When Interests Collide: Howards Ehrengedächtnis – Goethe

Plaques created by local children (and a few adults) during an arts workshop inspired by the English Heritage Blue Plaque scheme that took place at the Tottenham Ploughman “CloudFest” 2014.

Blue plaques in a fluffy cotton cloud – made by the children and adults around the old house of Luke Howard, the classifier of the clouds. From the Tottenham Clouds website.

Luke Howard, classifier of the clouds. 28 November 1772 – 21 March 1864

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the celebrated German author and poet, was interested in clouds himself and wanted to learn more about the young Luke Howard. https://tottenhamclouds.org.uk/goethe/

Wie geht es, Leute?

Not that long ago I was really interested in clouds, and they remain amongst my other interests to this day. Occasionally I’d browse The Cloud Appreciation Society , marvelling at the stunning pictures, the cloud inspired poetry, and the whole science behind those water-vapoury wanderers in the sky.

Because yes, there is science. And- yay!- linguistics!

There are different types of cloud, and each type is given a Latin name -There had been other cloud classification systems, yet this one in Latin, the (‘educated’) ‘global language’ of the 16th century, allowed other scientists and meteorologists from around the world to also identify the cloud type.

There are many types of cloud, but the main types are:

Stratus (Latin for layer) – the lowest cloud, forming like layers of fog in a way. (In German- Sichtwolken – ‘layer clouds)

stratus clouds

Cumulus (Latin for heap) – can be found at medium height, the typical ‘candyfloss’ or ‘sheeplike’ clouds – with many different subtypes. (German: Haufenwolken or Kumulus.)

(Comes from the same Latin root as the English verb ‘accumulate’, to add on- like cumulus clouds growing bigger and more puffy)

Image result for cumulus clouds

Nimbus (Latin for ‘dark cloud’) – a prefix used for a rain cloud, typically the stratonimbus or the Cumulonimbus- the large rain cloud that may also bring thunderstorms.

cumulus clouds

(Cumulonimubs cloud – Photo by Kevin Knupp University of Illilois Cloud Catalog. Its the highest cloud and stretches its ‘plume’ above the other cumulus.)

Cirrus (Latin for a curling ringlet of hair)- the highest clouds, looking like wisps of hair, made of ice streak that streak across the stratosphere. (German: die Federwolken – ‘feather clouds)

cirrus clouds

So what does this have to do with German? Well, a good while after that, I discovered that the person who invented this Latin naming system for the clouds was called Luke Howard. He was a chemist living in 16th century East London, living the later part of his life in Tottenham, North London. As well as being a chemist by trade, however, he was fascinated with the clouds.

Luke Howard was one of the first people to name clouds, giving them the Latin names which are used right up till today. Previous cloud-scientists (nephologists) had tried using names in other languages (ie German also uses its cloud names along with the ‘scientific’ Latin ones.) Latin was already a dead language by then, but scientists used it because it was still taught and in theory all ‘educated’ people could read it. (Today I’d say that similar to… hm… programming.)

The Latin names caught on and today Luke Howard might be known as the ‘Classifier of the Clouds.’ He was born in 28 November 1772 and died in 21 March 1864.

So that was a pretty amazing find, but what does this have to do with German? Well, then I found out that Goethe, yes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous German author and poet who wrote Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers and Dr Faustus, also wrote a poem for Luke Howard.

It’s called Howards Ehrengedachtnis, roughly translating as Howard’s honoured Memory. It was written in 1821 when Luke Howard was around 49

An article in German about it (http://bib.gfz-potsdam.de/pub/schule/goethe/startgoe1.html)

And I just had to bring all my interests full circle and translate Howards Ehrengedachtnis… So, I did.

(Just to be clear, this is an unofficial translation by me. I may have made a few mistakes.)

(Nur um wirklich klar zu sein, dies ist eine inoffizielle Ubersetzung, und ich haette ein Paar Fehler machen konnen.)

Credit to zeno.org, where I found the full poem.

Howards Ehrengedächtnis – by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1821

[551] Wenn Gottheit Camarupa, hoch und hehr,

Durch Lüfte schwankend wandelt leicht und schwer,

Des Schleiers Falten sammelt, sie zerstreut,

Am Wechsel der Gestalten sich erfreut,

Jetzt starr sich hält, dann schwindet wie ein Traum,

Da staunen wir und traun dem Auge kaum;

When the god Campura, up and down,

Changes fluctuating through the air softly and violently

Of the veil’s folds collects, disperses them

In the changes of forms delights

Now rigid it holds, then disappears like a dream

Then we marvel and hardly believe our eyes.

Nun regt sich kühn des eignen Bildens Kraft,

Die Unbestimmtes zu Bestimmtem schafft;

Da droht ein Leu, dort wogt ein Elefant,

Kameles Hals, zum Drachen umgewandt,

Ein Heer zieht an, doch triumphiert es nicht,

Da es die Macht am steilen Felsen bricht;

Der treuste Wolkenbote selbst zerstiebt,

Eh er die Fern erreicht, wohin man liebt.

Now it boldly moves the picture’s own power

The uncertain established into certain

There threatens a lion, there weighed an elephant.

A camel’s neck transforms into a dragon,

An army is drawn, but not triumphantly

Because the power breaks between steep cliffs

The most trusted cloud message is itself scattered.

Until it reaches the faraway land, where we live.

Er aber, Howard, gibt mit reinem Sinn

Uns neuer Lehre herrlichsten Gewinn.

Was sich nicht halten, nicht erreichen läßt,

Er faßt es an, er hält zuerst es fest;

Bestimmt das Unbestimmte, schränkt es ein,

Benennt es treffend! – Sei die Ehre dein! –

Wie Streife steigt, sich ballt, zerflattert, fällt,

Erinnre dankbar deiner sich die Welt.

He, however, Howard, gives us with clear sense

New lessons of the most wonderful yield.

What doesn’t keep itself , can’t be achieved.

He tackles it, he first grasps the thought.

Ascertains the uncertain, narrows it down,

Names it aptly – Be the honour yours!

Like the patrol climbs, balls up, flattens, fallt,

I remember you thankfully the world


Wenn von dem stillen Wasserspiegelplan

Ein Nebel hebt den flachen Teppich an,

Der Mond, dem Wallen des Erscheins vereint,

Als ein Gespenst Gespenster bildend scheint,

Dann sind wir alle, das gestehn wir nur,

Erquickt’, erfreute Kinder, o Natur!

Related image

When from the still water mirror plan,

A fog wisp lifts from the surface of the pond.

The moon combines with the undulations of the appearance?

Like a phantom seemingly ghostly forming.

Then are we all, we all only admit,

Refreshed, delighted children – O, Nature!

Dann hebt sich’s wohl am Berge, sammelnd breit

An Streife Streifen, so umdüstert’s weit

Die Mittelhöhe, beidem gleich geneigt,

Ob’s fallend wässert oder luftig steigt.

Then lifts itself up to the mountains, accumulating wide,

Stripes are on patrol, so it () far

The middle heights, however that way inclined,

Whether it falls as water or to the air will rise.


Und wenn darauf zu höhrer Atmosphäre

Der tüchtige Gehalt berufen wäre,

Steht Wolke hoch, zum herrlichsten geballt,

Verkündet, festgebildet, Machtgewalt

Und, was ihr fürchtet und auch wohl erlebt,

Wie’s oben drohet, so es unten bebt.

Image result for cumulonimbus raining

And when to  the higher atmosphere

The capable content is called

The clouds stand high, wonderfully balled,

Announced, established, forceful might.

And, what you fear and also experience,

As it threatens over, so under it quakes.


Doch immer höher steigt der edle Drang!

Erlösung ist ein himmlisch leichter Zwang.

Ein Aufgehäuftes, flockig löst sich’s auf,

Wie Schäflein tripplend, leicht gekämmt zu Hauf.

So fließt zuletzt, was unten leicht entstand,

Dem Vater oben still in Schoß und Hand.

Image result for cirrus clouds

But ever higher climbs the noble urge.

Redemption is a celestial lighter force.

A lumpy accumulation, itself flakily resolves

Like scurrying lambs, combed lightly to a heap.

So it flows finally, what below easily occurs.

To the Father still above in shot and hand.

[552] Nimbus

Nun laßt auch niederwärts, durch Erdgewalt

Herabgezogen, was sich hoch geballt,

In Donnerwettern wütend sich ergehn,

Heerscharen gleich entrollen und verwehn! –

Der Erde tätig-leidendes Geschick!

Doch mit dem Bilde hebet euren Blick:

Die Rede geht herab, denn sie beschreibt,

Der Geist will aufwärts, wo er ewig bleibt.

Image result

Now let also downwards, through the earth’s force.

Be pulled down, what was on high.

In thunderstorms, angrily they fare,

Legions unroll themselves and blow away!

The Earth-active and Earth-suffering skill

But with the pictures you all lift your gaze.

There is talk of this, because it is described,

The spirit wants to go upwards, where he forever stays.

Image result for cirrus clouds diagram


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