Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von

Germany, (1749-1832)

from: Parables, Part II: Three Palinodias


  1. DURING a heavy storm it chanced
  2. That from his room a cockney glanced
  3. At the fierce tempest as it broke,
  4. While to his neighbour thus he spoke:
  5. “The thunder has our awe inspired,
  6. Our barns by lightning have been fired, –
  7. Our sins to punish, I suppose;
  8. But in return, to soothe our woes,
  9. See how the rain in torrents fell,
  10. Making the harvest promise well!
  11. But is’t a rainbow that I spy
  12. Extending o’er the dark-grey sky?
  13. With it I’m sure we may dispense,
  14. The colour’d cheat! The vain pretence!”
  15. Dame Iris straightway thus replied:
  16. “Dost dare my beauty to deride?
  17. In realms of space God station’d me
  18. A type of better worlds to be
  19. To eyes that from life’s sorrows rove
  20. In cheerful hope to Heav’n above,
  21. And, through the mists that hover here
  22. God and his precepts blest revere.
  23. Do thou, then, grovel like the swine,
  24. And to the ground thy snout confine,
  25. But suffer the enlighten’d eye
  26. To feast upon my majesty.”
  28. (1827)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Poems of Goethe, translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring. New York: Herst & Co. (1881).

Editor’s Note:

“Dame Iris” refers to Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, an errand-running messenger and cup-bearer of the Olympian gods, and most closelty aligned with Zeus and Hera. Her name contains a double meaning, being connected both with iris, “the rainbow,” and eiris, “messenger.”

Iris appears in ancient Greek vase painting as a beautiful young woman with golden wings, a herald’s rod (kerykeion), and sometimes a water-pitcher (oinochoe) in her hand. For the coastal-dwelling Greeks, the rainbow’s arc was most often seen spanning the distance beteween clouds and the sea, and so the goddess was believed to replenish the rain-clouds with water from the sea.

About the Poet:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a German writer, artist, and politician, well known as a poet, novelist, playwright, natural philosopher, diplomat and civil servant.

His body of work includes epic and lyric poetry written in a variety of metres and styles; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour; and four novels. In addition, numerous literary and scientific fragments, and over 10,000 letters written by him are extant, as are nearly 3,000 drawings.

Notable works include: Faust; The Sorrows of Young Werther; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; Elective Affinities; and Prometheus. [DES-07/12]

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