18th Century‎ > ‎Goethe‎ > ‎Goethe: Poetry‎ > ‎

Wandrers Nachtlied; Wanderer’s Night Song

Wandrers Nachtlied; Wanderer’s Night Song (written 1776, first published 1780)

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?
Süßer Friede,
Komm, ach komm in meine Brust!

You who hail from heaven,
Who stills all suffering and pain,
Who doubly refreshes
He who is doubly miserable,
O, I am tired of this business!
What’s the point of all this pain and lust?
Sweet peace,
Come, O come into my breast!

Ein Gleiches; Another One
Also known as Wandrers Nachtlied II; Wanderer’s Night Song II
(inscribed in the wall of a wooden hut on the Kickelhahn mountain near Ilmenau 1780; first published 1815)

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Over all hilltops
Is peace,
In all treetops
You sense
Hardly a breath;
The little birds are silent in the wood.
Wait, soon
You shall rest too.

These two poems form a pair. In the first night song, the tormented ‘I’ asks for peace, but has not found it.
In the second night song, the logical structure of the poem reinforces the idea that a state of rest is inevitable. The stillness descends vertically through space, from hilltops to treetops, from birds to the wanderer below. The poem simultaneously moves upwards through the orders of nature: from mineral, vegetable, animal to human. According to Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, this order means that the poet is embraced within nature ‘as the last link in the organic scale of being’ (see reading list below, also quoted in Goethe, Werke. Hamburger Ausgabe in 14 Bänden, ed. by Erich Trunz, vol. 1, p. 556).
It is worth noting that ‘rest’ in the final line is expressed as a verb (ruhen) and not a noun (Ruhe); this verb form suggests that even in ‘rest’ there is movement. The last word of the poem is ‘auch’ (too, also) which further emphasises the kinship between humans and the natural world. The poem’s final ‘ch’ sound is pronounced as in the word ‘loch’ (Scottish word for lake). This ‘ch’ sound is called a voiceless velar fricative; ‘voiceless’ because it is made without using the vocal chords, by constricting air flow (fricative) using the back of the tongue (velar). Try making this sound at home and you will see that it is indeed voiceless and mysterious, like the sound of a shell.
Further Reading
Osman Durrani, ‘The Fortunes of Goethe’s Nocturnal Traveller. “Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh”: The Silent Birds and the Not-so-silent Critics’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 53 (1984), 20-40
Richard Eldridge, ‘Narrative Rehearsal, Expression, and Goethe's “Wandrers Nachtlied II”’, in Narrative, Emotion, and Insight, ed. by Noël Carroll and John Gibson (University Park, PA:  Pennsylvania State University Press,  2011), pp. 109-30
L. P. Johnson, ‘Wanderers Nachtlied’, German Life and Letters 36:1-2 (1982-83), 35-48
Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, ‘Goethe’s Poetry’, German Life and Letters 2 (1949), 316-29