We then talked of the papers relating to his [Goethe’s] journey into Switzerland in 1797. […] I mentioned how pleased I was to see how various were the interests called into action by his journey; how he saw every thing; shape and situation of the mountains, their geology and mineralogy; earth, rivers, clouds, air, wind, and storm; then the cities, the history of their origin and growth, architecture, painting, theatre; police of cities, trades, economy, laying out of the streets, human race, manner of living, individual peculiarities; then again, politics, warlike adventures, and a hundred other things.
The Herr Canzler came in for a few moments, and then went to the ladies. When he had left us, Goethe praised him, and said, “All these excellent men, with whom you are now placed in so pleasant a relation, make what I call a home,—a home to which one is always willing to return.”
I said that “I already perceived the beneficial effects of my present situation; for I found myself able to set aside my ideal and theoretic tendencies, and make use of the present moment more and more.”
“It would be pity,” said Goethe, “if it were not so. Only persist in your present view, and hold fast by the present. Each situation—nay, each moment—is of infinite worth; for each represents a whole eternity.”
After a short pause, I turned the conversation to the best mode, of treating the subject he had proposed to me, that of Tiefurt.† “This subject,” said I, “is complex; and it will be difficult to give it proper form. It seems to me it would be best treated in prose.”
“It is not in itself,” replied Goethe, “an object of sufficient significance for that. The didactic, descriptive form, would be the one I should choose; but even that is not perfectly appropriate. Perhaps you would do well to write ten or twelve little poems, in rhyme, but in various measures and forms, such as the various sides and views demand, on which light must be thrown to do justice to the subject.” This idea struck me favorably.
Johann Peter Eckermann (1836). Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His Life, pp. 60–62. Translated by Margaret Fuller (1839). Boston: Hilliard, Gray.
† Schloss Tiefurt, the summer residence of Duchess Anna Amalia, who patronized the arts and culture.
It is clear from the context that Goethe was trying to encourage Eckermann to experiment with his poetry, by emphasizing the infinite number of ways in which a single situation can be expressed in art. In just this way, Goethe had been able to make use of his journey into Switzerland as launching points for so many avenues of thought.