Though Art Wealthier

Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)

The Richest Prince

By Andreas Justinus Kerner
Translated by H. W. Dulcken

All their wealth and vast possessions
Vaunting high in choicest terms,
Sat the German princes feasting
In the knightly hall of Worms.

“Might,” cried the Saxon ruler,
“Are the wealth and power I wield:
In my country’s mountain gorges
Sparkling silver lies concealed.”

“See my land with plenty glowing,”
Quoth the Palsgrave of the Rhine;
“Beauteous harvest in the valleys,
On the mountains noble wine.”

“Spacious towns and wealthy convents,”
Lewis spake, Bavaria’s lord,
“Make my land to yield me treasures
Great as those your fields afford.”

Würtemberg’s beloved monarch
Eberhard the Bearded, cried:
“See my land hath little cities,
‘Mong my hills not metals bide;

“Yet one treasure it hath borne me, –
Sleeping in the woodland free,
I may lay my head in safety
On my lowliest vassal’s knee.”

Then, as with a single utterance,
Cried aloud those princes three:
“Bearded count, thy land hath jewels!
Thou art wealthier far than we!

Der Wanderer in der Sägmühle

by Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)

Dort unten in der Mühle
Saß ich in süßer Ruh’
Und sah dem Räderspiele
Und sah den Wassern zu.

Sah zu der blanken Säge,
Es war mir wie ein Traum,
Die bahnte lange Wege
In einen Tannenbaum.

Die Tanne war wie lebend,
In Trauermelodie
Durch alle Fasern bebend
Sang diese Worte sie:

Du kehrst zur rechten Stunde,
O Wanderer, hier ein,
Du bist’s, für den die Wunde
Mir dringt ins Herz hinein!

Du bist’s, für den wird werden,
Wenn kurz gewandert du,
Dies Holz im Schoß der Erden
Ein Schrein zur langen Ruh’.

Vier Bretter sah ich fallen,
Mir ward’s ums Herze schwer,
Ein Wörtlein wollt’ ich lallen,
Da ging das Rad nicht mehr.

Inspired by Kerner’s book,  two Americans, Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine, turned his idea into a game and released it in 1896. Like Kerner who saw something mystical in the inkblot process, Stuart and Paine embraced the art form as an act of chaos and imagination or a gobolink; a “ goblin of the ink-bottle.”  Like Kerner, they penned short poems to accompany some of their fanciful creations, but unlike him they did not tend to further decorate the inkblots to accentuate certain features.  I commend both for the playfulness, encouraging young and old to be creative.  I can’t wait to get out the ink bottle and try making a few myself.  Will you create a gobolink and see what comes slinking forth from your subconscious? 

For the inquisitive who are wondering about the reference to Yeddo in the poem below, there are two references that may apply; Yeddo in Japan, which is the mangled English version of Edo and Yeddo, Indiana, an unincorporated rural town.  Your imagination will have to decide which was their inspiration.  Jack London wrote a short story set in Yeddo, Japan but it would have been published after Gobolinks came out.  It would be curious to know if Jack London had a Gobolinks as a child?

Gobolink Symmetry – Denise Gaskins' Let's Play Math

Gobolinks by Ruth McEnery and Albert Paine, 1896.

The Butterfly

by Ruth McEnery and Albert Paine

How gaily flits the Butterfly
. . Across the seas of clover.
How blue the arching summer sky
. . That hangs the country over.

On wings of purple, brown, and gold
. . He drifts across the meadow.
His harmless flight you may behold
. . From Yucatan to Yeddo.

A Devilish Question

Justinus Kerner Inkblot Poem


The Wanderer in the Sawmill

by Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)
translated by William Cullen Bryant

In yonder mill I rested,
And sat me down to look
Upon the wheel’s quick glimmer.
And on the flowing brook.

As in a dream, before me,
The saw, with restless play,
Was cleaving through a fir-tree
Its long and steady way.

The tree through all its fibres
With living motion stirred,
And, in a dirge-like murmur,
These solemn words I heard—

Oh, thou, who wanderest hither,
A timely guest thou art!
For thee this cruel engine
Is passing through my heart.

When soon, in earth’s still bosom,
Thy hours of rest begin,
This wood shall form the chamber
Whose walls shall close thee in.

Four planks—I saw and shuddered—
Dropped in that busy mill;
Then, as I tried to answer,
At once the wheel was still.


Justinus Kerner was a complex man, a poet, a physician, a mystic, he was fascinated by the manifestations of the natural world and the supernatural.  He took an interest in exorcism as well as the scientific study of disease, while being an accomplished writer, poet and artist. His methods and breadth of talents were not considered eccentric for his time as an interest in spirits and the occult were common place in Europe and the United States during the latter stages of his career.

Kerner moved in wide circles with friendships of other renown scientists, nobility and poets, often attracting other eccentric and bold personalities among his circle of friends.  Kerner built a large home that served as sanctuary for some of his patients as well as family and friends and was supported in part through the largess of friends in high places within German aristocracy.

Although Kerner published several volumes of poetry late in his life including, Die letzte Blütenstrauss (The Last Flowers to Blossom, 1852) and Winterblüten (Winter Blossoms, 1859), he is best known for his klecksographs, Kerner’s term for ink blots. Die Klecksographien.  This charming combination of inkblots and short poems were first published after his death in 1890 by his son Theobald Kerner.  Theobald published in the introduction of this book his father’s words on how his process of creating his art began:

 “The worsening of my partial blindness was the reason for my resuming this youthful play since drops of ink very often fell on the paper as I wrote. Sometimes I didn’t notice them and folded the paper without allowing it to dry. When I separated them again I saw the blots, especially if they had landed near a fold of the paper and formed symmetrical drawings, namely arabesques, animal and human shapes, and so on This also gave me the idea of developing this phenomenon to a somewhat greater level through practice.” This “practice”  included the addition of small embellishments by Kerner himself that turn the inkblots into a kind of folk art and the black and white sinister quality of them lend itself to his favorite subjects; death, spirits, ghosts and the macabre. “

Kerner Inkblots

The idea of play as adults, with art and words is something to be admired.  As a child there was in our kitchen a small book case, that had an unending supply of paper, brushes and water color paint, that could be used at any time, as long as we put some newspaper down over the kitchen table.  I remember on rainy afternoons, getting out the paint and being as fascinated by the turning shades of colors in the small bowls of water used to clean the brushes as what happened on the paper.  The magic of ink blots and water colors, where the pigments flow in unexpected patterns with the grain of the paper help enrich the mind’s eye in taking us on a journey. 

I am in awe of poets that can combine visual art with words.  Kerner is an inspiration that creativity is more than an ability to control the outcome of an image, it is the ability to embrace the unexpected and let it flow into new creations.  Kerner investigated ideas as a physician that would go on to be known as hypnosis and psychotherapy but in his time was called mesmerism.  I think of mesmerism as a concept of being overcome by beauty.  In the swirling kinetics of Kerner’s inkblots, it is easy to be mesmerized, even in their darker qualities. When was the last time you played with ink blots or water colors?   Do you have a water color set sitting in a drawer somewhere waiting for you to remember how fun it is to paint on a rainy afternoon?


A Poet’s Solace

By Justinus Kerner

Translation unknown

When I am dead, no eye of love
May drop a tear upon my grave;
Yet weeping flowers shall bloom above,
And sighing branches o’er me wave.

Though near the place where I shall lie
The passing traveler linger not,
Yet shall the quiet moon on high
Look, mighty down up on the spot.

In these green meadows, where I rove,
By man I may forgotten be;
Yet the blue sky and silent grove
Forever shall remember me.