,
Den, der doppelt elend ist,
Doppelt mit Erquickung füllest;
Ach, ich bin des Treibens müde!
Was soll all der Schmerz und Lust?
Komm, ach komm in meine Brust!
The tired wanderer probably impersonates Goethe himself, whose fame and fortune increasingly affected his creativity. The first line is a reference to the Lord's Prayer "Our Father who art in heaven". Franz Schubert set the poem to music in 1815.
Wanderer's Nightsong II
"Wanderer's Nightsong II (Über allen Gipfeln) is often considered the perhaps most perfect lyric in the German language. Goethe probably wrote it on the evening of September 6, 1780 onto the wall of a wooden gamekeeper lodge on top of the Kickelhahn mountain near Ilmenau where he, according to a letter to Charlotte von Stein, spent the night.
Above all summits
it is calm.
In all the tree-tops
scarcely a breath;
The birds in the forest are silent,
just wait, soon
you will rest as well.
- Ein Gleiches (German)
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
Goethes friend Karl Ludwig von Knebel mentioned the writing in his diary, it is also documented in transcriptions by Johann Gottfried Herder and Luise von Göchhausen. However, the handwriting is not preserved. It was first published—without authorization—by August Adolph von Hennings in 1800 and again by August von Kotzebue in 1803. An English version appeared in the Monthly Magazine in February 1801. The second poem was also set by Franz Schubert, in 1823. As Goethe wrote to Carl Friedrich Zelter, he revisited the cabin more than 50 years later on August 27, 1831, about six months before his death. The poet recognised his handwriting and reportedly broke out in tears.
The accomplished poem unites landscape, creation and beings in evening silence, while man may still be restless but will expect sleep, death and eternal peace. In one small piece of poetry, Goethe wanders the whole cosmos.
In popular culture
The mountain hut had already become famous as "Goethe's Cabin" by the late 1830s. Burnt down in 1870, it was rebuilt four years later. Parodies of Ein gleiches were written by Christian Morgenstern, Joachim Ringelnatz, Karl Kraus, and Bertolt Brecht. A computational linguistics processing of the poem was the topic of a 1968 radio drama written by Georges Perec. It is also cited in Daniel Kehlmann's 2005 novel Measuring the World, in Milan Kundera's novel Immortality, and in Walter Moers' novel The City of Dreaming Books.
John Ottman's musical score for Bryan Singer's 2008 film Valkyrie contains a requiem-like piece for soprano and chorus in the exit music with Ein gleiches as lyrics. In the film's context, the poem serves as a lament on the miscarried assassination on Adolf Hitler on July 20th, 1944, mourns the proximate death of most of the assassins, and with the last two lines forecasts the demise of those whom they failed to kill.
- Gorra, Michael (2009). The Bells in Their Silence: Travels through Germany. Princeton UP. p. 16. ISBN 9781400826018.
- cf. Alan P. Cottrell: Goethe's view of evil and the search for a new image of man in our time (1982) p. 35
- Erich Trunz, in: Goethes Werke (Hamburger Ausgabe) vol. 1, 16th ed. 1996, p. 555
- p. 42 books.google
- Interview with film composer John Ottmann about his score for Valkyrie