Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her – powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply

battling elephant seals

She sweeps us away in the round of her dance

We are surrounded and embraced by her – powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply. Unmasked and without warning she sweeps us away in the round of her dance and dances on until we fall exhausted from her arms. She brings forth ever-new forms: what is there, never was; what was, never will return. All is new and forever old. We live within her, and are strangers to her. She speaks perpetually with us, and does not betray her secret. We work on her constantly, and yet have no power over her.

written by Georg Christoph Tobler
after conversations with Johann Wolfgang Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832)
found in Topographies of the Sacred: The Poetics of Place in European Romanticism, 2004
Nature Revivified: Organicism, Dynamism, and Holism
by Kate Rigby
image – mikebaird

In Praise of Nature

As the story goes, after conversations with Goethe, Georg Christoph Tobler wrote down some of Goethe’s ideas in the form of a prayer. Goethe then included Tobler’s prayer, titled “Nature,” in the Tiefurt Journal. Exactly where the prayer ends and Goethe begins is difficult to say. Because of uncertain authorship, “Nature” has sometimes been referred to as “the Tobler fragment.” The Tiefurt Journal was a tiny, hand-written publication, and yet somehow these words survived for us to read here, now, today.

Is there a present-day parallel to the idea of a hand-written publication? Forwarding an inspiring message to a dozen acquaintances from your email address book does not require the same TLC as a hand written letter sent to even one friend. The closest thing I can come up with is the hand made greeting cards some artists will send out at Christmas – they are like bread on the waters: heart goes into them, and they go out into the world like seeds on the wind. In our world today there are seed savers – garden librarians who will document, grow and collect anything heirloom and fertile. Between 1783 and now, “Nature” has passed through the lives of countless readers, because these words were collected, saved and passed on.

“Nature” excerpts are available in several forms, from books of quotes to scholarly reflections. I chose an egghead version here, to honor the seed savers. If you like European literary romanticism, do what I did – take a look at Amazon’s preview of Topographies of the Sacred: The Poetics of Place in European Romanticism. You may find that it has substance for savoring. Here’s how author Kate Rigby introduced today’s passage:

At the heart of the romantic reanimation of nature lies the shift from a mechanistic to an organismic model of the natural world. In place of Descartes’ clock, the romantics called on earlier imagery – including that of the goddess Natura, or Mother Earth – to convey their new understanding of nature as a dynamic, living, self-transforming whole. Exemplary of this shift is the lyrical essay “Nature” by Swiss theologian Georg Christoph Tobler, which Goethe included in his “Tiefurt Journal” in 1783 as an accurate reflection of this thinking at the time.

Juicy, huh? Yes, I am a nerd. 🙂

If you just want to read the “Nature” passage itself, check out Johann von Goethe in Love, on the Lapham’s Quarterly web site.


This quote and image came to QuoteSnack via Mike Baird. I never would have thought to pair a passage about being swept up in nature’s dance with a picture of elephant seals. Part of that could be lack of personal experience – I’ve never seen them in action, not like this, and most of us never will.

Mike Baird, California State Park docent, took this twilight photograph of two alpha male elephant seals battling over territory and mates. He suggests that those who are inspired by this image consider making a tiny donation by becoming a member of the Friends of the Elephant Seal.

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6 Responses to “Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her – powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply”

  1. Michael "Mike" L. Baird Says:

    Elizabeth, http://quotesnack.com/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe/nature-we-are-surrounded-and-embraced-by-her/ looks great! Thanks for using my Elephant Seal image in this responsible way, and thanks for the quote “Mike Baird, California State Park docent, took this twilight photograph of two alpha male elephant seals battling over territory and mates. He suggests that those who are inspired by this image consider making a tiny donation by becoming a member of the Friends of the Elephant Seal.” My friends at this organization will be pleased.

  2. E. A. Able Says:

    For permission to use an image you need to ask the original creator. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Mike Says:

    Hey Great Post, keep on blogging

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