(Poet's title: Hoffnung)
Set by Schubert:
[March 1820 at the earliest]
Schaff das Tagwerk meiner Hände,
Hohes Glück, dass ich’s vollende.
Lass, o lass mich nicht ermatten!
Nein, es sind nicht leere Träume,
Jetzt nur Stangen, diese Bäume
Geben einst noch Frucht und Schatten.
The day’s work of my hands – may
I have the good fortune to complete it.
Do not, oh do not let me become exhausted,
No, they are not empty dreams:
These trees, which at the moment are mere sticks,
Will at some point provide fruit and shade.
All translations into English that appear on this website, unless otherwise stated, are by Malcolm Wren. You are free to use them on condition that you acknowledge Malcolm Wren as the translator and schubertsong.uk as the source. Unless otherwise stated, the comments and essays that appear after the texts and translations are by Malcolm Wren and are © Copyright.
In May 1776 Goethe moved into a country cottage by the river Ilm (outside Weimar), given him by Duke Carl August.
In the garden itself there was time in the autumn of 1776, after all the work on the house, only to plant some lime-trees. In the planting seasons of the following year, however, oaks and beeches were added together with spruce, juniper, and Weymouth pines specially ordered from Frankfurt.(Nicholas Boyle, Goethe. The Poet and the Age Vol. 1 OUP 1991 page 285)
On 8 November 1777 Goethe wrote to Charlotte von Stein about the arrival of 30 new trees, including cherry trees and a few good fruit trees (presumably the cherry trees were just the flowering variety). He commented on the work needed to protect the young trees from hares (using sharp thorns) and how the lime trees he had planted the previous year needed drastic pruning if they are not to ‘die from the top down’, which means that for their first year they have to stand there ‘like sticks’ (wie Stangen).
In ‘Hoffnung’ these bare saplings, seemingly no more than sticks or rods, stand for hope in general. It does not seem to be about hope in any religious sense, since the speaker is not putting his trust in a benevolent god who will provide, irrespective of our merits. Rather the speaker is trying to reinforce his own intrinisic motivation, telling himself that the work is worth doing. We have to trust that our work today will be of benefit in the future; where there is now risk and dearth there will later be protection and food. We cannot allow ourselves to think that such hopes for the future are ’empty dreams’ (as so many critics of ‘improvement projects’ are ever ready to claim); we cannot allow ourselves to become worn out or to stop planting and planning for a better future.
Original Spelling Hoffnung Schaff', das Tagwerk meiner Hände, Hohes Glück, daß ich's vollende! Laß, o laß mich nicht ermatten! Nein, es sind nicht leere Träume: Jetzt nur Stangen, diese Bäume Geben einst noch Frucht und Schatten.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Goethe’s sämmtliche Schriften. Siebenter Band. / Gedichte von Goethe. Erster Theil. Lyrische Gedichte. Wien, 1810. Verlegt bey Anton Strauß. In Commission bey Geistinger, page 91; with Goethe’s Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand, Erster Band, Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cotta’schen Buchhandlung, 1827, page 113; and with Goethe’s Schriften, Achter Band, Leipzig, bey Georg Joachim Göschen, 1789, page 160.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 91 [105 von 418] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ163965701