Gingo biloba

"Gingo biloba" (later: "Ginkgo biloba") is a poem written by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem was published in his work West-östlicher Diwan (West-Eastern Divan), first published in 1819. Goethe used "Gingo" instead of "Ginkgo" in the first version to avoid the hard sound of the letter "k".

Ginkgo Biloba, 1815 (Original in Goethe Museum, Düsseldorf)

Goethe sent Marianne von Willemer (1784–1860), the wife of the Frankfurt banker Johann Jakob von Willemer (1760–1838), a Ginkgo leaf as a symbol of friendship and on September 15, 1815, he read his draft of the poem to her and friends. On September 23, 1815, he saw Marianne for the last time. Then he showed her the Ginkgo tree in the garden of Heidelberg Castle from which he took the two leaves pasted onto the poem. After that he wrote the poem and sent it to Marianne on September 27, 1815.

Marianne von Willemer

Directly across from the Ginkgo tree stands the Goethe memorial tablet. The poem was published later in the "Book of Suleika" in West-östlicher Diwan.

Gingo biloba

Dieses Baums Blatt, der von Osten
Meinem Garten anvertraut,
Giebt geheimen Sinn zu kosten,
Wie's den Wissenden erbaut,

Ist es Ein lebendig Wesen,
Das sich in sich selbst getrennt?
Sind es zwei, die sich erlesen,
Daß man sie als Eines kennt?

Solche Frage zu erwidern,
Fand ich wohl den rechten Sinn,
Fühlst du nicht an meinen Liedern,
Daß ich Eins und doppelt bin?

This leaf from a tree in the East,
Has been given to my garden.
It reveals a certain secret,
Which pleases me and thoughtful people.

Is it one living being,
Which has separated in itself?
Or are these two, who chose
To be recognized as one?

Answering this kind of question,
Haven't I found the proper meaning,
Don't you feel in my songs,
That I'm one and double?

This tree’s leaf, that from the East,
Has been entrusted to my garden,
Gives to savor secret sense,
As pleasing the initiate.

Is it one living creature,
Which separated in itself?
Are they two, who choose themselves,
To be recognized as one?

Such query to reciprocate,
I surely found the proper use,
Do not you feel it in my songs,
That I am one and double?

The letter containing this poem with which Goethe included two Ginkgo leaves with two distinct lobes can be viewed in the Goethe Museum in Düsseldorf. The Ginkgo (planted in 1795) that Goethe led Marianne von Willemer to in September 1815 is no longer standing today. After 1928 the Ginkgo tree in the castle garden was labelled as "the same tree that inspired Goethe to create his fine poem". The tree was probably still standing in 1936.