The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The book was announced to me, and in a public bookcase in a small town on the Lower Rhine, it stood right in front of me a few days later. At eye level. Unmistakable. I had never read it before, but it came across me again and again lately and the desire to read it increased more and more. So I took it with me. It was free.
It is the story of a young man who was able to experience the divine essence, the meaning in the world directly from within himself. He saw it in nature and its spectacles. He saw it in poetry. In art, which tries to transform the divine inspiration into words and to make its splendor and love and security tangible. He saw him in the eyes of children. Only in the worldly people and their business and desires and drives and vanities, there he did not see the divine. There he felt only pain and perplexity concerning his own position in this society. Since he was from a rich family, he did not have to worry about his livelihood. If he was urged by his family to work, it was only for the sake of a career at court. That he would become a privy councilor and perhaps more. And he fell in love. It was a soul mate he met. She was like the nature in which he saw so much of the divine. She was nurturing and protective. She was good and sensitive. She was without prejudice and arg. She was accepting and yet always clear. She was wise and knowing and strong. But she was also engaged. She was the reason why he left the place (Wahlheim. The elective home) and accepted the above-mentioned employment in the distant capital. Things were not going well there. The people of the world tormented his sensibilities. His longing man, the embodied divine power of nature, was distant and unattainable. So he went out and went out and went out and went out and always came back as the same. Nothing happened. Nothing developed more in him. So he thought. The perception of God and His love, which was so delicious when it was there, was no longer enough. He felt rather when she left again than her blessing when he looked at her. He had to go back to her, to his love, for only there did there seem to be healing for him. Only there did he think he could be as he was. In deepest connection with the divine power. Completely. The drama took its course and he got lost and entangled in all the impossibilities of this situation. And he finally shot a hole in his head.
It was the loneliness that drove him to this action and also all other actions concerning Charlotte. The pain of separation. The ego. It had nothing to do with soul mateship, wholeness or divine power.
Werther had – in the beginning, before he had met Charlotte – been able to experience everything divine in his sensitive and so open view. Simply through his sense of soul. He could have gone through the world carefree, feasting on this knowledge and growing in it year after year, day after day. For his sustenance, he would not have had to enter the earthly social game, for financially he was provided for and thus free. He could have followed his path, which seemed so aimless. Perhaps he would also have realized how guided this path actually is and he would have gone and gone and would not have thought that it was pointless doing and that it would let him return unchanged. He could also have „done good“, as he already did, by supporting the poor and having an open ear for the suffering. He could have stayed at the true source. But fate wanted him to meet Charlotte instead, and to lay all his desires for unity, security, upliftment, and meaning – his pain – on her. And it wanted that what the divine nature gave him only dosed and now and then (and let him instead also once be „godforsaken“ and perplexed), he expected now permanently and all his life from Charlotte’s presence: the blessing by the nature in the sense.
But: Charlotte was not nature. She was a human being and she was finite and exhaustible and bound in the social system.
Getting to know Charlotte immediately brought Werther into his ego. If before he was temporarily happy in mind and also sometimes unhappy and perplexed in ego and commuted in this way through his life, now almost immediately – via eye and ear – the material mind took over his consciousness and defined a goal: The appropriation of Charlotte as a suitable tool for the attainment of wholeness and thereby freedom from pain. A material goal, which should take away all his pain and all his fear permanently. The real experiences of God and the real realizations of meaning, which Werther’s consciousness did have, now took a marginalized back seat, and his consciousness from this point on was based on transience and no longer on eternity. On that which is apparently separate from him and no longer on the knowledge that everything is always one. After this, Werther’s real loneliness actually began. His stumbling through the world in perplexity, disorientation and despair.
By the fact that Werther’s consciousness had developed a craving for redemption from apparent un-wholeness, his life resulted in this last desperate deed. An act which was only based on the fact that his consciousness in the ego fixed all perception on Charlotte – the seemingly so insurmountably far away from him – and forgot the soul eternal truths of unity. At the same time he was loved from the depth of his soul. By Charlotte, even by her husband, her father, her siblings, his parents; the hereditary prince, the minister, the count, the poor esteemed him, and not for his social merits, but for his inner being. He could have been. He could have worked, if the eye and the mind had not led him away from his clear path (so unclear to the ego) and sent him into the deceptive perception of the abysmal pain of loneliness. Only devotion to the path and return to knowledge could have „saved“ him. If these connections had been clear to him. Well, if fate had willed it so, I guess I’d better say.
…I did not find this book by chance. I too travel and travel now and sometimes – flickering briefly – the question of meaning arises. I go and go and yet come back unchanged? Why is that? Is it so? Is it like that at all?
Werther told me: There is devotion or there is nothing. There is the way or there is death. If I am afraid and lack confidence, if I need something or someone outside of me, then I am off the path…. and have the gun actually already in the hand. Maybe even already at my temple. Because the whole approach is already doomed to failure in chaos.
I was surprised at the words Goethe had his Werther speak, especially at the beginning of the novel. They can also be found here in this book. „Someone will surely think I’ve copied them,“ I thought with a grin. I find my own perceptions reflected in the „early“ Werther. The rest of the novel is once more a reminder to me to look closely at what my ego wants to foist on me as a promise of salvation. To look carefully whether it benefits the world or whether it benefits only the ego and thus nothing at all… Werther did not look. He did not notice when the ego had taken over, took its game at face value and blindly followed it into the last confusion.
The book has autobiographical parts. Goethe also processes an episode of his own life there. He develops the beautiful image of a well. At the beginning – before Charlotte – the dark, sheltering and damp place is quite clear and pure for Werther. Only pure and true things happen there. Selfless. Without calculation. Later in the novel, a child cries there because he has kissed it. It almost can’t stop washing its cheek in that clear and pure spring of the well. He is afraid that he will grow a beard. That something of Werther will rub off on it. Werther, or rather his consciousness, is no longer the same as when he first visited the fountain. If it was pure and clear at the beginning, it is now polluted. Shifted into the ego. Selfish. The kiss was no longer fed from Werther’s soul source. The children sense this. Goethe knew that, too. Only his Werther, he had forgotten the knowledge of the children on his way in the ego, until his end….. He remained entangled, because he relied on appearance and transience. Thus he could not return to the truth. His desire was that of pain. Therefore, he could not let go of Charlotte on the outside and, without her possession, saw only his own death as a way out. Had his „desire“ been an inner one, a truly soulful one, he would have felt no lack and would have released her in the knowledge of their eternal soulful union. In true love. In such a powerful connection he could have gone a true way full of divine inspiration.
Now Goethe admonishes me, or better: fate through Goethe, to go the true way and not to seek salvation in external connection. It admonishes me to recognize the principled inner completeness and thus to deprive the feeling of a lack of any ground. To deprive the ego of any possibility of drama. I am to walk the Wertherian path that he trod before Charlotte entered his life. Now I am not as rich as Werther or his model Goethe were. But by selling the house, I am financially independent for a certain time. Fate, the book, Werther, Goethe tell me: Go the way in mind. Go and go and go and add to your being mosaic piece by mosaic piece, so that every step may benefit your perfection and the perfection of the world in equal measure. Go without fear. Go without the thought of lack in whatever aspect. Be guided. Now, when there seems to be no one with whom you can exchange even a single word of understanding.
I thank the leadership for always helping me up and never leaving me behind. Thank you!