Superstition and Poetry


Black Cat, Onchi Kochiro, 1952

 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‏

Superstition is the poetry of life; both build an imaginary world, and between the things of the actual, palpable world they anticipate the most marvelous connections. Sympathy and antipathy govern everywhere. Poetry is ever freeing itself from such fetters as it arbitrarily imposes upon itself; superstition, on the contrary, can be compared to the magic cords which draw together ever the tighter, the more one struggles against them. The time of greatest enlightenment is not secure from it; let it strike an uncultured century or epoch, and the clouded mind of poor humanity begins to strive after the impossible, to endeavor to have intercourse with and influence the supernatural, the far-distant, the future. A numerous world of marvels it constructs for itself, surrounded with a circle of darkness and gloom. Such clouds hang over whole centuries, and grow thicker and thicker. The imagination broods over a waste of sensuality; reason seems to have turned back like Astraea to its divine origin; wisdom is in despair, since she has no means of successfully asserting her rights. Superstition does not harm the poet, for he knows how to make its half-truths, to which he gives only a literary validity, count in manifold ways for good.

Essay first published 1823

Cover photograph by Mark J. Sebastian

About the Author:

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German writer and philosopher.