Here at last is the full text of the definition of Geist from which we quoted in Geist 3. Our thanks to correspondent Josie Cook, who found it in a footnote in Novalis: A Romantic Theory of Language and Poetry, by Kristin Pfeffer-Korn (Yale, 1988).
As readers of Hegel doubtless know, it is difficult to translate the German word Geist. Its range of meaning includes “spirit,” “mind,” “intellect,” “wit”—not unlike the English word “spirit,” even “ghost.” In fact, Geist and “ghost”—as well as “aghast” and “ghastly”—are etymologically related. The Indo-Germanic root gheis (angry) develops into the Gothic usgeisnan and usgaisjan (to be terrified and to terrify). From the original meaning of terror, dismay, excitement, of being stirred in general, eventually develop the significations “spirit,” “soul,” and “heart,” all of which tend to be used as something that is standing in opposition to body. As a result the later signification of supernatural being develops.
In 1366 Heinrich Seuse used the adjectival form geistreich to translate the Latin spiritualis. Geistreich thus came to function prominently in the German mystical tradition. In 1526 Martin Luther used the word in the phrase geystreiche Predi ger and in 1534 in geistreicher Poet, meaning respectively preacher and poet filled with the spirit of the Holy Ghost. In the Renaissance and in the Enlightenment the meaning of geistreich became secularized. In 1624 Opitz spoke of the homo spiritualis poeticus as geistreich, and in 1682 Leibniz broadened its signification to include the intellect. During the Classic and Romantic periods geistreich even became a fashionable word, yet during the latter its significance changed and it often took on the negative meanings of “fragmented” or “nonproductive."
Although Novalis is a Romanticist, he deliberately turns to the older Medieval usage of geistreich as he found it in Luther and the Mystical tradition. Novalis, contrary to the spirit of his own times then, does not mean “mind” or “intellect” when he says Geist but has “spirit” or indeed “supernatural being” in mind. I believe, therefore, it is more nearly correct to translate Geist as “spirit,” although the significations of “mind,” “intellect,” and even “wit” are certainly also vibrating as associated meaning within the horizon of the idea of Geist. (See Alexander Kluge, Etymologisches Warterbuch [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter and Co., 1967])