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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


WHAT constitutes the happiness of a man, must it then change and become the source of his misery? That ar- {89} dent sentiment which animated my heart with the love of nature, which poured in upon me a torrent of delight, which brought all paradise before me, is now become an insupportable torrent, a demon which pursues and harrasses me incessantly. In times past I contemplated, from the top of high rocks, the broad river which, far as eye can reach, waters this fertile plain. Every thing put forth and grew, and was expanded. Around me all was in motion. I saw these mountains covered to their summits with high and tufted trees, and the vallies in their various windings sheltered by smiling woods; the peaceful stream gently glided through the trembling reeds, and in its calm surface reflected the light clouds, which a soft zephyr kept suspended in the air. I heard the birds animating the woods with their song. Millions of insects danced in the purple rays of the sun. The arid rock afforded nourishment to the moss; and the sands below were covered with broom. {90} The vivifying heat which animates all nature, was everywhere displayed before my eyes; it filled and warmed my heart. I was lost in the idea of infinity. Stupendous mountains encompassed me; precipices were before my feet; torrents fell by the side of me; impetuous rivers ran through the plain; rocks and mountains resounded from afar; and in the depths of the earth I saw innumerable powers in motion, and multiplying to infinity. All the beings of the creation, of a thousand tribes and a thousand forms, move upon the earth and in the air; and man hides himself in his little hut, and says, "I am lord over this vast universe." Weak mortal! all things appear little to you, for you are little yourself. Craggy mountains, deserts untrodden by the foot of man, even the unknown confines of the immense ocean, are animated by the breath of the Eternal, and every atom to which he has given existence and life, finds favour in his sight. Ah! how often at that time has the flight {91} of a sea-bird, which passed over my head, inspired me with the desire of being transported to the shore of the immeasurable waters, there to drink the pleasures of life as in a river, and to partake, if but for a moment, and with the confined powers of my soul, of the beatitude of the Creator, in whom we live, and move, and have our being!

My dear friend, the bare recollection of these times still gives me pleasure: the vehemence of mind with which I recall the sensations, which gives me faculties to express them, raises me above myself, and makes me doubly feel my present anguish.

The curtain drops, the scene is changed; instead of prospects of eternal life, a bottomless pit is for ever opened before me. Can we say of any thing, that it exists, when all passes away, when time in its rapid progress carries every thing with it, and our transitory existence, hurried along by the torrent, is either swallowed up by the waves or dashed against the rocks? {92} There is not a moment which does not prey upon me, and all around me; and every moment I am myself a destroyer. The most innocent walk deprives of life thousands of poor insects: one step destroys the fabric of the industrious ant, and turns a little world into a chaos! No, 'tis not the great and uncommon calamities of the world, the floods which sweep away whole villages, the earthquakes that swallow up our towns, which touch and affect me. What saps my heart, is that destroying, hidden power, which exists in every thing. Nature has formed nothing which does not consume itself, and every thing that is near it: so that, surrounded by earth and air, and by all the active powers, I wander with an aching heart; and the universe to me is as a fearful monster, which devours and regorges its food.