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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749 – March 22, 1832 CE) was a German writer and poet with a keen interest in literature, theology, philosophy, humanism and science. He is particularly known for Faust, a tragic play considered by many to be one of the greatest works of German literature. He is less well known for his work, the West-Eastern Divan, a collection of poems inspired by the Persian poet Hafez, or his interest in Persia and Zoroastrianism.

(This lyrical poem is part of Goethe's West-Eastern Divan written between 1814 and 1819 CE and described in the notes at page end.)

The Bequest of the Ancient Persian Faith

Hafez beckons
Hafez beckons

BRETHREN, what bequest to you should come
From the lowly poor man, going home,
Whom ye younger ones with patience tended,
Whose last days ye honour’d and defended?

When we oft have seen the monarch ride,
Gold upon him, gold on ev’ry side;
Jewels on him, on his courtiers all,
Thickly strew’d as hailstones when they fall,

Have ye e’er known envy at the sight?
And not felt your gaze become more bright,
When the sun was, on the wings of morning,
Darnawend’s unnumber’d peaks adorning,

As he, bow-like, rose? How each eye dwelt
On the glorious scene! I felt, I felt,
Thousand times, as life’s days fleeted by,
Borne with him, the coming one, on high.

God upon His throne then to proclaim,
Him, the life-fount’s mighty Lord, to name,
Worthily to prize that glorious sight,
And to wander on beneath His light.

When the fiery orb was all defin’d,
There I stood, as though in darkness, blind,
Beat my breast, my quicken’d members threw
On the earth, brow foremost, at the view.

Let this holy, great bequest reward
Brotherly good-will and kind regard:
Solemn Duty’s daily observation.—
More than this, it needs no revelation.

If its gentle hands a new-born one
Move, then straightway turn it tow’rd the sun—
Soul and body dip in bath of fire!
Then each morning’s favor ’twill acquire.

To the living one commit the dead,
O’er the beast let earth and dust be spread,
And, so far as may extend your might,
What ye deem impure conceal from sight.

Till your plains to graceful purity,
That the sun with joy your labors see;
When ye plant, your trees in rows contrive,
For he makes the Regular to thrive.

E’en the floods that through the channel rush
Must not fail in fullness or in gush;
And as Senderud, from mountain high,
Rises pure, in pureness must it die.

Not to weaken water’s gentle fall,
Carefully cleanse out the channels all;
Salamander, snake, and rush, and reed,—
All destroy,—each monster and each weed.

If thus pure ye earth and water keep,
Through the air the sun will gladly peep,
Where he, worthily enshrin’d in space,
Worketh life, to life gives holy grace.

Ye, by toil on toil so sorely tried,
Comfort take, the All is purified;
And now man, as priest, may boldly dare
From the stone God’s image to prepare.

When the flame burns joyously and bright,
Limbs are supple, radiant is the night;
On the hearth when fire with ardor glows,
Ripe the sap of plants and creatures grows.

Dragging wood, with rapture be it done,
’Tis the seed of many an earthly sun;
Plucking Pambeh, gladly may ye say:—
This, as wick, the Holy will convey.

If ye meekly, in each burning lamp,
See the nobler light’s resplendent stamp,
Ne’er will Fate prevent you, void of feeling,
At God’s throne at morningtide from kneeling.

This is Being’s mighty signet, then,
God’s pure glass to angels and to men;
Each word lisp’d the Highest’s praise to sound.
Ring in ring, united there is found;

From the shore of Senderud ascendeth,
Up to Darnawend its pinions bendeth,
As he dawns, with joy to greet his light,
You with endless blessings to requite.

Ferdowsi Speaks

O world, with what baseness and guilt thou art rife!
Thou nurturest, trainest, and killest the while.
He only whom God doth bless with his smile
Is train’d and is nurtur’d with riches and life.

What then is wealth? A sun that is warming.
The beggar enjoys it as we find our joyance;
So let not the opulent find annoyance
In a joy, the beggar’s property forming.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's West-östlicher Diwan or West-Eastern Divan is a diwan / divan, or collection of lyrical poems inspired by the Persian poet Hafez (c. 1320-90 CE). The collection was written between 1814 and 1819, and published the year Goethe finished writing the first edition.

Consisting of twelve 'namehs' (Persian for letters or books), the Divan was part of Goethe's late work and the last great cycle of poetry he worked on. The twelve namehs consist of parables, historical allusions, pieces of invective, politically or religiously inclined poetry. Through his work, Goethe sought to bring together the East and West - the Orient and Occident - by stimulating an exchange of ideas expressed through poetry.

In the spring of 1814, Goethe received two volumes of a translation of Hafez's Divan by the Austrian Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) and writen in German. Goethe developed an immediate interest and was inspired to start writing his own Divan. The inspiration Hafez provided Goethe was so strong, that in some of his poems Goethe called him the meister or master. Goethe's acknowledgement of the inspiration provided by Hafez in turn helped to increase the interest in the translated works of Hafez, and as a consequence, the poetry of Hafez was read extensively in the west.

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