Another excerpt


I know, I’ve been posting mountains of excerpts lately, but this bit from one of Goethe’s letters made me laugh aloud:

I sought an occasion and got Ferdinand to take a swim in the lake. What a glorious shape has my friend; how duly proportioned are all his limbs: what fulness of form; what splendour of youth! What a gain to have enriched my imagination with this perfect model of manhood! Now I can people the woods, the meadow, and the hills, with similar fine forms! I can see him as Adonis chasing the boar, or as Narcissus contemplating himself in the mirror of the spring.

But alas! my imagination cannot furnish, as yet, a Venus, who holds him from the chase, a Venus who bewails his death, or a beautiful Echo casting one sad look more on the cold corpse of the youth before she vanishes for ever! I have therefore resolved, cost what it will, to see a female form in the state that I have seen my friend.

When, therefore, we reached Geneva, I made arrangements in the character of an artist to complete my studies of the nude figure, and to-morrow evening my wish is to be gratified.

Admit it, you’re laughing at his slyness, as well.

Then he follows up with writing like this:

The valley is narrow, shut in on its two sides by mountains, highly diversified in their forms, and which without exception are of a peculiar and sublimely beautiful character. We came to the spot where the Trient breaks into the valley around some narrow and perpendicular rocks, so that one almost doubts whether the river does not flow out of the solid rock itself. Close by stands the old bridge, which only last year was greatly injured by the stream, while not far from it the immense masses of rock, which have fallen very recently from the mountains and blocked up the road. The whole group together would make an extremely beautiful picture. At a short distance from the old bridge a new wooden one has been built, and a new road been laid down to it.

We were told that we were getting near the famous waterfall of Pisse Vache, and wished heartily for a peep at the sun, while the shifting clouds gave us a good hope that our wish would be gratified. On the road we examined various pieces of granite and of gneiss, which with all their differences seem, nevertheless, to have a common origin. At last we stood before the waterfall, which well deserves its fame above all others. At a considerable height a strong stream bursts from a cleft in the rock, falling downward into a basin, over which the foam and spray is carried far and wide by the wind. The sun at this moment came forth from the clouds, and made the sight doubly vivid. Below in the spray, wherever you go, you have close before you a rainbow. If you go higher up, you still witness no less singular a phenomenon. The airy foaming waves of the upper stream of water, as with their frothy vapour, they come in contact with the angle of vision at which the rainbow is formed, assume a flame-like hue, without giving rise to the pendent form of the bow, so that at this point you have before you a constantly varying play of fire.

We climbed all round, and sitting down near it, wished we were able to spend whole days and many a good hour of our life on this spot. Here too, as in so many other places during our present tour, we felt how impossible is was to enjoy and to be fully impressed with grand objects on a passing visit.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
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