Goethe’s Poems translated by Paul Dyrsen

Although a quick Google search may suggest otherwise, this book is available on the Internet at no cost in free file formats. It includes a wonderful translation of Goethe’s famous “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, here titled “The Wizard’s Apprentice”. You can read it and download it at the Internet Archive. Below I have reproduced “The Wizard’s Apprentice” with typesetting close to original.


“The Wizard’s Apprentice”

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 hurry
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!
Are the dishes.
I forgot the charm; what pity!
Now my words are empty wishes.

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 impunely
Shall you ravage.
Wait! you savage,
I’ll beset you,
With my hatchet opportunely
Shall I split your wood, I bet you.

There he comes again with water! —
How my soul for murder itches!
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!“

A review from The North American Review, Volume 1261878

8.—Goethe’s Poems. Translated in the Original Metres by Paul Dyksen. New York : F. W. Christem1878. 12mo, pp. xx.–378.

Of the twoscore volumes which make up, in the edition of 1840, the tale of Goethe’s works, Mr. Dyrsen has translated, in the book that lies before us, the whole of the first, except a few pages, of the “Prophecies of Bakis,” and also the “Rhymed Sayings” from the third volume. He has thus given us more of Goethe than what was given us, a few years ago, by the translators with whom he must stand comparison — Messrs. Aytoun and Martin, whose well-known versions included, as their chief contents, the “Poems in Antique Form,” the “Ballads and Legends,” and the “Songs and Lyrics.” Mr. Dyrsen translates, besides these, the remarkable “Roman Elegies” and the “Venetian Epigrams,” besides a number of pieces that the earlier translators passed over; and he has attempted, and with fair success, what they thought hopeless, the “absolute prosodical reproduction” of the originals. The “Roman Elegies,” they said in their preface, “the translators do not believe can be rendered, by any amount of labor and skill, into corresponding English measures with any assurance of success.” But Mr. Dyrsen has handled them, if unequally (which it would take more space than is at our command to show), yet fluently and musically sometimes, as witness these lines :

“Then of a sudden she drew a Roman five; and before it,
Quickly, a vertical dash; then, being sure I had seen
All I should, ran line into circle destroying the letters:
But an indelible four burned and illumined my eye.” — (p. 243.)

On the other hand, he offers us too many hexameters, like the first of the following :

“In the autumnal chill the fire starts up on the hearth and
Crackles, illumines, and shoots up from the copse and the sticks.”

But the translation in the main keeps closely to the original in sense as well as in form; it is more literal, if less graceful, than Messrs. Aytoun and Martin’s; and it is much more daring in faithfulness to situations and to phrases where the earlier translators were timid; as, notably, in passages of “The Bride of Corinth.”

Mr. Dyrsen’s brief preliminary essay on the translating of Goethe is interesting, but we turn, after all, to the actual performance, of which a few lines more will fairly show the spirit as contrasted with that of the rival translations, and help us to compare the accuracy of the two, Goethe addresses the Alps at Uri in a passage commencing :

“War doch gestem dein Haupt nooh so braun, wie die Locke der Lieben,
Deren holdes Gebild still aus der Feme mir winkt!”

Mr. Dyrsen renders this as follows :

“Yesterday your summit appeared deep-brown: and my distant
Darling I thought I beheld, looking at me from afar:
Prematurely I see your brown locks changed into white locks,
Changed in a day by the night’s snow and tempestuous storm.”

Mr. Aytoun translates the same passage thus :

“Yesterday thy head was brown, as are the flowing locks of love;
In the bright blue sky I watched thee, towering giant-like above;
Now thy summit, bright and hoary, glitters all with silver snow,
Which the stormy night hath shaken from its robes upon thy brow.”

Mr. Dyrsen’s translation, as will be seen, has vigor and a fresh feeling about it; and though it is unequal, and has sadly prosaic spots in it, is done in a faithful and intelligent spirit, and is a real contribution to our knowledge of Goethe.