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This report is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

Tell Me About Your Work Idris Parry
Five days before his death in 1832 Goethe wrote to his friend Wilhelm von Humboldt, Prussian statesman and founder of the University of Berlin, brother of the explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. This was an answer to an inquiry from von Humboldt about a passage in an earlier letter. Goethe had written, on 1 December 1831:


About my Faust there's a lot and little to be said. Just at the right moment I remembered the dictum: 'If you say you are poets, then take command of poetry.' Through a mysterious psychological development (which perhaps deserved closer study) I think I lifted myself to a level of production which created in a condition of complete consciousness material which still meets with my approval, without perhaps ever being able to swim in this river again, indeed what Aristotle and other writers would ascribe to a kind of madness.


Von Humboldt enclosed part of this letter when he next wrote to Goethe early in January 1832. 'Just try to recall,' he said, 'since I find this section obscure, if that kind of completely conscious production was always at your command or whether you see this as developing only at a specific time.' Goethe dictated this reply:


Weimar 17 March 1832
After a long and involuntary delay I begin as follows - but only off the cuff, so to speak. Animals are taught by their organs, say the ancients; I add ...


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