Notes to Poem: Meeting Goethe in Heidelberg
By Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com
Preface: This poem began on November 21, 2007 while noticing yellow ginkgo leaves during my walks.
I knew Goethe had written a poem "Ginkgo Biloba" in Heidelberg and imagined meeting him there.
Goethe had been my spiritual mentor since my freshman days at Columbia. I relate this story
in my Poetry Anthology for Robert Pinsky's Stanford Poetry Workshop (Winter 2007), when I
"Winter Journey in the Harz" (1777).
Also included in the Anthology is Goethe's
Faust which I quoted in the Prologue of my Cornell Ph.D. Thesis
in Chemistry. To write this poem, I consulted books in the Stanford stacks and compiled notes of
Goethe in Heidelberg
and Goethe and Ginkgo to set the mood and historical context.
However, I didn't know how to proceed after writing the first four stanzas.
I read my favorite Goethe books Conversations
and Italian Journey for inspiration. While reading the latter,
I found Dad's clipping from the New York Times (July 24, 1998, B37)
"Lessons in Poetry, Science & History from Age of Goethe" which he had
inserted in the book. I wrote this haiku: "A nice gift from Dad /
placed in my book when he was / 96 years old."
During Finals Week, Stanford Library closes at 2 am. While walking down Palm Drive
around 2:30 am on December 13, 2007 to catch Bus #22 at Palo Alto Train Depot, I imagined
Goethe taking me to the Alchemy Museum in Castle Heidelberg where I had visited in 1976.
Finally I found a linkage between the writing craft and the ancient craft of alchemy.
At 1:55 pm on December 13, 2007 just before boarding Bus #35 at Showers Drive, Mountain View
on my way to Foothill College Computer Lab at Middlefield Road, Palo Alto a bumble bee
flew to my nose, and this haiku came: "The Bumble Bee flew / to my nose. Is that you Dad? /
always in my heart!" It was the 7th anniversary of Dad's
passing on Dec. 13, 2000, 4:32 pm.
When I got to the Computer Lab, I finished writing this poem around 5 pm. Going outside facing
the soccer field, I prayed to the new crescent moon above a streak of light yellow sky. I thanked
Goethe, the ginkgo, and the spirit of my Dad all inspiring me to finish this poem. These notes
are my homage to Goethe who has inspired me in science and poetry.
In a field of yellow
The "field of yellow" refers to the ginkgo leaves scattered under the tree in autumn.
There are ginkgo trees on Ortega Avenue that I pass by on my walk to El Camino
to catch Bus #22 to Stanford. There is also a ginkgo tree in the Stanford Quad
(photo at left) near Barnum Center and the Clock Tower (Escondido Mall) as I walk
to Green Library. Seeing these yellow ginkgo leaves prompted me to write this poem.
Unlike Newton's analysis of color in terms of frequency and wavelength, Goethe's studies
(Farbenlehre, 1810) were based on an artist's observation "At noon, the sun
appears, colorless in its brightness. This changes as the sun begins to set: at first
it turns yellowish, then gold, then finally orange, and even deep red, as it sets on
the horizon... Through the slight resistance of a translucent medium, pure light
is softened to a cheerful sunny yellow, which has a light, expansive quality."
(John Barnes, Goethe & the Power of Rhythm,
Adonis Press, Ghent, NY, 1999, pp. 57-58 [Stanford: PT2049.B37.1999])
I see a man
"Voilà un homme!" ("There's a man!") Emperor Napoleon said emphatically
to Berthier (Marshal of France) and Daru (General of the French Army) after his hour
audience with Goethe at Frau von der Recke's house on October 2, 1808. Talleyrand,
Napoleon's Minister of Foreign Affairs was also present. When told that Goethe was
in his 60th year, Napoleon expressed his surprise at his vital appearance and went on
discussing drama and tragedies in literature. Napoleon told Goethe that he had read
Sorrows of Young Werther seven times, and did a penetrating analysis of the book.
He disapproved Goethe's ending of the novel, and suggested "You ought to write a
tragedy on the death of Caesar in a manner worthy of the subject, more nobly than did
Voltaire. That could be the highest achievement of your life... You should come to Paris!
I definitely want you to do so. There you have a great vision of the world; there you will
find the richest material for your creative work." (Friedrich von Müller' Recollections
of Wartime, Oct. 2, 1808, in Ludwig Lewisohn, Goethe: The Story of A Man, Volume II,
Farrar, Straus & Company, NY, 1949, pp. 160-161 [Stanford: PT2027L4L4.v.2])
a handful of ginkgo leaves
The Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is also known as the
Maidenhair Tree. Fossil records have dated the ginkgo
back to the Pliocene era (5.3-1.8 million years ago).
Chinese monks have tended ginkgo tree in their temples,
cooking ginkgo nuts for food. Ginkgo leaves are unique
among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating
out into the leaf blade, sometimes bifurcating (splitting).
Ginkgos are dioecious, with separate sexes, some trees
being female and others being male. The Ginkgo is one of
the world's most urban-tolerant trees, often growing where
other trees cannot survive. Extracts of Ginkgo leaves
contains flavonoid glycosides and terpenoids (ginkgolides, bilobalides) and have been used
pharmaceutically. Its use as memory and concentration enhancer has not been confirmed.
He sits under the tree, back against its trunk
with eyes closed as if to feel its essence
The Japanese haiku master Basho (1644-1694) wrote in
Kawazu Awase (1686):
"Go to the pine or bamboo if you want to learn about the pine or bamboo. Leave your
ego behind, otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry
comes naturally when you have become one with the object. When you plunge deep into
the object, you'll see a hidden glimmering there. If your feeling is not natural,
if you and the object are separate then even your well phrased poetry is not
true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit." In Conversations with Eckermann
(March 7, 1830), Goethe (age 80) says: I have never affected anything in my poetry.
I have never uttered anything which I have not experienced, and which has not urged me
to write. I have only composed love songs when I have loved. How could I write songs
of hatred without hating!". I imagined Goethe communing with the ginkgo tree, but
was ecstatic in finding this entry in Conversations with Eckermann (June 15, 1828):
A few days after the Grand Duke of Weimar's death, Goethe went to the castle at
Dornburg to escape the melancholy impressions in Weimar. Goethe tells Eckermann:
"I enjoy here, both good days and nights. Often I awake before dawn and sit by
the open window to contemplate the splendor of the three planets which are now
to be seen together, and to refresh my soul by the growing glow of dawn. I then
pass almost the whole day in the open air and hold spiritual communion with
the tendrils of the vine. They say good things to me, and of which I could tell
you wonders. I also write poems again, which are not bad. And if it were
granted me, I should like always to remain in this situation."
He shows me his "Ginkgo Biloba" poem
Goethe sent Marianne von Willemer a Ginkgo-leaf and on September 15, 1815
he read his draft of the poem to her and friends. On September 23, 1815
he saw Marianna for the last time. Then he showed her the Ginkgo tree
in the garden of
from which tree he took the two leaves
pasted on the poem. After that he wrote the poem and sent it to Marianne
on September 27, 1815
(Copy of Goethe's poem).
In the first stanza, Goethe pays homage to the Ginkgo Tree and its leaf from
the East, sayiing "Secret sense for us to savour / And uplifts the one who knows".
Thus those who penetrate the ginkgo's mystery will be enlightened.
(Translation of Goethe's "Ginkgo Biloba" & Notes)
tree from the East and its leaf
symbolize duality in oneness like
our body and soul rooted in the One.
In Spring 1814, Goethe began reading The Divan of Hafiz and was inspired by the Persian
poet. He began writing a cycle of poems which were divided in 12 books from Book of the Singer to
Book of Paradise that became West-Eastern Divan (1819). Goethe's "Ginkgo Biloba" poem
appeared in the 8th book, Book of Suleika which begins with the quatrain: "In the night it seemed
to me / That in my sleep I saw the moon; / When however I woke / Against expectation the sun arose."
Here Goethe invokes the opposites of night & day, moon & sun, sleep & waking.
John Whaley in his introduction of Poems of the West and East writes "Underlying
all is Goethe's hope, as he felt it, to restore through poetry the unity of the two
separated hemispheres of Orient and Occident." Goethe concludes his "Ginkgo Biloba" with
"That I'm one and also two." This duality in oneness is symbolized by Yin & Yang
black & white teardrop halves encircled by the circle of Tao. We find it expressed in the
Bhagavad Gita (circa 500 B.C.) when Krishna informs Arjuna in Chapter 13: "This body,
Arjuna, is called the field. He who knows this is called the knower of the field" (13.1)
"But the Spirit Supreme in man is beyond fate. He watches, gives blessings, bears all,
feels all. He is called the Lord Supreme and the Supreme Soul." (13.22) "When a man
sees that the infinity of various beings is abiding in the One, and emerges from the One,
then he becomes one with Brahman." (13.30) [Above
translation by Juan Mascaro.
Translation by Swami Sivananda.] These metaphysical ideas are also prevalent in Hafiz's poetry
so Goethe recognized them at once upon seeing the ginkgo leaf and composed his poem.
(See my poem "On the Nature of the One"
and quotes from Plato and Plotinus.)
I ask him about the craft of writing
Goethe discusses the art of writing often in Conversations with Eckermann.
(Sept. 18, 1823): "It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal;
each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise... The world is so great and
rich, and life so full of variety, that you can never want occasions for poems.
But they must all be occasional poems; that is to say, reality must give both
impulse and material for their production. A particular case becomes universal
and poetic by the very circumstance that it is treated by a poet. All my poems
are occasional poems, suggested by real llife, and having therein a firm foundation.
I attach no value to poems snatched out of the air... Reality must give the motive,
the points to be expressed, the kernel, as I may say; but to work out of it a
beautiful, animated whole, belongs to the poet... A great work requires many-sidedness,
and on that rock the young author splits." (April 20, 1825): "The poet should
strive after manifold knowledge, for his subject is the whole world, which he
has to handle and to express. However the poet should not try to be a painter,
but content himself with reflecting the world in words, just as he allows the
actor to bring it before our eyes by personally exhibiting himself... The objectivity
of my poetry may be attributed to this great attention and discipline of the eye.
I ought highly to prize the knowledge which I have attained in this way."
Image: Egyptian drawing of 21st Dynasty (c. 1000 BC) from the papyrus
of Nestanebanshru showing Thoth (Tehuti) standing before Ra Hormachis
wearing symbols of creation on his head. Throughout the history of alchemy
Thoth was regarded as Hermes Trismegistus.
The Emerald Tablet is
attributed to Hermes or Thoth, who is the wisdom of God personified as a
being with the poetic symbol of an ibis head. The spirit of poetic symbolism
is also a root of alchemical methods of expression. Thoth has been likened
to Plato's Logos. Thoth is involved in teaching writing and science to man.
C.A. Burland, The Arts of the Alchemists,
Macmillian Company, New York, 1967, p. 7
Goethe in Heidelberg
Goethe went to Heidelberg for the first time in 1775 (age 26) according to his autobiography
Dichtung und Wahrheit (History
of Heidelberg, 1100-1900). His next visit to Heidelberg was in August 25-27, 1797 (age 48)
when he bid his mother farewell in Frankfurt at 7 am on August 25, arriving in Heidelberg
at 9:30 pm. In this journey he viewed panoramas of blue hills and then the purple
evening night. Thus the 9th line in my poem "he opens his eyes to the deep blue sky".
On Aug. 26, Goethe walked the footpath along the right bank of the Neckar in brilliant sunshine.
He also visited the old ruined Castle (Goethe & Heidelberg).
Goethe's last visits to Heidelberg were in 1814-1815 (age 66) with the Boisseree brothers and
with Marianne Willemer when he wrote his Ginkgo Biloba poem.
Image: Postcard of Neckar River from Philosopher's Walk with Castle Heidelberg in the distance.
Alchemy Museum in the Heidelberg Castle
Goethe wrote his "Ginkgo Biloba" poem inspired by the Ginkgo tree in the garden
of Heidelberg Castle.
When I presented my paper "Computerized Prediction of Protein Conformation" at the 10th International
Congress of Biochemistry in Hamburg, Germany (July 25-31, 1976), I visited Heidelberg for its famous
University and the scenic
Neckar River. When I went to Heidelberg City Hall,
the guide at the desk told
me about the Alchemy Museum
in Castle Heidelberg. I went there at once as part of my spiritual quest,
and was rewarded by my visit. At the time, I didn't know that Goethe had written his "Ginkgo Biloba"
poem there, so I could have paid my tribute to the ginkgo tree and taken a photograph of it.
I'd meditate in the garden grounds where Goethe walked and drew his inspiration.
I imagined Goethe taking me to the Alchemy Museum because he was fascinated by alchemy
in his youth. During his illness in 1768-69, the 19 year-old Goethe began reading alchemical texts
as well conducting alchemical experiments. I recall reading Goethe's Autobiography while at
Cornell, how he hid from Herder his alchemical studies: "But, most of all, I concealed from Herder
my mystico-cabalistical chemistry, and everything relating to it; although at the same time, I was
still very fond of secretly busying myself in working it out more consistently than it had been
communicated to me." I can't find my copy of Goethe's Autobiography now, but found a similar
copy in the Stanford stacks (PT2027.A8O8) just 33 paces from my computer desk at Green Library.
Image: Postcard from Deutsches Apotheken-Museum in Heidelberg Castle (Room 10)
a unicorn's horn hanging near the ceiling
There were a lot of chemical flasks, retorts, bottles, and all kinds
of alchemical memorabilia in the Alchemy Museum. However, I was awed by a unicorn's
horn mounted by two ropes hanging near the ceiling. I had read about the unicorn's
legend, visited the "Unicorn Tapetries" at the
Cloister's Museum in New York
(also Cluny Museum in Paris, 1979).
In 551 BC, Confucius' pregnant mother met a Unicorn in the woods. It gave her
a small piece of jade and placed its head in her lap. She realized the importance
of the event and knew it was a good omen from the gods. When someone brought
an unknown beast the
Chi-lin to Confucius in his old age
for identification, he sighed: "My time has come. Heaven is calling me home!"
Image: Lady with Unicorn (15th century), Köln, Schnütgen-Museum
"It's not the mythical creature" Goethe
assures me, "just a tusk from a narwhale."
narwhale (Monodon monoceros)
swim solely in the
Arctic waters. It is rarely found south of latitude 70o N.
The name Narwhal means "corpse whale" because it
often swims belly up, laying motionless for several
minutes. Narwhals usually take their time going places,
slowly breathing and rolling, but when chased, they are remarkably quick.
Goethe the scientist
I don't know whether Goethe has ever seen a narwhale or visited the Alchemy Museum
in Heidelberg. However, Goethe's did scientific investigations all his life in
addition to his voluminous writings of poetry and drama. At the invitation of Carl August,
Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1775, Goethe went to live in Weimar where
he held a succession of political offices, becoming the Duke's chief adviser.
At first it was in Theatre and Drama, then in Meteorology, and later Bureau of
the Mines. With his focus on morphology he influenced Darwin. Goethe's studies led him
to independently discover the human intermaxillary bone in 1784, which Broussonet (1779)
and Vicq d'Azyr (1780) had identified several years earlier. In 1790, Goethe published
his Metamorphosis of Plants. In 1810, Goethe published his Theory of Colours.
After being translated into English by Charles Eastlake in 1840, this theory became
widely adopted by the art world, most notably J. M. W. Turner. It also inspired the
philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, to write his Remarks on Colour. When MIT Press
published Goethe's Theory of Colours (March 15, 1970), I bought a paperback edition
from Anthony's bookshop in Ithaca. Edwin Land, the CEO of Polaroid
was giving a talk at Cornell on "Color" (Spring 1970), so I brought my Goethe book
to his lecture. I asked Land that since it was a translation from Goethe's 1810 book,
how relevant is the information 160 years later. Dr. Land told me "You were wise to
buy Goethe's book. I've learned so much from his insights." Since Edwin Land, the
inventor of the Polaroid Camera has the second highest number of patents (535) after
Thomas Edison (1097), I trust his scientific judgment, and deepened my love for Goethe.
Two books on Goethe as scientists: Goethe on Nature & on Science by Sir Charles Sherrington,
Cambridge University Press, 1942 (832.62.DS552) and Goethe the Scientist by Rudolf Steiner,
Anthroposophic Press, NY, 1950 (PT2206.S712).
painting of Christ the Alchemist
During my visit to the Alchemy Museum at Heidelberg Castle, I was surprised
to see an oil painting titled Christ the Alchemist by Gregor III from
Salzburg-Steiermark (circa 1740). It showed Christ pointing to his heart. I stood in front
of the painting and meditated on how Christ has transformed so many people
through his teachings in the Gospels such as his Sermon on the Mount.
In Edward F. Edinger's The Mysterium Lectures (1995), we find notes on
Christ's life compared to the alchemical process: "Christ went through the worm
experience of humiliation in the process of death and rebirth of the God-image.
According to the alchemical symbolism these images pertain to Mercurius. Jung
discusses at length in Psychology and Alchemy, the whole theme of the
alchemists' parallel of the Philosophers' Stone to Christ. In Waite's Hermetic Museum,
an alchemist describes the transformation process going on in the alchemical flask in
terms of the Passion of Christ." (Edinger, pp. 213-214).
Image: This painting shows Christ's heart as an alchemical furnace.
It was found with my postcards from Heidelberg's Alchemy Museum. Inscription on the back:
Wien, Stephansdom / Herz Jesu, 18 Jh. indicates that this is an
18th century painting from Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral. No artist is mentioned
so it may not be by Gregor III mentioned in the 6-page brochure "Guidebook to the
German Pharmacy Museum in the Heidelberg Castle".
Goethe's views on Christ and God
In Conversations with Eckermann (March 11, 1832), Goethe, now 82.5 years old and 11 days
before his death, spoke for an hour with Eckermann on the Bible: "I look upon all the four
Gospels as thoroughly genuine; for there is in them the reflection of a greatness which
emanated from the person of Jesus, and which was of as divine a kind as wever was seen
upon earth. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to pay Him devout reverence, I say
certainly! I bow before Him as the divine manifestation of the highest principle of morality.
If I as asked whether it is in my nature to revere the Sun, I again say certainly!
For he is likewise a manifestation of the highest Being, and indeed the most powerful
which we children of earth are allowed to behold. I adore in him the light and the
productive power of God; by which we all live, move, and have our being we, and
all the plants and animals with us. But if I am asked whether I am inclined to bow
before a thumb bone of the apostle Peter or Paul, I say 'Spare me, and stand off
with your absurdities!'... for as soon as the pure doctrine and love of Christ are
comprehended in their true nature, and have become a vital principle, we shall feel
ourselves as human beings, great and free, and not attach especial importance to a
degree more or less in the outward forms of religion. Besides, we shall all gradually
advance from a Christianity of words and faith, to a Christianity of feeling and action...
God did not retire to rest after the well-known six days of creation, but, on the contrary,
is constantly active as on the first. It would have been for Him a poor occupation to
compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams
from year to year, if He had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits
upon this material basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the
lower one." Goethe was silent. But I cherished his great and good words in my heart.
water to wine and feed five thousand
The story of Christ changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana
Trained as a chemist, I was skeptical at this miracle, since water H2O has no carbon atom that is
in ethanol C2H5OH. Then I realized that my vision was limited, imagining a bowl of alphabet soup
with the letter H and O swimming around, but no letter C. Since there is carbon dioxide CO2
in the air, Christ could combine 2 molecules of carbon dioxide with 3 molecules of water:
2CO2 + 3H2O = C2H5OH + 3O2
This little chemistry exercise satisfied my curiosity that such miracle is possible.
Although the equation is stoichiometrically correct, it's not how
ethanol is produced.
The story of Christ feeding 5000 from only five barley loaves of bread and two small
fishes is from John 6.9-14
(also Matthew 14.19-21,
This is still a mystery to me, although Christ could have conjured up some
as Moses did in feeding the Israelites
Such supernatural powers
are beyond our human ken, but in the realm of the spirit, all things are possible. So keeping
an open mind will help us understand some of the miracles of the yogis, magis, and sages.
transmuting lead into gold
The following remark in Conversations with Eckermann (December 6, 1829) was made by Goethe (age 80):
"I am like one who in his youth has a great deal of small silver and copper money, which in the course
of his life he constantly changes for the better, so that at last the property of his youth stands before
him in pieces of pure gold." Goethe's life was one of constant transformation. In his Italian Journey,
he writes (Rome, Dec. 2, 1786; age 37): "Nothing is comparable to the new life that a reflective person
experiences when he observes a new country. Though I am still always myself, I believe I have been
changed to the very marrow of my bones." In Conversations with Eckermann (Jan. 12, 1827; age 77),
Goethe says, "These songs in the "Divan" have no further connection with me. Both the oriental and
impassioned elements have ceased to live in me. I have left them behind, like a cast-off snake skin
on my path." (Note: Goethe's birth year 1749 corresponds to the Chinese Year of the Snake.
The serpent image is a predominant symbol in alchemy associated with the caduceus of Hermes).
When Goethe was intensely involved with alchemy in 1768-69, he was particularly
attracted by Aurea catena Homeri (1723), a three-volume book by Kirchweger,
an Austrian doctor. It gave a detailed description of the cycle of nature as an
eternal outflow and return of the world spirit. As dew or rain it reaches the earth,
where it condenses into solid male saltpetre and fluid female sal alkali. These
two produce acidic alkaline salt. This book inspired Goethe to write verses:
"As all things weave into a whole / one in the other works and lives! /
As the powers of heaven rise and fall / and give each other the golden pail"
(Faust), but also stimulated his own laboratory work.
In Dichtung und Wahrheit, he wrote that these experiments required
alkalis "which when they disperse in the air, connect with superterrestrial
things and are supposed to produce a mysterious, median salt."
(See my poem relating to alchemy
"The Study of Transformation")
(A.J. Kirchweger, Annulus Platonis (Aurea catena Homeri), 1781).
Alchemy & Mysticism,
Taschen, Köln, 1997, p. 320
papers from trees born of Mother Earth
and Father Sun. Such gift of grace
should be returned each time you write
All trees are anchored in Mother Earth, but derive their germination and nourishment from Father Sun,
whose sunlight create photosynthesis
in plants. During his stay in Italy (1786-88), Goethe spent much time visiting gardens and
vineyards for botanical studies. In his letter to Herder (Naples, May 17, 1787),
Goethe writes "I must tell you that I am very close to the secret of the reproduction and organization of plants, and that it is the
simplest thing imaginable... The Primal Plant is going to be the strangest creature in the world, which
Nature herself shall envy me." In his second visit to Rome, Goethe notes (July 31, 1787): "While walking
in the Public Gardens of Palermo, it came to me in a flash that in the organ of the plant which we are
accustomed to call the "leaf" lies the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal
forms. From first to last, the plant is nothing but leaf, which is so inseparable from the future germ
that one cannot think of one without the other." Goethe originated the
study of plant morphology (1790).
Because Goethe's research in trees, plants, and flowers, I imagined him telling me to pay homage
to the trees since they provide us with the paper in which we write as well as read in books.
Image: "That which comes from the tree of knowledge" the Zohar has it,
"bears duality within itself". The fruits of love and anger, of light
and darkness, of eternity and time. Although Adam decided in favour
of the dark fruit of mortality, he has the freedom to choose, for
the world of elements consists of both root-forces, of the light
and the dark. The 7 hands are Böhme's "source spirits",
the lower aspects of the Sephiroth tree. The central sun is
Böhme's dividing fire, and corresponds to the Sephira
Tiphereth, identified by the Christian interpreters of the
Cabbala with Christ as the "heart of heaven".
(V. Weigel, Studium universale, Frankfurt, 1698).
Alexander Roob, Alchemy & Mysticism,
Taschen, Köln, 1997, p. 320
Tree of Life took on a new meaning
When Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge
in the Garden of Eden: "And the eyes of them both were opened,
and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves
together, and made themselves aprons."
This awakening symbolizes man's development of the intellect,
"knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3.5),
for homo sapiens are
no longer running around like animals. But the Tree of Life is even
more potent "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become
as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his
hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden,
to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out
the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden
Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way,
to keep the way of the tree of life."
What is this Tree of Life that makes us immortal like God?
It is Cosmic Consciousness, Christ Consciousness, Buddha Mind our true infinite eternal spiritual self
which the human ego is ignorant. The Tree of Life may be represented by the
in Cabala. The Sephiroth are the ten, primal numbers which, in combination with the 22 letters of the
Hebrew alphabet, represent the plan of creation of all upper and lower things. They are the ten names,
attributes of powers of God, and form a pulsating organism called the "mystical face of God" or the
"body of the universe". The central pillar forms the spine through which the divine dew flows down from
#1 Kether (Crown) to #10 Malkuth (Kingdom) bringing blessings of heaven to the material world.
Image: This depiction of the Sephiroth tree is indebted to the Opus Magnum.
The dissolving and binding powers sit opposite one another on the branches:
on the bottom left is volatile Mercury with the winged shoes, and to his
right is the firre-spitting Sulphur. Above them, diagonally reversed, are
their forms in a sublimated and crowned state. On the top level, the third
Work, the two unite as the lunar tincture. From this there finally emerges
the solid sulphur, son of the sun. He wears the crowns of three
realms, vegetable, animal, and mineral.
(J.D. Mylius, Anatomia auri, Frankfurt, 1628).
Alexander Roob, Alchemy & Mysticism,
Taschen, Köln, 1997, pp. 304, 310
instilling in me to write
The word instill is from the French instillare: stillare to drip, stilla drop.
meaning to cause to enter drop by drop and to impart gradually. It is similar to the word distill
meaning to transform by distillation and to extract the essence of, to concentrate (alchemical process).
In Goethe's poem "Wandrers Nachtlied II"
("Wayfarer's Night Song II") composed on September 6, 1780
Over all the hill-tops
it is still
In all the tree-tops
you can hardly feel
a breath stirring.
Little birds are silent in the woods.
Wait! soon you too
will be still.
The word still (ruh) appears twice in the poem suggesting a mind of peace
and stillness is essential if we wish to write or compose something inspirational.
returning light for light
Since Father Sun has nourished trees with sunlight and photosynthesis and provided us with the
gift of warmth and light, the poet in using paper from trees to write should return the gift
of wisdom in his writings. This is the alchemical transformation of material light to spiritual light.
After finishing this poem, I searched some sacred writings for lines containing two lights:
"God said, Let there be light: and there was light." (Genesis I.3)
"For with thee is the fountain of life:
in thy light shall we see light." (Psalms 36.9)
"That was the true Light, which lights every man
that comes into the world." (John 1.9)
"While you have light, believe in the light, that you
may be the children of light." (John 12.36)
"Whoever sees that Light is soon made such /
that it would be impossible for him /
to set that Light aside for other sight"
This insight came to me as I was completing these notes Goethe's life was a journey from light to light.
Goethe's Autobiography began with "My horoscope was propitious: the sun stood in the sign of the Virgin,
and had culminated for the day." Goethe's last words (March 22, 1832) were: "Light! More light!"
Photo: Purisma Creek Redwoods Preserve: Giant redwood on Harkins Ridge Trail (7-4-2007)
Haiku: O giant redwood tree! / Sentinel of this forest / Bless this earth with peace.