Famous last words at

Last Words Home | Meanings and Origins

The last words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The last words of Goethe

The German poet, novelist, playwright, courtier, and scientist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) is widely accepted as being one of the key figures in Western culture. His masterwork, Faust, has had an influence in many fields, notably drama and psychology.

His last request was:

More light!

Source: The Story of Goethe's Life, George Lewes, 1872.

Background to Goethe's last words

Throughout his life, Goethe had a deep fascination for the physical and metaphorical effects of light on humans. Whilst being best remembered now for his literary works, he himself believed the scientific treatise The Theory of Colours, which he published in 1810, to be his most important work.

Although a confirmed non-believer for almost all of his life, a year before dying Goethe sided with the eclectic Hypsistarian sect, writing in a letter to a friend that:

"A joyous light thus beamed at me suddenly out of a dark age, for I had the feeling that all my life I had been aspiring to qualify as a Hypsistarian."

He spent the evening before his death discussing optical phenomena with his daughter-in-law.

All of the above might lead us to believe that his celebrated deathbed cry of Mehr Licht! (More light!) was a plea for increased enlightenment before dying. The truth appears to be more prosaic. What he actually said (in German) was:

"Do open the shutter of the bedroom so that more light may enter".