The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Gone's for once the old magician
With his countenance forbidding;
I 'm now master,
I 'm tactician,
All his ghosts must do my bidding.
Know his incantation,
Spell and gestures too;
By my mind's creation
Wonders shall I do.

    Flood impassive
    With persistence
    From a distance
    Want I rushing
    And at last abundant, massive
    Here into my basin gushing
Come, old broom!
For work get ready,
Dress yourself, put on your tatters
You 're, I know, a servant steady
And proficient in such matters.
On two legs stand gravely,
Have a head, besides,
With your pail now bravely
Off, and do take strides!

    Flood impassive
    With persistence
    From a distance
    Want I rushing
    And at last abundant, massive
    Here into my basin gushing
Like a whirlwind he is going
To the stream, and then in
Like an engine he is throwing
Water for my use; with flurry
Do I watch the steady;
Not a drop is spilled,
Basin, bowls already
Are with water filled.

    Fool unwitty,
    Stop your going!
    Overflowing
    Are the dishes.
    I forgot the charm; what pity!
    Now my words are empty
For the magic charm undoing
What I did,
I have forgotten.
Be a broom!
Be not renewing
Now your efforts, spell-begotten!
Still his work abhorrent
Does the wretch resume;
Where I look a torrent
Threatens me with doom.

    No, no longer
    Shall I suffer
    You to offer
    Bold defiance.
    I have brains,
    I am the stronger
    And I shall enforce compliance
You, hell's miscreate abortion,
Is this house doomed to perdition?
Signs I see in every portion
Of impending demolition.
Servant, cursed and senseless,
Do obey my will!
Be a broom defenseless,
Be a stick!
Stand still!

    Not impurely
    Shall you ravage.
    Wait! you savage,
    I'll beset you,
    With my hatchet opportunely
    Shall I split your wood, I bet
There he comes again with water! -
How my soul for murder itclies!
First I stun and then I slaughter,
That is good for beasts and witches.
Well! he 's gone! - and broken
Is the stick in two.
He 's not worth a token;
Now I hope, I do!

    Woe! It is so.
    Both the broken
    Parts betoken
    One infernal
    Servant's doubling.
    Woe! It is so.
    Now do help me, powers eternal!
Both are running, both are plodding
And with still increased persistence
Hall and work-shop they are flooding.
Master, come to my assistance! -
Wrong I was in calling
Spirits, I avow,
For I find them galling,
Cannot rule them now.

    "Be obedient
    Broom, be hiding
    And subsiding!
    None should ever
    But the master, when expedient,
    Call you as a ghostly lever!"

1779, translation by Paul Dyrsen, 1878      


Versions --> German - English:   Aytoun/Martin / Bowring / Zeydel
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Virginia Commonwealth University