Goethe and me - a difficult relationship...

by Heike March. 19, 2019 2380 views

I don't participate in the 365 day challenge, but todays theme (Poetry - Match a photo to a poem) brought some memories into my mind, I like to share.

When I was about 8 years old, we had to learn as a homework, the first 4 verses of Goethe's : Zauberlehrling. (The sorcerer's apprentice - you might know the animated Mickey Mouse film produced by Disney.) I hated this poem !!! I remember I sat together with my mum in my room and she tried to help me - and in the end we both were totally annoyed. She, because I couldn't remember the words, and I, because it was like I had to memorize something in a foreign language. The poem is written in an old german style - it includes words, which are not common anymore - and for me, being a child - that was no german language anymore. That day I learned to hate Goethe - and this hate lasted my whole schooltime and believe me, over the years I was more than once 'tortured' by him! Faust, The sorrows of young Werther, Götz von Berlichingen, Italian journey....- you can't imagine how often I had to deal with this guy in the 13 school years until I finally graduated from highschool.

Goethe in the Campagna painted by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Goethe in the Campagna painted by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Yes he looks harmless...but he is the trauma of lots of german students... :)

Yes he looks harmless...but he is the trauma of lots of german students... :)

Goethe by Andy Warhol

Goethe by Andy Warhol

Mirror wall

Mirror wall

Now I'm 55 and I finally made my peace with him. I don't take him to bed (also not in book form 😄) - but meanwhile I'm able to admit, that he had a certain skill in writing and anyway he is a part of the german culture - I don't have to like him, but I should know him. And to be honest - a few poems - like the Erl-King for example - do touch me, and - thanks to Mickey Mouse - I also finally learned to like "The sorcerer's apprentice". (Strange enough that I - after over 47 years- still remember the first 3 strophes of the poem.) By the way, two of the most quoted lines in the German language are from that poem: “Die ich rief, die Geister, werd' ich nun nicht los.” Translated : “The spirits which I have summoned, I now cannot banish.”

The Goethe photos I made some time ago in the 'Städel Museum' in Frankfurt/M. They honor Goethe very much here in Frankfurt/M. It's his birth-town.

The poem is quite long - ...Goethe could never be brief...- therefore I paste only the english version to this blog. If you want to read the german version pls. follow this Link

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (English)

That old sorcerer has vanished
And for once has gone away!
Spirits called by him, now banished,
My commands shall soon obey.
Every step and saying
That he used, I know,
And with sprites obeying
My arts I will show.

Flow, flow onward
Stretches many
Spare not any
Water rushing,
Ever streaming fully downward
Toward the pool in current gushing.

Come, old broomstick, you are needed,
Take these rags and wrap them round you!
Long my orders you have heeded,
By my wishes now I've bound you.
Have two legs and stand,
And a head for you.
Run, and in your hand
Hold a bucket too.

Flow, flow onward
Stretches many,
Spare not any
Water rushing,
Ever streaming fully downward
Toward the pool in current gushing.

See him, toward the shore he's racing
There, he's at the stream already,
Back like lightning he is chasing,
Pouring water fast and steady.
Once again he hastens!
How the water spills,
How the water basins
Brimming full he fills!

Stop now, hear me!
Ample measure
Of your treasure
We have gotten!
Ah, I see it, dear me, dear me.
Master's word I have forgotten!

Ah, the word with which the master
Makes the broom a broom once more!
Ah, he runs and fetches faster!
Be a broomstick as before!
Ever new the torrents
That by him are fed,
Ah, a hundred currents
Pour upon my head!

No, no longer
Can I please him,
I will seize him!
That is spiteful!
My misgivings grow the stronger.
What a mien, his eyes how frightful!

Brood of hell, you're not a mortal!
Shall the entire house go under?
Over threshold over portal
Streams of water rush and thunder.
Broom accurst and mean,
Who will have his will,
Stick that you have been,
Once again stand still!

Can I never, Broom, appease you?
I will seize you,
Hold and whack you,
And your ancient wood
I'll sever,
With a whetted axe I'll crack you.

He returns, more water dragging!
Now I'll throw myself upon you!
Soon, 0 goblin, you'll be sagging.
Crash! The sharp axe has undone you.
What a good blow, truly!
There, he's split, I see.
Hope now rises newly,
And my breathing's free.

Woe betide me!
Both halves scurry
In a hurry,
Rise like towers
There beside me.
Help me, help, eternal powers!

Off they run, till wet and wetter
Hall and steps immersed are lying.
What a flood that naught can fetter!
Lord and master, hear me crying! -
Ah, he comes excited.
Sir, my need is sore.
Spirits that I've cited
My commands ignore.

"To the lonely
Corner, broom!
Hear your doom.
As a spirit
When he wills, your master only
Calls you, then 'tis time to hear it."

Translated by Zeydel, Edwin

Join the conversation
There are 28 comments , add yours!
Diana Varey 1 year, 6 months ago

I have to admit, I'm not well versed in poetry or Goethe - BUT, I've seen the Disney film =). Thanks for the sharing your experience and the poem.

1 year, 6 months ago Edited
Heike Replied to Diana Varey 1 year, 6 months ago

Thank you Diana. I appreciate it. Imho the Disney film is better than the poem. smile

1 year, 6 months ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue 1 year, 11 months ago

DANKE, danke, danke!!! Ich hasse Goethe - aus ähnlichen und diversen anderen Gründen ... Aber in Ffm (und in Weimar) kommt man an ihm nicht vorbei.
Gute Bildstrecke und #5 ist mein absoluter Favorit!

1 year, 11 months ago Edited
Ho Kim 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh, anyone can understand why kids find it difficult to memorize the poem : it is not easy to visualize the situation or feeling from the poem and they cannot make a proper chain of memories out of those words. Simply putting word by word into the memory which has little meaning to me willing be a torturing process. I have a same memory as you do. I had really bad memory even when I was a child but used to got some homework to reciting poems. That made me hate poems and I still do.  There could have been better ways for the kids to get familiar with poems, I believe. persevere

1 year, 11 months ago Edited
Tsao T-F 1 year, 11 months ago

I am happy you made peace with him.

1 year, 11 months ago Edited
Pete 2 years ago

Great post . Totally enjoyed it

2 years ago Edited
Francesc 2 years ago

Excellent work!!!

2 years ago Edited
Antonio Gil 2 years ago

A very strange pair Mickey Mouse-Goethe that works so well. Loved the post

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Antonio Gil 2 years ago

Right Antonio. I suppose, if they had shown me the Mickey Mouse movie before they told me, I have to learn a part of the poem, it might have been a more positive experience for me. smile Disney made a really lovely story from this poem.

2 years ago Edited
Jay Boggess 2 years ago

Wonderful camera work! Great subjects and fascinating info! Thanks!

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Jay Boggess 2 years ago

Thank you Jay ! I have not thought about this all for a long time, but when I saw the 365day theme, the memory about this poem and my 'beloved' Goethe was there immediately. smile

2 years ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Heike 2 years ago

Appearently,  Goethe's influence on you overcomes the grave......(((grin)))smile

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Jay Boggess 2 years ago

Definitely ! I stumble over him again and again...Sometimes I think I'm obsessed by him. smile

2 years ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Heike 2 years ago

Perhaps, in one of your previous lives, you two may have know, one another,
if you believe is such things....

2 years ago Edited
Bethany Plonski 2 years ago

What a great post! When I taught 6th grade, the curriculum included memorization of poetry, and it was always interesting to see how the kids reacted to it. Some of them loved it and took real pride in their recitation, but others absolutely detested it. smile

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Bethany Plonski 2 years ago

Thanks Bethany. When I was a kid, I really liked to memorize texts - but Goethe for 8 year old kids?? At that time the german school system really was so rigid. All what counted were these old fashioned poets and thinkers. Thanks god - meanwhile it changed a bit. smile

2 years ago Edited
Bob Rosenberg 2 years ago

Knowing very little of German history and poets, your story here was very interesting.  Thanks for taking the time to describe your history and feelings.

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Bob Rosenberg 2 years ago

Thank you Bob ! Glad you liked my 'Goethe-bashing'.grinning

2 years ago Edited
Camellia Staab 2 years ago

Enjoyed reading your story and your photos are very nice. Your story reminded me of how I would make my student memorize the lines to the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet. A total number of 8 lines and they used to fight me to no end. Arguing as to why in this day and age I would make them memorize "these stupid lines" "Who in their right mind requires students to memorize lines?" It was my way of torturing those kids smile. Looks like you were tortured with worse though. grinning

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Camellia Staab 2 years ago

Thank you Camellia! I always suspected, that teachers do torture kids with full intension! smileI didn't discussed the stupid lines with my teacher - at that age I still had respect for teachers smile- but I discussed it with my mom. However, I really think it was too early to confrontate 8 year old kids with Goethe and this old-style german, but to be honest, I would not like hime more, if they 'introduced' me later with him....

2 years ago Edited
Greg Blaney 2 years ago

Great story, Heike. I sympathize with your pain of old style writing. His Olde English has never allowed me to embrace Shakespeare, which may be comparable to your experiences that Goethe has etched into every fibre of your brain. By the way, I love photo #1. The placement of the people is perfect for the mood you relate in your story. I'm not sure whether you placed them or they just happened to be there, but they balance the photo very well. AND, they all have their backs to Goethe (so they likely don't like him either).

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Greg Blaney 2 years ago

Thank you Greg! Amazingly I always liked Shakespeare - we also had to read some of his writings in our English lessons. But I was older than 8 years at that time. Maybe it is easier for a None-Native-speaker to handle this Old-style languages, because Non-natives usually do understand only half of that what is written, so it makes no difference, whether it is old style or new style. smilesmile  
And no, I havn't placed the people with their back to Goethe, that was really coincidence. I noticed that later and it made me smile. Goethe would certainly have thought : Ignorant pack !   grin

2 years ago Edited
Lee Santiva 2 years ago

Your photos are great! Is there any German alive today who likes Goethe? I also thought Goethe was torturous

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Lee Santiva 2 years ago

I didn't meet any yet, Lee! smilegrinning That makes me a bit suspiciously...Have you ever heard about the 'Werther-Effect`' or Copycat-suicide ? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide
Maybe the german Goethe Fans still kill themselves after reading 'The sorrows of young Werther'. grinningThat would explain it... ;-) Thank you !!!

2 years ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Heike 2 years ago

I hadn't heard of the Werther Effect before, thanks for the really interesting article.  Now that I know that, I love your mirror photo even more, since you are incorporating (Anspielung) the copy-cat (mirroring) suicides aspect into your photo - you are very clever indeed! 

My father memorized the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee when he was young. Today at age 90 he can recite every word and line without hesitation. He has dementia. He doesn't know when his own birthday is, or that today is _not_ Christmas, or my husband's name ... but he knows every damn word of that poem! and it is long and complicated!!! https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-cremation-of-sam-mcgee/  

As I kid I didn't like it because it was creepy. Now, as an adult I listen patiently because when he's in the mood he'll go off reciting it spontaneously.

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Lee Santiva 2 years ago

I like your interpretation concerning the mirrow photo - although I've to confess, when I shot it, I had no such profond thoughts. smile
Sorry for your dad, it's always painful to witness the decay of a loved one. I've heard more often, that dementia persons can remember poems, they have learned at young ages. It's strange what is stored in our brains until the end and what not. 
I've thinking a long time about why the name Sam McGee sounds so familiar to me - and yes now I know. My dad loved Jonny Cash and had several records of him. On one of them, Jonny Cash recitated that poem. I didn't understand a word in english at that time, but I always listened carefully, because I was so fascinated by this rough and intense voice. Thanks for bringing back this memory to me, Lee!

2 years ago Edited
Jennifer Paire 2 years ago

Beautiful photos and wonderful story.

2 years ago Edited
Heike Replied to Jennifer Paire 2 years ago

Many thanks, Jennifer! Glad you liked it! smile

2 years ago Edited
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