Goethe – The Indenture

This text from Johann Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship is referred to in the novel as the Indenture – “Here is your indenture. Take it to heart, it is of weighty import.”

ART is long, life short, judgment difficult, opportunity transient.

To act is easy, to think is hard; to act according to our thought is troublesome.

Every beginning is cheerful; the threshold is the place of expectation. The boy stands astonished, his impressions guide him; he learns sportfully, seriousness comes on him by surprise.

Imitation is born with us; what should be imitated is not easy to discover.

The excellent is rarely found, more rarely valued.

The height charms us, the steps to it do not; with the summit in our eye, we love to walk along the plain.

It is but a part of art that can be taught; the artist needs it all.

Who knows it half, speaks much and is always wrong; who knows it wholly, inclines to act and speaks seldom or late. The former have no secrets and no force; the instruction they can give is like baked bread, savory and satisfying for a single day; but flour cannot be sown, and seed corn ought not to be ground.

Words are good, but they are not the best. The best is not to be explained by words.

The spirit in which we act is the highest matter. Action can be understood and again represented by the spirit alone.

No one knows what he is doing while he acts aright; but of what is wrong we are always conscious.

Whoever works with symbols only is a pedant, a hypocrite, or a bungler. There are many such, and they like to be together. Their babbling detains the scholar; their obstinate mediocrity vexes even the best.

The instruction which the true artist gives us opens the mind; for where words fail him, deeds speak. The true scholar learns from the known to unfold the unknown, and approaches more and more to being a master.

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