Wednesday, October 16, 2013

From the Archives, Halloween Edition: Our Haunted Goethe Statue

To continue the trend of deep, dark Bryant Park leading up to Halloween, Liz Balderston looks at the man who inspired such formative historical figures as Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and Schopenhauer. 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German-born writer and politician whose bust is housed on the south side of Bryant Park facing Le Carrousel. The bronze bust was sculpted in 1832, the year of Goethe’s death, by German sculptor Karl Fischer. The Goethe Club of New York purchased it in 1876 and bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In turn, the museum donated it to Bryant Park in 1932 to mark the centenary of the writer’s death. Goethe was known for using his work to explore the human condition and its effects on an individual’s surroundings. His works, including Faust, are among some of the greatest of the period of Weimar Classicism, a sort of German Renaissance which was spearheaded by Goethe and his contemporary Friedrich Schiller.

If the disembodied head in the park wasn't enough to creep you out for Halloween, dig a little deeper into the poet's work. Much of Goethe’s work is centered on the idea of chance and fate in connection to death, how we are almost tricked into our own demise. His poem “The Death Of The Fly” uses the abbreviated death of the fly as an extended metaphor for the slow, crippling process of death:
“With eagerness he drinks the treach’rous potion./ Nor stops to rest, by the first taste misled;/ Sweet is the draught, but soon all power of motion/ He finds has from his tender members fled…”
Here, Goethe examines mankind’s reckless indulgences, and how they catalyze each individual’s mortality. He goes on to pity the fly by calling him “poor thing” in a pseudo-sincerity while implicitly noting the lack of restraint demonstrated by the fly. “Sweet is the draught” until an end is met:
“E’en in enjoyment’s hour his life he loses/…So on he sips, and ere his draught is o’er/ Death veils his thousand eyes for evermore.”
Similar to “The Death Of The Fly”, Goethe’s poem “The Holy Longing”, which has drastically different undertones than that of self-destruction, still encapsulates his views on morality: “…to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.” We are all just a part of this dark cycle of indulgence and death.

Goethe’s poetry generally contains such dark, looming connotations that are very appropriate for this spooky time of year around the city. Other Goethe poems similar to the aforementioned are “Apparent Death” and “Burial”. Come by and see the bust of the legend himself at Bryant Park.

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