from Metamorphosis of the Plant

J W Goethe

1. All of the forms have a likeness yet none quite resembles another.

Thus is a hidden law revealed from a view of the whole.

Closely observe how the plant little by little progressing

Step by step guided on changes to blossom and fruit.

2. First from the seed it unravels itself as soon as the silent

Fruit bearing womb of the earth gives way to let it emerge;

And, to the weave of the light’s eternal varying motion

Offers the delicate leaves that the plant now begins to unfold.

See, how the root leaf and seed still void of colour and shapeless

Upwards seek now to strive trusting mild vaporous air.

3. Yet ever simple remains the first form once it’s engendered

Soon a new leaf surges forth arising as out of the last.

Spiralling node upon node all repeat the original pattern

Yet are not wholly alike; each following leaf that emerges

Generates always anew and appears in more intricate form.

Longer, indented in points and, in its parts more divided.

4. Nature proceeds now to reign and subdues her expansive array,

Seeking for gentler refinements and growth to more perfect an end

Soon the sprouting of leaf upon leaf is checked and contracted

So that the rib of the stalk becomes all the fuller in form.

Ranged in a circle, in numbers that first appear few and then countless

Gather the smaller-sized leaves close to the sides of their like.

Round the new axis compressed the sheltering calyx arises;

And as to fashion the crown brilliant-hued coronets form.

See how the many hued leaf has felt its creator’s own hand?

5. Figures are swift to appear now the tenderest yet to emerge

Twofold at first they unite as destined ones meeting to ripen

Lovingly stand they in beautiful pairs and bounteous union,

Gathered in countless array there where the altar is raised.

6. Presently paralleled out are numberless seeds to be swelling

Sweetly concealed in the womb where is made perfect the fruit

Thus in a circle does nature enclose the ring of her forces

Now shall a new plant come forth to follow the one gone before.

Translated by Katherine Rudolph