… the sorcerers apprentice …

Goethe in Roman Campagna (1786) by J H W Tischbein

Goethe in Roman Campagna (1786) by J H W Tischbein

Science arose from poetry … when times change the two can meet again on a higher level as friends …   J W von Goethe

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

It’s my day – since for once

The old one has gone

So now the spirits shall live

And do exactly as I say

I took note of the words

The custom – the spells

So with strong resolve

I’ll work miracles as well.

Rise up and surge

Across the gap

To the end that

Water may flow

And in rich effusion

Fill the tub for my bath

Come old broom,

Take those tattered rags

Slave you’ve been for aeons

Now let my will be your task!

On two legs stand

With a head atop

Get on with it – hurry

With the water pot!

Rise up and surge

Across the gap

To the end that

Water may flow

And in rich effusion

Fill the tub for my bath

Look – he’s running to the shore

Indeed has reached the river

And with lightning speed

Returns to pour once more

A second time already!

How the pool is brimming!

How each new pail

With water fills!

Stand still!

You’ve done your lot

Richly measured

Were your favours!

Stop! Stop! Oh woe!

The word – I forgot

Oh – the word that in the end

Will make him what he’s been!

There he runs and nimbly drags!

Would you be the broom of old!

More floods he rapidly relays

In quick succession

A hundred rivers

Rush at me

No! I can’t allow

This any longer

I’ll seize him!

This is malice!

I’m growing fearful now

What mien! What scowl!

Oh you hellish brainchild

Shall the whole house drown?

Over every sill I see

Floods of water surging

What a hideous broom!

That will not listen!

Rod that you’ve been

Stand but still again!

So you won’t quit?

I’ll catch and grab you

And with a sharp axe

I’ll swiftly split

The parched wood

Neatly down the middle!

Look – dragging he returns!

I’ll throw myself at you – sprite

Promptly you’re down

Crushing sinks the smooth blade

Bravely aimed indeed!

Look – in two he’s broken!

Now I can hope

My breath is freed!

Oh woe! Oh woe!

Both parts

Stand up in haste

As slaves

Complete and ready!

Help me – oh mighty powers!

And they’re racing on! Awash

Are hall and staircase

What an abysmal span of water

All the wise – hear my plight!

Oh – the old one comes – at last!

Great is the need!

The spirits I have called upon

I cannot now release.

‘Into the corner

With you Brooms!

Be no more!

Since as spirits

For their purpose

Only the wise call you forth.’

*    *    *

‘Der Zauberlehrling’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.                                                                                                      Translation: Ashen Venema, November 2006

*    *    *

I grew up with Goethe’s work and it still inspires. Occasionally I attempt free translations of German poems. I work on them forever, never satisfied. Those who know other translations of ‘Der Zauberlehrling’ may enjoy the subtleties. The poem is timeless. There are two kinds of ‘Will’ – the personal and the universal, to harmonise them is a lifelong task.



Filed under Blog

17 responses to “… the sorcerers apprentice …

  1. and yet try as I might it was Disney who kept taking control of my mind. It was that broom that did it, darn – sorry


    • I was spared 🙂 didn’t grow up with Disney.
      His lavish branding of stories eclipsed a few wonderful writers, including P.L. Travers, who, beyond Mary Poppins, wrote excellent essays worth looking up.


  2. grigoryryzhakov

    Beautiful translation, Ashen. We studied Goethe in school as a writer and botanist. His Faust is one of my favorite books-in-verses.


  3. As you can imagine I danced at the quote! But just as much at the translation. You solidly proceed from day to day mastering things! Congratulations.


  4. We used to live very close to this statue in Chicago, which always felt like it was for me and all others with mostly German ancestry :-). Lovely poem. http://www.cpdit01.com/resources/planning-and-development.fountains-monuments-and-sculptures/Lincoln%20Park/Monument%20to%20Johann%20Wolfgang%20von%20Goethe.pdf


  5. Chris

    Wonderful Ashen- I’ve been wanting to read Goethe’s theory on colours for some time. You’ve inspired me to read him, never have but look forward to it. Any recommended translators( apart from yourself,ha!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t know why but while reading this I kept thinking of Beowulf, probably the story in verse elements, dream quality and the magic realism I love so much, mysterious, ambiguous, full of subtlety. Love it!


  7. I’m not familiar with Boewulf. I know your writings are inspired by Anglo Saxon myths. I discovered an interesting article on the translation of Boewulf … Tolkien versus Heaney … http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/02/slaying-monsters


  8. Even as a child, I never cared for the Disney version (one of my least favourite tableaux in the otherwise splendid ‘Fantasia’, even though I liked Dukas’s music). I love Goethe’s poem – it’s so full of common sense – and your translation reads in a light and effervescent way. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I used to be addicted to the weekly instalments of Micky Mouse magazines, but like you, did not care for the mega Disney films.
    I’m pleased you like my translation of ‘Der Zauberlehrling.’ Thank you Katia.


  10. Pingback: … ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. My English translation … | Course of Mirrors

Thanks for visiting. Feel free to respond and, or, share the post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s