When Goethe arrived in Rome on the 29th October 1786, a blissful wonder overwhelmed his eyes: he had finally achieved his long-lasting desire to delve himself into the Eternal City, the milestone of his journey across Italy. Goethe lived here one of the most intense experiences of his life that meant a form of rebirth, as also expressed through the passionate verses of his Roman elegies.
Partly written in Rome, the cycle of twenty Römische Elegien, originally entitled Erotica Romana, was firstly published in Germany in 1795 on "Die Horen", the literary journal by Friedrich Schiller.
Speak, ye stones, I entreat! Oh speak, ye palaces lofty!
Utter a word, oh ye streets! Wilt thou not, Genius, awake?
All that thy sacred walls, eternal Rome, hold within them
Teemeth with life; but to me, all is still silent and dead.
Oh, who will whisper unto me,—when shall I see at the casement
That one beauteous form, which, while it scorcheth, revives?
Can I as yet not discern the road, on which I for ever
To her and from her shall go, heeding not time as it flies?
Still do I mark the churches, palaces, ruins, and columns,
As a wise traveller should, would he his journey improve.
Soon all this will be past; and then will there be but one temple,
Amor's temple alone, where the Initiate may go.
Thou art indeed a world, oh Rome; and yet, were Love absent,
Then would the world be no world, then would e'en Rome be no Rome.
(translation by Edgar Alfred Bowring)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Frankfurt am Main, 1749 – Weimar, 1832)