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DAVID WELLBERY The Specular Moment: Construction of Meaning in a Poem by Goethe THIS ESSAY IS a piece of work-in-progress involving a reappraisal of Goethe's poetry of the 1770s. As such, it is tentative and incomplete and I hope it will elicit correction and suggestion. Methodologically, I draw on semiotics and structural analysis. To justify this here would be pointless, equally pointless to erect an elaborate theoretical scaffolding. The real justification of the method will lie in its usefulness, the results it brings and its conformity to the standards of rational inquiry, matters best judged by the reader. One preliminary remark, however, must be made with insistence. The terminology I employ has the advantage of explicitness but the disadvantage of a pseudo-scientific aura. Exactly that which is meant to encourage public discussion and to avoid the authoritarian affectation of privileged access to the truth, in other words, can end up stifling the former and projecting the latter. This dangerous twist in the dialectic of enlightenment , the recrudescence of myth in the form of science, must be met—at every (potentially sinister) bend of phrase—with criticism.1 The main body of the essay gives an account of the textual system2 of Goethe's untitled poem beginning "Es schlug mein Herz." My concerns in the analysis are essentially two: to describe as precisely as possible the construction of meaning in this particular text; to abstract from the text structures which, while informing this particular poem, can be defined in general enough terms to allow for comparisons with other texts, either by Goethe or by someone else. As regards the first issue, my analysis offers quite a different perspective on the poem (or, by GOETHE SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA analogy, on others of Goethe's poems) than is normally assumed in the research. In terms of the second point, what I call in section five the "code of vision" is an abstract structure which is actualized in many texts of the period. The final two sections of the essay are the most tentative. They raise questions and pose hypotheses that seem to follow from my account of the textual system. The text:5 I 1 Es schlug mein Herz. Geschwind, zu Pferde! 2 Und fort, wild wie ein Held zur Schlacht. 3 Der Abend wiegte schon die Erde, 4 Und an den Bergen hing die Nacht. 5 Schon stund im Nebelkleid die Eiche 6 Wie ein getürmter Riese da, 7 Wo Finsternis aus dem Gesträuche 8 Mit hundert schwarzen Augen sah. II 9 Der Mond von einem Wolkenhügel 10 Sah schläfrig aus dem Duft hervor, 11 Die Winde schwangen leise Flügel, 12 Umsausten schauerlich mein Ohr. 13 Die Nacht schuf tausend Ungeheuer, 14 Doch tausendfacher war mein Mut, 15 Mein Geist war ein verzehrend Feuer, 16 Mein ganzes Herz zerfloß in Glut. III 17 Ich sah dich, und die milde Freude 18 Floß aus dem süßen Blick auf mich. 19 Ganz war mein Herz an deiner Seite, 20 Und jeder Atemzug für dich. 21 Ein rosenfarbes Frühlingswetter 22 Lag auf dem lieblichen Gesicht 23 Und Zärtlichkeit für mich, ihr Götter, 24 Ich hofft' es, ich verdient' es nicht! IV 25 Der Abschied, wie bedrängt, wie trübe! 26 Aus deinen Blicken sprach dein Herz. 27 In deinen Küssen welche Liebe, 28 O welche Wonne, welcher Schmerz! 29 Du gingst, ich stund und sah zur Erden 30 Und sah dir nach mit nassem Blick. 31 Und doch, welch Glück, geliebt zu werden, 32 Und lieben, Götter, welch ein Glück! David Wellbery 1. Narrative structure. The question of the poem's narrative status provides a good starting point both because it leads directly to the central difficulties of the text and because it is the key factor in evaluating the traditional reading, which inevitably focuses on the story level (fabula) of the poem. Indeed, in most cases the interpreters' texts are themselves structured as recountings—intertwined with commentary of various sorts—of the poem's plot.4 To comprehend a narrative a reader must reconstruct the story which is being transmitted through the discourse...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9087
Print ISSN
0734-3329
Pages
pp. 1-41
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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