West-östlicher Divan

West-östlicher Divan; West-Eastern Divan, 1819

Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan comes from his study of the poetry of Hafiz, a fourteen-century Persian poet (sometimes transliterated as Hafez). Hafiz’s collected works are known as the Divan. Goethe first read Hafiz’s work in 1814 in a translation by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), an Austrian orientalist.

Hafiz used a poetic form called the ghazal. A ghazal has a single rhyme which is preserved throughout the stanza in alternate lines. Goethe does not imitate this form in the West-östlicher Divan; instead he uses mainly four-line rhyming stanzas.

The West-östlicher Divan is divided into several sections. Das Buch Suleika; The Book of Suleika alludes to Goethe’s love for Marianne von Willemer (1784-1869). Marianne von Willemer wrote the poem ‘Lied der Suleika’; ‘Suleika’s Song’ in collaboration with Goethe.

Goethe added an essay to the West-östlicher Divan in which he explains the methodology he has used in his oriental studies. These methodological reflections are relevant today in the context of comparative literature and postcolonial studies, as Angus Nicholls has shown (see reading list below).

Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan inspired other 19th-century German poets to use the ghazal form, including August von Platen (Ghaselen, 1821) and Friedrich Rückert (Ghaselen, 1822). The 20th-century Glaswegian poet Edwin Morgan published a long poem inspired by Hafiz: The New Divan (1977).

Perhaps the most famous poem in this collection is ‘Selige Sehnsucht’; ‘Blessed Desire’. It is found in the first section, Moganni Nameh: Buch des Sängers (The singer’s book):


Further Reading in English

David Bell, ‘Goethe’s Orientalism’, in Goethe and the English-Speaking World: A Cambridge Symposium for his 250th Anniversary, ed. by Nicholas Boyle and John Guthrie (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 2001), pp. 199-212

Benjamin Bennett, ‘Speech, Writing, and Identity in the West-östlicher Divan’, Goethe Yearbook 12 (2004), 161-83

Robert Ellis Dye, ‘“Selige Sehnsucht” and Goethean Enlightenment’, PMLA 104:2 (1989), 190-200

Henry Hatfield, ‘Wit and Humour in the West-östlicher Divan’, Oxford German Studies 10 (1979), 102-09

Kamaal Haque, ‘From the Desert to the City and Back: Nomads and the Spaces of Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan’, in Spatial Turns: Space, Place, and Mobility in German Literary and Visual Culture, ed. by Jaimey Fisher and Barbara Mennel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010), pp. 233-53

Yomb May, ‘Goethe, Islam, and the Orient: The Impetus for and Mode of Intercultural Encounter in the West-östlicher Divan’, in Encounters with Islam in German Literature and Culture, ed. by James Hodkinson and Jeff Morrison (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), pp. 89-107

Dorothee Metlitzki, ‘On the Meaning of “Hatem” in Goethe's West-östlicher Divan’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 117:1 (1997), 148-51

Katharina Mommsen, Goethe and the Poets of Arabia, trans. by Michael M. Metzger (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2014)

Angus Nicholls, ‘Between Natural and Human Science: Scientific Method in Goethe’s “Noten und Abhandlungen zum West-östlichen Divan”’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 80:1 (2011), 1-18

S. S. Prawer, German Lyric Poetry: A Critical Analysis of Selected Poems from Klopstock to Rilke (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 77-82

Shafiq Shamel, Goethe and Hafiz: Poetry and History in the West-östlicher Divan (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)

Further Reading in French

Laurent Cassagnau, ‘Le Divan de Goethe au miroir de la poésie persane’, Études Germaniques 60:2 (2005), 283-303

Further Reading in German

Bernd Auerochs, ‘Goethe als Muslim. Zum Spiel mit den positiven Offenbarungsreligionen im West-östlichen Divan’, in Goethe und die Weltkultur, ed. by Klaus Manger (Heidelberg: Winter, 2003), pp. 279-88

W. Daniel Wilson, Goethe Männer Knaben - Ansichten zur ›Homosexualität‹ (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2012), Chapter on the West-östlicher Divan