Saturday, April 12, 2008

from Works, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1902

(page 259)

We had driven out through the Allerheiligen (All Saints) gate, and had soon left Hanau behind us, after which we reached the scenes which aroused my attention by their novelty, if, at this season of the year, they offered little that was pleasing. A continual rain had completely spoiled the roads, which, generally speaking, were not then in such good order as we find them now; and our journey was thus neither pleasant nor happy. Yet I was indebted to this damp weather for the sight of a natural phenomenon which must be exceedingly rare, for I have seen nothing like it since, nor have I heard of its having been observed by others.

It was this: namely, we were driving at night up a rising ground between Hanau and Gelhausen, and, although it was dark, we preferred walking to exposing ourselves to the danger and difficulty of that part of the road. All at once, in a ravine on the right-hand side of the way, I saw a sort of amphitheatre, wonderfully illuminated. In a funnel-shaped space there were innumerable little lights gleaming, ranged step-fashion over one another; and they shone so brilliantly that the eye was dazzled.
But what still more confused the sight was, that they did not keep still, but jumped about here and there, as well as downwards from above as vice versa, and in every direction. The greater part of them, however, remained stationary, and beamed on. It was only with the greatest reluctance that I suffered myself to be called away from this spectacle, which I could have wished to examine more closely. The postilion, when questioned, said that he knew nothing about such a phenomenon, but that there was in the neighbourhood an old stone-quarry, the excavation of which was filled with water. Now, whether this was a pandemonium of will-o'-the-wisps, or a company of luminous creatures, I will not decide.

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