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Wenn der uralte

Language: German (Deutsch)

Wenn der uralte,
Heilige Vater
Mit gelassener Hand
Aus rollenden Wolken
Segnende Blitze
Über die Erde sä't,
Küß' ich den letzten
Saum seines Kleides,
Kindliche Schauer
[Treu]1 in der Brust.

Denn mit Göttern
Soll sich nicht messen
Irgend ein Mensch.
Hebt er sich aufwärts,
Und berührt
Mit dem Scheitel die Sterne,
Nirgends haften dann
Die unsichern Sohlen,
Und mit ihm spielen
Wolken und Winde.

Steht er mit festen,
Markigen Knochen
Auf der wohlgegründeten,
Dauernden Erde;
Reicht er nicht auf,
Nur mit der Eiche
Oder der Rebe
Sich zu vergleichen.

Was unterscheidet
Götter von Menschen?
Daß viele Wellen
Vor jenen wandeln,
Ein ewiger Strom:
Uns hebt die Welle,
Verschlingt die Welle,
Und wir versinken.

Ein kleiner Ring
Begränzt unser Leben,
Und viele Geschlechter
Reihen sich dauernd
An ihres Daseyns
Unendliche Kette.

Translation(s): CAT DUT ENG FIN FRE ITA

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Confirmed with Goethe's Werke. Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand. Zweyter Band. Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cotta'schen Buchhandlung. 1827, pages 84-85; and with Goethe's Schriften, Achter Band, Leipzig, bey Georg Joachim Göschen, 1789, pages 212-214.

1 Schubert: "Tief"

Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator] and Peter Rastl [Guest Editor]


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Available translations, adaptations or excerpts, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • DUT Dutch (Nederlands) [singable] (Lau Kanen) , "Grenzen der mensheid", copyright © 2007, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • ENG English (Emily Ezust) , "Limits of Mankind", copyright ©
  • FIN Finnish (Suomi) (Erkki Pullinen) , "Ihmisyyden rajat"
  • FRE French (Français) (Guy Laffaille) , "Limites de l'humanité", copyright © 2010, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • ITA Italian (Italiano) (Ferdinando Albeggiani) , "Limiti dell'umano", copyright © 2008, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Text added to the website between May 1995 and September 2003.

Last modified: 2017-09-15 13:47:28
Line count: 42
Word count: 130

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Limits of Mankind

Language: English after the German (Deutsch)

When the ancient
Holy father
With calm hand
From the rolling clouds
Sends blessed lightning
Over the earth,
I kiss the last
Seam of his cloak
With a childlike awe
Deep in my breast.

For with gods
Shall never compete
Mortal Man.
If he lifts himself up
And disturbs
The stars with his head,
Then nowhere are anchored
His uncertain feet,
And with him sport
The clouds and the wind.

If instead he stands with firm,
Vigorous bones,
Upon the well-founded
and enduring earth,
He does not reach up
Even to the oak tree,
Or the vine
To compare.

What distinguishes
Gods from Men?
That many a wave broke
Before the one came wandering -
An eternal stream:
The wave lifts us;
Yet gulp in the water,
And we drown.

A small ring
Limits our life,
And many generations
String past constantly,
Their existences forming
An endless chain.

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  • Translation from German (Deutsch) to English copyright © by Emily Ezust

    Emily Ezust permits her translations to be reproduced without prior permission for printed (not online) programs to free-admission concerts only, provided the following credit is given:

    Translation copyright © by Emily Ezust,
    from the LiederNet Archive --

    For any other purpose, please write to the e-mail address below to request permission and discuss possible fees.

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Based on
  • a text in German (Deutsch) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832), title 1: "Grenzen der Menschheit", title 2: "Gränzen der Menschheit", written 1780, first published 1789 CAT DUT FIN FRE ITA
      • This text was set to music by the following composer(s): Alban Maria Johannes Berg, Anders Eliasson, Ernst Hess, Ferdinand von Hiller, Hugo Wilhelm Ludwig Kaun, Tauno Pylkkänen, Franz Peter Schubert, George Stern, Hugo Wolf. Go to the text.


Text added to the website between May 1995 and September 2003.

Last modified: 2014-06-16 10:01:30
Line count: 42
Word count: 148