Supplementary Appendix: Schelling’s Stanzas to Caroline at Christmas 1799

The Heavenly Image: Schelling's Stanzas to Caroline at Christmas 1799 [*]

|1| The bosom of the earth lies numb and cold;
All outer pleasures wither, one by one.
Solely the magic which out of us flowed
Now turns back stronger to where it’d begun.
|5| Most of the blooms from which our love did grow
Are transformed in the gaze of inner sun,
So that, being deceived by its brightness,
We are caressed by fair heaven’s mildness,

Towards which every loving heart strains.
|10| But only a few are bestowed this bliss,
For within any heart, in which love reigns
And which feeds this fire in holy stillness,
There one discovers all of nature’s gains.
This heart is granted its boldest wish;
|15| Glorious things — for which most only strive —
Are already found in the wreath of life.

For glory is only within us born;
The divine is given through free donation.
From the beginning most are lost, forlorn,
|20| And must leave the world without vocation.
But fate will choose: whoever’s lot is drawn
And pulled into light from night’s dominion
Is lifted aloft from the paths they tread
And soon heaven opens above their head.

|25| A beam from the seat of unborn desire
Opens up his chest with a wild thrust,
Lets in eternal striving and holy fire,
The highest pain and the highest lust.
Since all in life comes from what is higher,
|30| There floats down to him who exults and trusts
On the dewy feathers of golden mist
Poetic powers as blessing and gift.

As fire’s strength is just to set alight
And is not kindled by an inner source;
|35| So with creative power must love be bound tight
Before, by its own flame, it becomes a corpse.
Eternal love can only then ignite
In those love also grants poetry’s force;
It speaks forth the eternity of things
|40| From which creation and destruction spring.

So do please listen, O Life of my Life,
To that which inside my bosom rings true:
"Not in vain did your heart’s spark come alive,
Glowing within as that first power grew;
|45| Nor in vain did holy love and bliss strive
To descend from heaven itself to you.
To such heights has the highest force bar none
With free grace raised you up, unworthy one.

"Upon it do your heart’s life-forces feed,
|50| They rock further back to gain a higher lift,
So on that man who should accomplish great deeds
Great deeds are then bestowed like a free gift.
He must o’erleap many rungs and proceed
To covet that from which he’s cast adrift,
|55| Attain heaven, fired by thirst for the light,
Then descend and unseal eternal night.

"To dissolve the spell of our unknown binds
Which keeps us captivated and in chains
Demands a lot of all mortal mankind,
|60| Excepting that man who loves this refrain:
'To bring evil’s ultimate ground to mind,
The abyss must be approached and made plain;
He can attain the ground of good and right
If he dares ascend to the source of light.'”

|65| "Hence you are obliged to recast and rend
Yourself, so from danger you will not feign.
For you have now chosen the highest end
Towards which thousands have striven in vain;
To find your fated path I recommend:
|70| Look East towards a star that shines again.
What through your own power you can’t attain
By love’s own power you can and will gain."

Heavenly image, haste into the unknown!
Marking out for the hesitant the way,
|75| Pointing out to him sunny stepping stones
Which lead to truth but form a fraught pathway.
At night, a herald may approach alone
Dressed in the garments of heaven’s noonday;
And when the powers within him decline
|80| Then will you hurl downwards your fiery sign,

Which — appearing — gave him hope at that time,
When he loved you from afar, hopelessly.
If you then see his powers still decline,
Call out into his heart: You have loved me.
|85| If his courage is to ashes consigned,
Say: I have loved you. And so let him see
That in these words reside a life sublime:
To fly up to the highest, furthest climes.

When in sacred hours oft given to bed
|90| I choose what is holy from a free urge,
You are by a god to my spirit wed,
Eternally, beautifully, together forged.
Though no soft song will tell the world ahead
The sweet news proclaimed when our souls merge,
|95| From out of the poem’s obscure ciphers
The riddle of our love will be deciphered.

From the eyes of the world we hide away
That bliss the invisible see today;
But it will return in future glory
|100| One early, beautiful hour of the day.
Inspired, I see later ages survey
The melody that never dies away;
For through the universe’s harmony
This song will last into posterity.


[*] Translation by Daniel Whistler and Judith Kahl; reprinted here with their kind permission. This text as well as introductory and contextually interpretive essays by Daniel Whistler (“Two Poems: F. W. J. Schelling”; “Schelling’s Poetry”) was published as “F.W.J. Schelling, Two Poems: Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith and The Heavenly Image” in Clio 43.2 (2014).

Friedrich Schlegel mentions to Schleiermacher on 6 January 1800 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:146; KGA V/3, 339; KFSA 25:42; also cited in Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 14 October 1799 [letter 248], note 9) (Dorothea Veit, who was working on her novel Florentin. Ein Roman herausgegeben von Friedrich Schlegel, vol. 1 [Lübeck 1801] [vol. 2 never appeared], writes on the same day [letter 258c] about the new “rage and passion” for stanza-making, which had prompted even Schelling to “come up with his own stanzas”):

Schelling, to be sure, is completely immersed in his poem, which I do believe will turn into something grand. Until now he has only engaged in various studies for it and is trying to learn how to compose stanzas and terza rima, the latter of which he will probably choose for the whole. I am reading Dante with him and Caroline, we are already almost halfway through, and once he has an inclination for something, it is great indeed. I have as yet seen only 13 stanzas he did as an announcement of his work at Christmas for Caroline, with whom he gets along very well. Those stanzas were quite beautiful and full of enthusiasm.

Erich Schmidt, (1913), 1:661–62, appendix 3, reprinted just over four of these stanzas, which — like Wilhelm Schlegel’s poem “Der Bund der Kirche mit den Künsten” mentioned in Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258) — resemble in some respects Goethe’s “Zueignung” (a poem of fourteen stanzas in ottava rima from 1784 positioned at the beginning of the edition of Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 1, [Leipzig 1787; new ed. 1801]). As Schmidt also informs the reader, the rest of the thirteen stanzas were originally published in Plitt 1:289–92, and represented, as Friedrich points out in his letter to Schleiermacher, an announcement of his grand poem on nature.

That poem, however, seems never to have been completed. Initially, it seems to have been planned as a collaborative effort between Goethe and Schelling, who had enjoyed an elective affinity of the spirit and intellect since Schelling’s arrival in Jena in 1798. For some otherwise unclarified reason, Goethe then ceded the entire project to Schelling; see Caroline’s letter to Schelling from Braunschweig barely a year later, on 18 November 1800 (letter 274d [was 271]):

Goethe is now also ceding the poem to you, delivering his nature over to you. Since he cannot appoint you his heir, he is giving you a donation among the living.

Caroline seems to bring the subject of the poem up once again in her letter to Schelling in January 1801 (letter 282), in which during her entire initial paragraph she speaks about “molten, glowing earth” that hardens and from which mountains then come into being; she then mentions having trouble comprehending “this thing with ‘matter,'” lamenting that her

own understanding and conceptions will never really be able to rise above “matter” in any solid fashion; instead, they will have to flutter back down again, like birds if the air were to become too light for them, indeed, even if eagles were beneath them. But tell me, how far have all of you managed to get beyond it? . . .

I recall very well that the spirit is at the center and that light is spirit and spirit light. Although this is not comprehensible to me, it is believable, and through belief and imagination you will easily be able to guide me to the purpose of all ends and goals; but the rungs of the ladder, the demonstrazions, the deductions, that is not for me.

And so do you really believe I will ever attain anything other than a poetic understanding of your poem?

And similarly in January 1801 (letter 284): “I can see very clearly how your tracing of poetically creative nature will arrange itself into a splendid poem quite on its own.” These passages presumably attest that the prospect of Schelling finishing the poem was still very much alive at this point.

In this regard, however, see Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 635 (Haym maintained that Auguste rather than Caroline was the addressee of these Christmas stanzas):

One can likely view her [Auguste], as it were a second Beatrice, as the addressee, or at least as the intended reference in those [thirteen] stanzas that Schelling himself penned when at Christmas 1799 a general “rage and passion” for stanza-making had come over the Schlegel household.

Those stanzas present themselves as the introduction to a grand poem that was to be as it were an accompanying piece to Dante’s allegorical world poem [La Divina Commedia, composed 1308–21], more specifically: a poem on nature of the sort Henrik Steffens, too, was contemplating and that Goethe had earlier long considered. The expectations of Schelling’s friends concerning this poem were great indeed, and though Schelling did indeed work out a beginning for it during the summer of 1800, the more he realized that the highest task, the ultimate ideal of modern poesy resided precisely in just such a speculative epic on the nature of things, the less likely was the prospect of genuinely carrying the plan to completion.

Schelling never again succeeded with a poem the way he had with his audacious and bold composition “Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith.” To wit, he was too distracted by his reflections on the formal aspects of such composition; that is, art never allowed poesy to emerge. Although, for example, he speaks on several occasions with Wilhelm Schlegel about certain elegiac and epigrammatic poems he has composed, in part he is hesitant to communicate them, and in part he is not satisfied with them technically even himself, so instead first requests the advice and instruction of his friend.

Ultimately, only four of these various attempts in elegiac meters found their way into the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, whose co-editors were the elder Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck: the modest piece “Thier und Pflanze” (158–59) a stiff, doctrinaire-tasteless versification of an idea associated with the philosophy of nature; an epigram with a similar relationship with the philosophy of nature, “Das Loos der Erde” (273); an insignificant Lied that artificially imitates the tone of earlier German Volkslieder (241–42); and finally the romance-like narrative “Die letzten Worte des Pfarrers zu Drottning in Seeland” (118–27) [“The Last Words of the Pastor of Drottning, in Zealand”], a rendering in tercets of the same horror story that Steffens was planning to treat dramatically.

Schelling did not overestimate the value of these trifles, and was adamant about not being identified with them by name, preferring instead to use the pseudonym “Venturus,” since such was, as he put it, precisely what he was; — Wilhelm Schlegel accommodated him by turning the name into “Bonaventura.” Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott