895. The Limits of Man, by J.W. von Goethe

When the All-holy
Father Eternal,
With indifferent hand,
From clouds rolling o'er us,
Sows his benignant
Lightnings around us,
Humbly I kiss the
Hem of his garment,
Filled with the awe of
A true-hearted child.

For with Gods must
Never a mortal
Measure himself.
If he mounts upwards,
Till his head
Touch the star-spangled heavens,
His unstable feet
Feel no ground beneath them;
Winds and wild storm-clouds
Make him their plaything;—

Or if, with sturdy,
Firm-jointed bones, he
Treads the solid, unwavering
Floor of the earth; yet
Reaches he not
Commonest oaks, nor
E'en with the vine may
Measure his greatness.

What doth distinguish
Gods from us mortals?
That they before them
See waves without number,
One infinite stream;
But we, short-sighted,
One wavelet uplifts us,
One wavelet o'erwhelms us
In fathomless night.

A little ring
Encircles our life here;
And race after race are
Constantly added,
To lengthen the chain
Of Being forever.

(trans John S. Dwight)

Source: The Goethe Treasury: Selected Prose and Poetry

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