Sunday, February 7, 2010

Goethe's Poem

So I came across this poem from Goethe - he's like the German's Shakespeare but he is more philosophical and less flowery maybe than Bill. The poem is about teachers and students, and more generally the futility of certainty, and the persistence of change. I guess the poem was especially relevant after talking to Tessa about her English teacher, and how he wants the students to "get" his ideas about the story they are reading, and if the student's move the idea off his line of thinking he cuts them off, and steers the discussion back onto his line of thinking.

Here is Goethe's poem in german:

"Was Gutes zu denken, waere gut,
faend sich nur immer das gleiche Blut;
Dein Gutgedachtes in fremden Adern,
Wird so gleich mit dir selber hadern.

Ich waere noch gern ein taetig Mann,
Will aber ruhn;
Denn ich soll ja noch immer tun,
Was immer ungern ich getan.

Truege gern noch laenger des Lehrers Buerden,
Wenn Schueler nur nicht gleich Lehrer wuerden."

The first stanza says, "It is good to think of something Good, if only it was taken or understood by someone like you - of the same Blood. Because, when your Good thoughts are in someone else's Blood, they (your Good thought, or the other's interpretation of that Good thought) are likely to turn on you to quarrel."

The second stanza: "I'd gladly be a committed, active Man, but instead I only want Quiet. Because I will always have to do, all those things that I always hate to do." The last line is pretty funny the way it is written in German, "Was immer ungern ich getan" or "What always unhappily I did."

Last stanza: "I'd gladly carry the Teacher's burden (of communicating/teaching those Good thoughts), if only the Students wouldn't so quickly grow-up and become the Teachers of a new batch of Students."

So, to me, the Teacher wishes his Good ideas could find their way into the Student's brain, without any change, without any re-interpretation, without resistance. But his Good ideas are rejected by his Students, they don't praise the Teacher's hard fought wisdom, they instead quarrel with him, tell him his Good ideas are not so perfect after all.

To the Teacher this is naturally disappointing, all that effort to achieve those Good ideas, and the Students reject them. The Teacher would, however, continue to fight for his Good thoughts, to explain again, to find a way to get his Students to Understand, if it weren't for the completely unsettling fact that not only will his Students always quarrel with him, but that those Students will become Teachers themselves and teach not his Good idea's but the transformed idea they won from the Teacher. The final nail in this coffin is then that these new Teachers with their transformed ideas find the same resistance again in their new batch of Students.

The wheel turns.... nothing stays the same... no idea is 'The' idea, no matter how hard fought and 'right' that idea might be. Funny actually.

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