Goethe’s “The Magician’s Apprentice” [*]
So he's gone, the old magician, And alone for once I find me: And now I've a slight suspicion That I'll make his spirits mind me. 'Marked each look and saying Well, as he went through; And, with sprites obeying, I'll work wonders too. Wander! wander! Faster! faster! Bring your master Water gushing From the fountain; let it thunder Down the bath, in torrents rushing.
And now come, old broom! bestir thee; Fling the tattered mop-cloths round thee. Thou hast long served late and early; To my bidding now I've bound thee. With two legs to stand on, Head, hands, and what not, Broom! as I command, on, On, with water-pot! Wander! wander! Faster! faster! Bring your master Water gushing From the fountain; let it thunder Down the bath, in torrents rushing. See him! down the bank he's running; See him at the stream already; Back like lightning, see! the cunning Rogue pours out his pails full steady. Once more! See him hasten! High the bath-floor swells. How each trough and basin Full with water fills!
Stay now! stay now! Ample measure Of thy treasure Thou hast given! — Woe is me! What shall I say now? I've forgot the word, by Heaven! — Ah! the word whereby the master Makes him what he hath been ever! Ah! he runs, and brings yet faster! Would thou wert th' old broomstick clever! Waiting for no warrant, Back and forth flies he, Torrent upon torrent Showering down on me. No, no longer shall he please him; No, I'll seize him. Curse such creatures! As he runs, the imp grows stronger! See, what gestures! see, what features! O, thou child of hell, unblushing! Wilt not rest till thou has drowned me? O'er the sills already rushing, Streams of water rise around me. Cursed broomstick! never Wilt thou give this o'er? Be a broom as ever! Stand stock still once more! Wilt thou never, Never hear me? Now, then, fear me! Now I'll stop thee! Come, thou sharp, strong axe, deliver! Head from trunk, old wood, I'll lop thee! See! this way now he comes hobbling! How I'll seize him! how I'll split him! Quick I'll bring you down, old goblin! Crashing hear the sharp axe hit him! 'Twas a brave stroke, surely! He's in two now, see! Now I'll hope securely, Now I'll breathe more free! Woe! another! Both halves, springing Up, come bringing Water, water! Each would fain outdo the other: Heavens! O, cut my anguish shorter! And they scamper! Wet and wetter On the steps, and in the hall now! What a deluge! what a litter! Lord and Master, hear me call now! Ah! here comes the master! Lord, they sprites run free! In a sad disaster Thou beholdest me. "Back to the corner, Besom! besom! Back in season! For, as spirit, Thou must not mind every learner; When the master summons, hear it."
[*] Select Minor Poems translated from the German of Goethe and Schiller,
trans. John S. Dwight (Boston 1839), 82–85; illustrations in order: F. Barth (ca. 1882); by unknown artist. Karl Friedrich Zelter’s composition from Zelter’s Sammlung kleiner Balladen und Lieder in Musik gesetzt fürs Forte Piano von C. F. Zelter, Heft 1 (Hamburg [ca 1802/03]); here the first two pages of the ten-page score. Back.
Translation © 2014 Doug Stott