The divine

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The Divine is an anthem of the Weimar Classics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , which was created in 1783 and 1785 (as the poem Prometheus ) without Goethe's approval in the publication about the teachings of Spinoza by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi first appeared. The first version authorized by Goethe was published in Goethe's writings in 1789 . A Goethe manuscript of the poem is available in the Goethe Museum in Düsseldorf .

The divine handwriting of Goethe. Early, still unfinished version of the poem. The transcript is addressed personally: "Fräulein von Jöchhausen".

Origin and context

The poem was written in November 1783 during a phase of intense discussion with the philosopher Spinoza , especially with his pantheistic concept of God, according to which God is one with the cosmos and nature. Reading Spinoza was suggested by Goethe's friend Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi . In the pantheism controversy , however, Goethe expressly did not share Jacobi's view that pantheism excludes God and is thus atheistic.

Goethe's anatomical studies at the beginning of the 1780s form a further basis for the poem: in 1784 he sent his friend Karl von Knebel the treatise On the Intermediate Jaws of Humans and Animals . With the rediscovery of the intermaxillary bone in humans, the supposed absence of which was often used as a distinguishing feature between humans and animals, an anatomically justified delimitation became obsolete. Already the first stanza of the poem gives an answer to what Goethe now recognizes the peculiarity of man in comparison to other living beings: in his mental abilities and especially in the moral behavior derived from them. "Because that alone | Distinguishes him | Of all beings, | We know. ” The divine also celebrates this potential greatness of man.

The Divine is the fourth and final poem in a series of thematically related lyrical works ( Prometheus , Ganymed ; Limits of Humanity , The Divine ), Goethe's development from Sturm und Drang (Prometheus, Ganymede) to Classical (Limits of Humanity, The Divine) make clear. As evidence of this, Goethe's own placement of the poems one after the other and in this order, for example in the complete edition of the works and writings in 22 volumes, is cited.


In view of its broader content, the title The Divine is a game with the expectations of the reader: Instead of the theological thoughts to be expected, philosophical ideas follow, which focus more on classical educational ideals for people, which in turn give an idea of ​​the divine.

Poem text

May the divine

noble be human,
helpful and good!
Because that alone
distinguishes him
from all beings that
we know.

Hail to the unknown
higher beings, whom
we suspect!
Man is like you!
His example teach us
those to believe.

Because nature
is unfeeling :
the sun shines
over bad and good,
and the criminal shines
like the best
the moon and the stars.

Wind and currents,
thunder and hail
rustle their way
hurry past
one after the other.

Even so luck
pats among the crowd,
soon grasps the boy's
curly innocence,
soon the bald
guilty part too .

According to Eternal, Honor,
Great Laws,
we must all complete
circles of existence .

Man alone is
capable of the impossible:
He distinguishes,
chooses and judges;
He can
give duration to the moment .

He alone may reward
the good,
punish the bad,
heal and save,
combine everything erring and wandering .

And we adore
the immortals
as if they were human beings,
doing on a large scale,
what the best on a small
scale does or wants.

The noble man
Be helpful and good!
He tirelessly creates what is
what is right, be an example to us of
those anticipated beings!


As Walter Dietze and many other interpreters after him have established, the poem consists of three parts: a beginning with the basic thesis in the form of a categorical imperative (1st and 2nd stanza), an explication and discussion of the basic thesis (3rd to 8th stanza). Stanza) in the middle part and a conclusion (9th and 10th stanza), which closes the circle to the slightly modified basic thesis and the title and thus only dissolves the tension.

Beginning (1st and 2nd stanza)

"Let man be noble, | Helpful and good! ”Is initially presented as a hypothesis that is justified by another thesis (difference to other beings). This further thesis of the special position of humans is elaborated and discussed in the middle section. This makes the initial hypothesis the basic thesis of the entire poem.

The 2nd stanza plays with the expectation that is evoked by the title: “Hail the unknown | Higher beings, | that we suspect! ”now takes up the motif of the divine, but here already in personified form as“ higher beings ”. In the terminology of contemporary Immanuel Kant, these are raised from an initially only transcendental to a regulative idea (God cannot be known, but as a regulative idea is necessary for thought) by adding the attributes of these "higher beings", precisely the divine that humans should find and train within oneself, lead from the still weak “ancestor” to the stronger “belief” in the “higher beings”. In relation to the basic thesis, this means: the more a person strives to be noble, helpful and good, and the more he succeeds in realizing these virtues, the more plausible, more believable, the existence of “higher beings” becomes.

Middle part (3rd to 8th stanza)

The special position of the human being, which is supposed to support the basic thesis at the beginning, is explained in stanzas 3 to 8 in general and with examples. According to the Goethe researcher Emil Staiger, “three stages of existence are represented here, as the lowest, the unfeeling nature and happiness, which switches randomly and arbitrarily, as the middle man and as the highest immortal beings, which only reaches a premonition. Man stands in the middle. He participates in the lower and the upper existence. "

Central to this is the ability of man to judge morally, although he too is fundamentally under the dictate of the “honorable, great laws”, the laws of nature: “Man alone | Can do the impossible: | He distinguishes | Choose and judge; | […] | He alone may | To reward the good, | Punish the wicked ”.

This means that the human being stands between the natural and the divine - a motif that Goethe repeatedly depicted, most prominently in his Faust poem. Man is able to develop a morality based on ideals, albeit within the framework of natural laws, through his special intellect. He also has other intellectual abilities, such as those used in technology, art or medicine: “He can take the moment | Grant duration […] | Heal and Save ”. But his moral abilities are placed above the others, especially through the large bracket of moral aspects that dominate the beginning and the end of the poem.

End (9th and 10th stanza)

The penultimate stanza shows how limited religious ideas of God must ultimately remain and how far human endeavors are from the ideals, the divine. Goethe expresses this in a similar way in other works. For example, in his Tame Xenien : “What man worships as God | Has turned out its very own interior. "

The last stanza echoes the basic thesis of the beginning; but with the difference that the human being as a noble human being should be "helpful and good". This change emphasizes the developmental nature of human education. Because the basic thesis of the beginning is repeated almost unchanged, the imperative “The noble man | Be helpful and good! ”Stronger, categorical character: Man should strive to develop his noble moral disposition as far as possible. A few years earlier, Goethe expressed this idea of ​​education as a project of self-completion in a letter to Johann Caspar Lavater :

“This desire to point the pyramid of my existence, the basis of which has been given and established to me, as high in the air as possible, outweighs everything else and hardly allows for instant oblivion. I mustn't delay, I'm well into the past, and maybe fate will break me in the middle and the Babylonian Tower will remain bluntly unfinished. "


The poem consists of ten stanzas of six verses each (except for the 3rd and 6th stanzas, which contain seven and five verses). Since there are no end rhymes and only free rhythms , the effort for mental clarity, i.e. the content, is in the foreground. This is primarily of a philosophical nature and conveys Goethe's knowledge of the divine as an educational ideal for humans. So this poem is thought poetry . A lyrical I , however, only shows itself as part of a WE, which includes humanity.

The divine is a hymn through the title and the pathetic humanism intoned in the poem . With its free rhythms , the poem is not an ode, as it lacks the fixed metric framework for it.



In intellectual history, the divine is in the context of pantheism and idealism . The section “Origin and Context” (above) deals with the references to pantheism in connection with Goethe's Spinoza reading. There are also parallels to the idealism of Friedrich Schiller and Immanuel Kant . Schiller's idealism, as expressed, for example, in his treatise On the Aesthetic Education of Man , is based on Kant's aesthetics and focuses on the refinement of man through his character education in the sense of humanistic ideals.

The first edition of the poem appeared in 1789, one year after the publication of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, with the central idea of ​​orienting people towards the categorical imperative as a moral law that guides people's self-determination. Kant assumes a “morality” of the human being, ie the ability to determine one's own will - especially against opposing inclinations - autonomously according to moral principles. This, in turn, is the condition for a rational being to be able to be an end in itself, that is, to have human dignity. Against this background, it is entirely justifiable to interpret The Divine as a free lyrical implementation of the moral philosophy of the categorical imperative of Kant. With the help of his cognitive faculties and his determinable will, man is able to suppress what leads him to vice and to develop what makes him more virtuous. To develop the “higher idea” that is in him is what defines man's special position and his dignity. Or as Goethe put it in a recorded conversation:

“[...] no organic being is entirely in accordance with the underlying idea; behind each is the higher idea. This is my God, this is the God we all seek and hope to see forever, but we can only guess, not see! "

In the divine man worships the perfection of his own "higher idea". By constantly striving to realize this, he himself becomes a model. Thus there is a reciprocal relationship between the human and the divine, which Goethe also mentions: "The divine, which we would certainly not know if man did not feel it and produce it himself."

Recognizing and respecting the human in the divine and the divine in the human thus becomes the basis of a pantheistic humanism, which in Goethe superseded the then prevailing religious conception:

“There are only two true religions, one that recognizes and worships the sacred that dwells in and around us, quite informally, the other that recognizes and worships it in its most beautiful form. Everything in between is idolatry. "


  • Karl Otto Conrady: Two poems of Goethe read critically. “Limits of Humanity” and “The Divine” , in: ders., Literature and German studies as a challenge. Sketches and statements , 1st edition, Frankfurt am Main, 1974.
  • Walter Dietze: Poetry of Humanity. Claim and achievement in the lyrical work of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Construction Verlag, Berlin and Weimar 1985, ISBN 3351010443
  • Wilhelm Grenzmann: “Goethe. The Divine. ” In: Paths to the Poem. With an introduction by Edgar Hederer, ed. v. Rupert Hirschenauer and Albrecht Weber, Munich and Zurich 1956.
  • Friedrich Gottfried Wilhelm Hertel: “The divine. Poem by Göthe ” . in: Archive for the Study of Modern Languages ​​and Literatures, 7th vol., Vol. 11 (1852), pp. 169–177. , accessed October 17, 2018
  • Rüdiger Safranski: Goethe. Artwork of life. Biography . Hanser Verlag, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-446-23581-6
  • Christof Spannhoff: “Man is noble”. The “classic” in Goethe's “The Divine” . Munich, GRIN Verlag. 2006. , accessed October 17, 2018.
  • Annemarie u. Wolfgang van Rinsum: Poetry and Interpretation. A history of German literature in examples. Bavarian school book publisher. Munich 1987. 11th edition. Pp. 111-113.

Web links

Wiktionary: divine  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


Wikisource: The Divine  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi: About the teaching of Spinoza in letters to Mr. Moses Mendelssohn . Gottlieb Löwe, Breslau 1785, p. 2-4 .
  2. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi: About the teaching of Spinoza in letters to Mr. Moses Mendelssohn. The digital collections of the ULB Saxony-Anhalt, accessed on October 15, 2018 .
  3. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Goethe's writings. Bayerische StaatsBibliothek digital, 1789, p. 215 , accessed on October 16, 2018 .
  4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: 2178. To FH Jacobi. Goethe's works. Weimar edition. IV. Department. Volume 7, 1891, October 21, 1785, p. 110 , accessed October 18, 2018 .
  5. Karl Otto Conrady: Two poems of Goethe read critically "Limits of Humanity", "The Divine". In: Literature and German studies as a challenge. Sketches and opinions. 1st edition. Suhrkamp Taschenbuch 214, Frankfurt a. M. 1974, p. 177 .
  6. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Complete edition of the works and writings in twenty-two volumes: Poetic works. P. 1317 , accessed October 16, 2018 .
  7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: The Divine. Freiburg anthology, 1815, archived from the original on October 21, 2018 ; accessed on October 4, 2019 .
  8. Walter Dietze: Poetry of Humanity. Claim and achievement in the lyrical work of Johann Wolfgang Goethe . Aufbau Verlag, Berlin and Weimar 1985.
  9. Emil Staiger: Explanations . In: JW Goethe, poems . tape 2 . Manesse, Zurich 1949, p. 356 .
  10. ^ Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Tame Xenien. In: Poetic Works. Berliner Ausgabe, Volume 2, Berlin, 1960., p. 402 , accessed on October 17, 2018 .
  11. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Letter from Goethe to Lavater, around September 1780. Julius Zeitler. German letters of friend from six centuries. 1909, Retrieved October 17, 2018 .
  12. ^ Mareike Müller: "The Divine" by Johann Wolfgang Goethe - a poem analysis. 2009, accessed October 15, 2018 .
  13. ^ Ivo Braak: Poetics in brief: basic literary terms; an introduction . In: Hirts' key words . 7th edition. Ferdinand Hirt, Unterägeri 1990, ISBN 3-266-03080-X , p. 181 .
  14. Christof Spannhoff: "Noble be man". The “classic” in Goethe's “The Divine”. Retrieved October 18, 2018 .
  15. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Conversation with Friedrich von Müller. May 1830. Retrieved October 17, 2018 .
  16. Annemarie u. Wolfgang van Rinsum: Poetry and Interpretation. A history of German literature in examples. 11th edition. Bayerischer Schulbuchverlag, 1987, p. 111-113 .
  17. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Art theoretical writings and translations. In: Berlin edition. Berlin, 1960., accessed on October 17, 2018 .
  18. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre. From Makarien's archive. Retrieved October 18, 2018 .