Portrait of Goethe

Welcome back to the Richmond Read-along! Today we are reading a poem by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. Probably most widely known for his epic “Faust,” Goethe was a poet, dramatist, statesman, lawyer, novelist, and philosopher. His dedication to literature was matched by his inability to dedicate himself to his other disciplines. In particular, his attempts to become an eminent scientist – leading on from interests in geology, anatomy and then botany – led him to write a lengthy treatise on colour based on the idea that Isaac Newton’s suggestion that white light could be split into colours was incorrect. Unsurprisingly, Goethe’s ideas had little merit in terms of physics, but it is an example of the great diversity of his works and the brief intensity of his passions.

Goethe gained a political career through the favour of a duke, and through this favour and his family’s wealth managed to live a life free of many of the material problems that inspired – and impeded – many other writers. He spent much of his life chasing a classical ideal linked to his own romanticisation of the Romans, and trying to replicate this in his society as well as praising it in his writing. His Classical ideals conflicted with his grudging acceptance that contemporary art had to be embraced as a necessity; despite this, much of his work exemplifies the movements he found himself in, particularly Sturm und Drang and the Romantic movement.

Today’s poem is the basis for the most famous segment of Disney’s “Fantasia.” With its lyrical strength, clear imagery and strong but interesting rhyme scheme, it is an imaginative piece that demonstrates the necessity of wisdom over the desire for power.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

I am now,—what joy to hear it!—
⁠Of the old magician rid;
And henceforth shall every spirit
⁠Do whate’er by me is bid;
⁠⁠⁠I have watched with rigour
⁠⁠⁠⁠All he used to do,
⁠⁠⁠And will now with vigour
⁠⁠⁠⁠Work my wonders too.

⁠⁠Wander, wander
⁠⁠⁠Onward lightly,
⁠⁠⁠So that rightly
⁠⁠⁠⁠Flow the torrent,
⁠⁠And with teeming waters yonder
⁠⁠⁠⁠In the bath discharge its current!

And now come, thou well-worn broom,
⁠And thy wretched form bestir;
Thou hast ever served as groom,
⁠So fulfil my pleasure, sir!
⁠⁠⁠On two legs now stand,
⁠⁠⁠⁠With a head on top;
⁠⁠⁠Waterpail in hand,
⁠⁠⁠⁠Haste, and do not stop!

⁠⁠Wander, wander
⁠⁠⁠Onward lightly,
⁠⁠⁠So that rightly
⁠⁠⁠⁠Flow the torrent,
⁠⁠And with teeming waters yonder
⁠⁠⁠⁠In the bath discharge its current!

See! he’s running to the shore,
⁠And has now attained the pool,
And with lightning speed once more
⁠Comes here with his bucket full!
⁠⁠⁠Back he then repairs;
⁠⁠⁠⁠See how swells the tide!
⁠⁠⁠How each pail he bears
⁠⁠⁠⁠Straightway is supplied!

⁠⁠Stop, for, lo!
⁠⁠⁠All the measure
⁠⁠⁠Of thy treasure
⁠⁠⁠⁠Now is right!—
⁠⁠Ah, I see it! woe, oh, woe!
⁠⁠⁠⁠I forget the word of might.

Ah, the word whose sound can straight
⁠Make him what he was before!
Ah, he runs with nimble gait!
⁠Would thou wert a broom once more!
⁠⁠⁠Streams renewed for ever
⁠⁠⁠⁠Quickly bringeth he;
⁠⁠⁠River after river
⁠⁠⁠⁠Rusheth on poor me.

⁠⁠Now no longer
⁠⁠⁠Can I bear him;
⁠⁠⁠I will snare him,
⁠⁠⁠⁠Knavish sprite!
⁠⁠Ah, my terror waxes stronger!
⁠⁠⁠⁠What a look! what fearful sight!

Oh, thou villain child of hell!
⁠Shall the house through thee be drowned?
Floods I see that wildly swell,
⁠O’er the threshold gaining ground.
⁠⁠⁠Wilt thou not obey,
⁠⁠⁠⁠Oh, thou broom accursed?
⁠⁠⁠Be thou still, I pray,
⁠⁠⁠⁠As thou wert at first!

⁠⁠Will enough
⁠⁠⁠Never please thee?
⁠⁠⁠I will seize thee,
⁠⁠⁠⁠Hold thee fast,
⁠⁠And thy nimble wood so tough,
⁠⁠⁠⁠With my sharp axe split at last.

See, once more he hastens back!
⁠Now, oh, Cobold, thou shalt catch it!
I wlll rush upon his track;
⁠Crashing on him falls my hatchet.
⁠⁠⁠Bravely done, indeed!
⁠⁠⁠⁠See, he’s cleft in twain!
⁠⁠⁠Now from care I’m freed,
⁠⁠⁠⁠And can breathe again.

⁠⁠Woe, oh, woe!
⁠⁠⁠Both the parts,
⁠⁠⁠Quick as darts,
⁠⁠⁠⁠Stand on end,
⁠⁠Servants of my dreaded foe!
⁠⁠⁠Oh, ye gods, protection send!

And they run! and wetter still
⁠Grow the steps and grows the hall.
⁠Lord and master, hear me call!
Ever seems the flood to fill,
⁠⁠⁠Ah, he’s coming! see,
⁠⁠⁠⁠Great is my dismay!
⁠⁠⁠Spirits raised by me
⁠⁠⁠⁠Vainly would I lay!

⁠⁠”To the side
⁠⁠⁠Of the room
⁠⁠⁠Hasten, broom,
⁠⁠⁠⁠As of old!
⁠⁠Spirits I have ne’er untied
⁠⁠⁠⁠Save to act as they are told.”


You can find this poem at Wikisource. Read more information about Goethe’s life at Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Join us tomorrow for the next Richmond Read-along!