Plants – Growing Plants And Observing Their Metamorphoses

Goethe’s Metamorphosis Of Plants

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe was a kind of polymath that only appears every few centuries, his boundless adaptation of the legend of Faust sits on the Western canon along with the likes of Shakespeare, Dante, and the Bible. Goethe made a journey to Italy from 1786-88, to reinvigorate his creative capabilities after 10 years overseeing policies on the privy council in Weimar. On his return, he entered into the scientific realm with his study on the metamorphoses of plants.

At the beginning of his journey, Goethe believed that he would find the Urpflanze, an archetypal, primal plant, from which all plants had derived from. He believed the Urpflanze would contain all the potential configurations of a plants features, and any plant that could exist would have to follow logically from the primal plant.

In Sicily, Goethe had a epiphany, he had found his archetype in all plants, it was the leaf. “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 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’s Method Of Observing

  • Stage One: Exact Sense Perception
    We make a detailed observation about the object we behold, trying to suspend all personal judgements, and let the facts emerge from the object. It is natural to compare the object with other objects.
  • Stage Two: Exact Sensorial Fantasy
    We develop a dynamic perception of the object, beyond the solid facts of stage one. We try to imagine the flowing processes of the object.
  • Stage Three: Seeing Is Beholding
    The first two stages have given the object a sense of familiarity. It is now time to suspend active perception as far as we can and allow the object to take an active role. We offer the object our human capacity for conscious awareness and receive what it allows us to know. We may hope to see a series of processes unfold from the object,
  • Stage Four: Being One
    Isis Brook has summarized Goethe method of observation as perception, imagination, inspiration, and intuition. The stage of intuition takes us beyond known concepts, we enter into the object we are observing. Here we may look for a unifying idea.

Goethe’s Poem On The Metamorphosis Of Plants

Goethe composed this poem seven years after publishing his scientific study on the metamorphosis of plants. This poem beautiful articulates the metamorphosis from an unravelling seed to a blossoming and fruit.

Thous art confused, my beloved, at, seeing the thousandfold union
Shown in this flowery troop, over the garden dispers’d;
any a name dost thou hear assign’d; one after another
Falls on thy list’ning ear, with a barbarian sound.
None resembleth another, yet all their forms have a likeness;
Therefore, a mystical law is by the chorus proclaim’d;
Yes, a sacred enigma! Oh, dearest friend, could I only
Happily teach thee the word, which may the mystery solve!
Closely observe how the plant, by little and little progressing,
Step by step guided on, changeth to blossom and fruit!

First from the seed it unravels itself, as soon as the silent
Fruit-bearing womb of the earth kindly allows Its escape
And to the charms of the light, the holy, the ever-in-motion,
Trusteth the delicate leaves, feebly beginning to shoot.
Simply slumber’d the force in the seed; a germ of the future,
Peacefully lock’d in itself, ‘neath the integument lay,
Leaf and root, and bud, still void of colour, and shapeless;
Thus doth the kernel, while dry, cover that motionless life.
Upward then strives it to swell, in gentle moisture confiding,
And, from the night where it dwelt, straightway ascendeth to light.

Yet still simple remaineth its figure, when first it appeareth;
And ’tis a token like this, points out the child ‘mid the plants.
Soon a shoot, succeeding it, riseth on high, and reneweth,
Piling-up node upon node, ever the primitive form;
Yet not ever alike: for the following leaf, as thou seest,
Ever produceth itself, fashioned in manifold ways.
Longer, more indented, in points and in parts more divided,
Which. all-deform’d until now, slept in the organ below,

So at length it attaineth the noble and destined perfection,
Which, in full many a tribe, fills thee with wondering awe.
Many ribb’d and tooth’d, on a surface juicy and swelling,
Free and unending the shoot seemeth in fullness to be;
Yet here Nature restraineth, with powerful hands, the formation,
And to a perfecter end, guideth with softness its growth,
Less abundantly yielding the sap, contracting the vessels,
So that the figure ere long gentler effects doth disclose.
Soon and in silence is check’d the growth of the vigorous branches,
And the rib of the stalk fuller becometh in form.
Leafless, however, and quick the tenderer stem then up-springeth,
And a miraculous sight doth the observer enchant.
Ranged in a circle, in numbers that now are small, and now countless,
Gather the smaller-sized leaves, close by the side of their like.
Round the axis compress’d the sheltering calyx unfoldeth,
And, as the perfectest type, brilliant-hued coronals forms.
Thus doth Nature bloom, in glory still nobler and fuller,
Showing, in order arranged, member on member uprear’d.
Wonderment fresh dost thou feel, as soon as the stem rears the flower
Over the scaffolding frail of the alternating leaves.
But this glory is only the new creation’s foreteller,
Yes, the leaf with its hues feeleth the hand all divine,
And on a sudden contracteth itself; the tenderest figures
Twofold as yet, hasten on, destined to blend into one.
Lovingly now the beauteous pairs are standing together,
Gather’d in countless array, there where the altar is raised.
Hymen hovereth o’er them, and scents delicious and mighty
Stream forth their fragrance so sweet, all things enliv’ning around.
Presently, parcell’d out, unnumber’d germs are seen swelling,
Sweetly conceald in the womb, where is made perfect the fruit.
Here doth Nature close the ring of her forces eternal;
Yet doth a new one, at once, cling to the one gone before,
So that the chain be prolonged for ever through all generations,
And that the whole may have life, e’en as enjoy’d by each part.
Now, my beloved one, turn thy gaze on the many-hued thousands
Which, confusing no more, gladden the mind as they wave.
Every plant unto thee proclaimeth the laws everlasting,
Every flowered speaks louder and louder to thee;
But if thou here canst decipher the mystic words of the goddess,
Everywhere will they be seen, e’en though the features are changed.
Creeping insects may linger, the eager butterfly hasten,–
Plastic and forming, may man change e’en the figure decreed!
Oh, then, bethink thee, as well, how out of the germ of acquaintance,
Kindly intercourse sprang, slowly unfolding its leaves;
Soon how friendship with might unveil’d itself in our bosoms,
And how Amor, at length, brought forth blossom and fruit

Think of the manifold ways wherein Nature hath lent to our feelings,
Silently giving them birth, either the first or the last!
Yes, and rejoice in the present day! For love that is holy
Seeketh the noblest of fruits,–that where the thoughts are the same,
Where the opinions agree,–that the pair may, in rapt contemplation,
Lovingly blend into one,–find the more excellent world.

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