West-Eastern Divan

Goethe and Hafiz in Dialogue
  • Fred Dallmayr
Part of the Culture and Religion in International Relations book series (CRIR)


Even in this awkward translation, readers of these lines can still detect the hand of one of the great literary geniuses of the Western world: Johann Wolfgang Goethe. What many readers will not readily perceive, however, is the fact that the lines are a variation of Qur’anic verses, more specifically of these verses of the second Sura: “To God belongs the rising and the setting of the suns, and wherever you may turn, you find God’s face.”1 Slightly varying the Qur’anic words, Goethe extends the scope of God’s “face” from East and West to North and South—a rephrasing that is likely to resonate strongly with contemporary readers living in (what is often called) the “age of globalization.” Still, what may startle or disorient the same contemporary readers is the deep religiosity reflected in Goethe’s lines, a religiosity bordering on religious “surrender” (which is the literal meaning of Islam). Clearly such religiosity concurs ill with the popular image of Goethe as a self-possessed Olympian patterning his life on pagan-Greek models; it also agrees poorly with his image as a fellow-traveler of modern enlightenment or enlightened modernity—especially in view of the fact that the latter is often identified summarily with such ailments as logocentrism, egocentrism, and Eurocentrism.


Literal Meaning Islamic Tradition Contemporary Reader Islamic Faith Islamic Religion 
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  1. 3.
    Johann Gottfried Herder, Ideen zur Philosophy einer Geschichte der Menschheit, in Herders Sämtliche Werke, ed. Bernhard Suphan, vol. 19 (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1880), pp. 425–438. As one should add, Herder was not the only one in the German context to advance a more sympathetic appraisal of Islam (countering its longstanding vilification). His efforts were preceded and complemented by some writings of Leibniz and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Al-Qur’an, p. 267, Sura 20, Verses 25–27. See also Katharina Mommsen, Goethe und der Islam (Stuttgart: Goethe Gesellschaft, 1964), pp. 7–8; Goethe und die arabische Welt (Frankfurt-Main: Insel, 1988), pp. 167, 171–172. According to Mommsen (p. 171), the main Islamic teachings attractive to Goethe were these: the idea of the unity of God; the conviction of God’s manifestness in nature; the notion that God has spoken to humankind through different messengers; the rejection of miracles; and the need of religiosity to be tested through good deeds.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Karl Otto Conrady, Goethe: Leben und Werk, vol. 2 (Königstein: Athenäum Verlag, 1985), p. 401.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    Goethes West-Östlicher Divan, pp. 18, 67, 167–168, 199. For a close reading of the cited poems see Edgar Lohner, “Hatem und Suleika: Kunst und Kommunikation,” in Lohner, ed., Interpretationen zum West-Östlichen Divan Goethes (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1973), pp. 277–304, esp. pp. 285–289.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Goethes West-Östlicher Divan, pp. 39, 184–185. Compare also George Sebba, “Goethe on Human Creativeness,” in Rolf King, ed., Goethe on Human Creativeness and Other Goethe Essays (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1950), pp. 105–178.Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit: Ein Versuch zur Orientierung (Würzburg: Werkbund, 1950), pp. 60–61. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  7. José Ortega y Gasset, Triptico: Mirabeau, o El politico; Kant; Goethe desde den-tro (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1964).Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    Goethes Werke, ed. E. Trutz (Hamburg: Wegener, 1956), vol. 1, p. 212; cited by Conrady Goethe: Leben und Werk, vol. 2, p. 118. For the poem by Arndt see Monika Lemmel, Poetologie in Goethes West-Östlichem Divan (Heidelberg: Carl Winter-Universitätsverlag, 1987), p. 25—a book that cites many other examples of such “patriotic” literature. As Lemmel writes persuasively: “That Goethe’s commitment is to peace, and not to war, is as self-evident in the Divan as planing is for the carpenter or casting nets for the fisher. Moreover, it befits the nature of the poet and the nature of poetry.… The entire Divan is opposed to war, hatred, separation, [heroes’] death, and deals rather of unlimited life and love.… To the sacrificial exuberance [of patriotic poetry] stands in contrast the cheerfulness, lightness, and life-affirmation of the Divan” (pp. 19, 29–30). This judgment must be qualified somewhat, of course, in light of the poem “Selige Sehnsucht.”Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    See Manfred Eickhölter, Die Lehre vom Dichter in Goethes Divan (Hamburg: Buske Verlag, 1984), p. 154. Eickhölter quotes Sir Percey Sykes, A History of Persia, vol. 2 (London: Macmillan, 1921), p. 125. According to Sykes, Timur confronted Hafiz complaining: “I have subdued with the sword the greater part of the earth, I have depopulated avast number of cities and provinces in order to increase the glory and wealth of Samarkand and Bokhara, the ordinary places of my residence and the seat of my empire; yet you, an insignificant individual, has pretended to give away both Samarkand and Bokhara as the price of a little black mole setting off the features of a pretty face.” For Hafiz’s poem see The Poems of Hafez, p. 2.Google Scholar

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© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

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  • Fred Dallmayr

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