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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas!

Translation of John Sullivan Dwight

I’VE set my heart upon nothing, you see;


And so the world goes well with me:


And who has a mind to be fellow of mine,

Why, let him take hold and help me drain

These moldy lees of wine.

I set my heart at first upon wealth;


And bartered away my peace and health:

But ah!

The slippery change went about like air,—

And when I had clutched me a handful here,

Away it went there!

I set my heart upon woman next;


For her sweet sake was oft perplexed:

But ah!

The False one looked for a daintier lot,

The Constant one wearied me out and out,

The Best was not easily got.

I set my heart upon travels grand;


And spurned our plain old fatherland:

But ah!

Naught seemed to be just the thing it should,—

Most comfortless beds and indifferent food!

My tastes misunderstood!

I set my heart upon sounding fame:


And lo! I’m eclipsed by some upstart’s name;

And ah!

When in public life I loomed quite high,

The folks that passed me would look awry;

Their very worst friend was I.

And then I set my heart upon war:


We gained some battles with éclat;


We troubled the foe with sword and flame—

And some of our friends fared quite the same:

I lost a leg for fame.

Now I’ve set my heart upon nothing, you see;


And the whole wide world belongs to me:


The feast begins to run low, no doubt;

But at the old cask we’ll have one good bout—

Come, drink the lees all out!