Sunday, February 14, 2010


Here is the complete entire quotation from the previous posting:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is an elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

-William Hutchinson Murray, Scottish mountaineer, 1913-1996

I have a copy of this quote beside my computer, and I had always seen the attribution of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. But if the Goethe Society gives the provenance to Murray, there should be no debate. But there is an underlying connection between the Scottish mountaineer and the famous German writer – and that is climbing and conquering.

Goethe was afraid of heights, a pervasive phobia and a overwhelming fear of high places. So when he was a student at the University of Strasbourg (now in France) he would challenge himself to climb to the top of the cathedral of Strasbourg each day. (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, known as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. Indeed, it is considered the edifice that had practically inspired Goethe to launch the Romantic Movement.)

When Goethe was there, the cathedral was the tallest building in the world at 472 ft at the spire. Each day, he would compel himself to climb the narrow curving stone stairway to the observation platform and up the spire. Each day was the same challenge. The views from there are sweeping and magnificent, a commanding experience. It is said that on a clear day, the view encompasses even to the Vosges and Black Forrest from the top of this platform. As one climbs the worn stone steps, one passes different slits of windows with varying vistas, so young Goethe would have had the sensation of a visual record of increase in height.

There is purported to be graffiti by Goethe scraped on one of the walls at the top on two sides of the platform, though I have not seen it. I imagine that he might have carved it on the last day of his studies, just before he left for his home. Perhaps he had a penknife secreted in his linen coat pocket that day, as he mounted for that last times the steep stairway. He would have known the number of steps between the second and third small windows, the total number of steps in to the vista at the top. By that time, with the number of repetitions of actions, he would recognize the worn irregular character and slope of each step, knowing also that he was part of that history of that use. Perhaps that day, at the top, under the full summer sun, he would have etched his name carefully as a triumph of humanity and creation over fear.

Goethe described the Cathedral’s impact : "The more I contemplate the façade of the Cathedral, the more I am convinced of my first impression that its loftiness is linked to its beauty."

This is what the artist must do each day – we must be fearless. But that fearlessness is won only by each day challenging our fears – both the small petty, pesky ones as well as the raging consuming fires. Each day we must climb the curving steps of the tallest tower in the world, ever-upward. Each step brings us closer, and each day we must climb.


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