Quotations by Goethe, Johann von


The most original modern authors are not so because they advance what is new, but simply because they know how to put what they have to say, as if it had never been said before.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
“The Poet’s Year,” A Criticism of the Poems of J. H. Voss [tr. Austin]
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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.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(18 September 1823), in P. Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe, 1835-1848 [tr. Oxenford (1850)]
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Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
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To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Life is a quarry, out of which we are to mold and chisel and complete a character.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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If any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)

Used by Bruce Lee, and sometimes attributed to him.
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A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of becoming.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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It is better to be deceived by one’s friends than to deceive them.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Rest not! Life is sweeping by;
Go and dare before you die.
Something mighty and sublime
Leave behind to conquer time.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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If you assign people duties without granting them any rights, you must pay them well.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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One man’s word is no man’s word; we should quietly hear both sides.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Music, in the best sense, does not require novelty; nay, the older it is, and the more we are accustomed to it, the greater its effect.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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We each have only enough strength to complete those assignments that we are fully convinced are important.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Life is the childhood of our immortality.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Correction does much, but encouragement does more.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 4-Aug-07 | Last updated 4-Aug-07
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He who enjoys doing and enjoys what he has done is happy.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 20-Aug-07 | Last updated 20-Aug-07
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Nothing will change the fact that I cannot produce the least thing without absolute solitude.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)

In A. Hock, Reason and Genius, 2.3.1 (1960)
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Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and regression, of evolution and dissolution.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 20-Nov-12 | Last updated 20-Nov-12
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Life is the childhood of our immortality.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
(Attributed)
Added on 5-Dec-12 | Last updated 5-Dec-12
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And I have again observed, my dear friend, in this trifling affair, that misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness. At all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence.

[Und ich habe, mein Lieber, wieder bei diesem kleinen Geschäft gefunden, dass Missverständnisse und Trägheit vielleicht mehr Irrungen in der Welt machen als List und Bosheit. Wenigstens sind die beiden letzteren gewiss seltener.] 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers [The Sorrows of Young Werther], “Letter from May 4th” (1774)

Alt. trans.: "Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent."
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No doubt you are right, my best of friends, there would be far less suffering amongst mankind, if men — and God knows why they are so fashioned — did not employ their imaginations so assiduously in recalling the memory of past sorrow, instead of bearing their present lot with equanimity.

[Gewiss, du hast recht, Bester, der Schmerzen wären minder unter den Menschen, wenn sie nicht – Gott weiss, warum sie so gemacht sind – mit so viel Emsigkeit der Einbildungskraft sich beschäftigten, die Erinnerungen des vergangenen Übels zurückzurufen, eher als eine gleichgültige Gegenwart zu ertragen.] 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers [The Sorrows of Young Werther], “Letter from May 4th” (1774)
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He is dangerous who has nothing to lose.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Die natürliche Tochter, 1.3 (1804)
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If we meet someone who owes us a debt of gratitude, we remember the fact at once. How often we can meet someone to whom we owe a debt of gratitude without thinking of it at all!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Elective Affinities, 2.4 “From Ottilie’s Journal” (1809) [tr. Hollingdale (1971)]
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The words you’ve bandied are sufficient;
‘Tis deeds that I prefer to see.

[Der Worte sind genug gewechselt,
Lasst mich auch endlich Thaten sehn.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Faust, “Vorspiel auf dem Theater,” l.214 (trans. Bayard Taylor) (1808)
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Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast,
And each will wrestle for the mastery there.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Faust, 1, “Outside the City Gate” (1808-1832) [tr. Wayne (1959)]
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For man must strive, and striving he must err.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Faust, 1, “Prologue in Heaven” (1808-1832) [tr. P. Wayne (1959)]
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Where there is much light, the shadows are deepest.

[Wo viel Licht is, ist starker Schatten.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Gotz von Berlichingen, I, 24 (1773)
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Too rigid scruples are concealed pride.

[Zu strenge Ford’rung ist verborgner Stolz.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Iphigenia auf Tauris, Act 4, sc. 4, l. 120 (1787)
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He who is ignorant of foreign languages, knows not his own.

[Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Kunst und Alterthum (1824)
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Nothing is worse than active ignorance.

[Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Maximen und Reflexionen

In Frederick Ungar, ed., Goethe’s World View Presented in His Reflections and Maxims (1963).
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A correct answer is like an affectionate kiss.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Proverbs in Prose (1819)
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There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.

[Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
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Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
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We know accurately only when we know little, with knowledge doubt increases.

[Eigentlich weiss man nur wenn man wenig weiss; mit dem Wissen wachst des Zweifel.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
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There is nothing more fearful than imagination without taste.

[Es ist nichts furchterlicher als Einbildungskraft ohne Geschmack.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose], 3 (1819)
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What government is the best? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.

[Welche Regierung die beste sei? Diejenige, die uns lehrt, uns selbst zu regieren.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose], 3.225 (1819)
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Divide and rule, the politician cries;
Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Sprüche in Prosa (1819)
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Divide and command, a wise maxim;
Unite and guide, a better.

[Entzwei’ und gebiete! Tuchtig Wort,
Verein’ und leite! Bess’rer Hort.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Reimen, l. 516
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Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, #231 [tr. T. Bailey Saunders (1892)]
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Every man hears only what he understands.

goethe-every-man-hears-understands-wist_info-quote

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, #385 [tr. Saunders (1892)]
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Higher aims are in themselves more valuable, even if unfulfilled, than lower ones quite attained.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, #500 [tr. Saunders (1892)]
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Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, 33 [tr. Saunders (1892)]
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What is called fashion is the tradition of the moment.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, 392 [tr. Saunders (1892)]
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The day of fortune is like a harvest day,
We must be busy when the corn is ripe.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Torquato Tasso, 4.4 (1790)
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Talents are best nurtured in solitude; character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Torquato Tasso, Act 1, sc. 2 (1790)
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To a valet no man is a hero.

[Es gibt fur den Kammerdiener keiner Helden.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Wahlverwandtschaften, II, 5, Aus Ottilien’s Tagebuche (1805)
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One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship [Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre] (1796)
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Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
Who never spent the darksome hours
Weeping and watching for the morrow,
He knows ye not, ye gloomy Powers.

To earth, this weary earth, ye bring us,
To guilt ye let us heedless go,
Then leave repentance fierce to wring us:
A moment’s guilt, an age of woe!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 2.13 (1796) [tr. Carlyle (1824)]
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If you have a great work in your head, nothing else thrives near it; all other thoughts are repelled, and the pleasure of life itself is for the time lost.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Comment (18 Feb 1831)

In P. Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe, 1836-1848 [tr. J. Oxenford (1850)]
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It is only necessary to grow old to become more indulgent. I see no fault committed that I have not committed myself.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Fragment
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Quoted in Sarah Austin (trans.), Fragments from German Prose Writers (1841).Alt. trans.: "One may only grow old in order to become gentler; I see no error committed that I could not have committed myself." -- Works (Hamburger Edition [Hamburger Ausgabe]) , 12:542, #1332 [ed. E. Trunz (1948)]
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