He only earns his freedom and his life / who take them each day by storm. -From Goethe's Faust

It's an oft-quoted line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's famous work, seen throughout the internet. Put in a web search for it and it comes up everywhere. It is, in fact, from the Internet I first heard --and picked up-- the quotation. Yet many people who have studied Faust can't recall it. What gives?

I've always found a good intellectual mystery hard to resist; and with the help of a friend of mine named Pradeep Suri, the answer turns out to be quite interesting. The quote does exist --depending on the version of the translated Faust you're working from.

The line comes from Part II, Act V, the fifth Scene, approximately titled "Great Outer Precinct of the Palace". (In all versions I've seen, the scene before is consistently named "Midnight".) It comes after Faust is blinded by Care, and is Faust's final speech before he dies. In the original German, (from the Project Gutenberg text [1]):

    Ja!  diesem Sinne bin ich ganz ergeben,
    Das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluß:
    Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben,
    Der täglich sie erobern muß.
One widely studied version of Faust by Walter Arndt [2], lines 11573-575, translate this to be

    Yes --this I hold to with devout insistence,
    Wisdom's last verdict goes to say:
    He only earns both freedom and existence
    Who must reconquer them each day.

However, another version, by Louis MacNeice and EL Stahl [3] has, on page 287, the same text as

    Aye! Wedded to this concept like a wife,
    I find this wisdom's final form:
    He only earns his freedom and his life
    Who takes them every day by storm.

As it happens the abridged version by MacNeice was commissioned for a radio broadcast by the BBC in celebration of Goethe's centenary, and was broadcast in the fall of 1949 [4]. Chances are the wide audience for those radio broadcasts is what led to the persistence of the MacNeice version of the same quotation, and it's subsequent dissemination across the net.

Hope that helped!