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The Sorcerer's Apprentice


We worry quite a bit about what has changed and is changing in society and whether help is still possible before it's too late. It's not too late, provided we get rid of the apprentices and bring the master back to set things straight. 

Goethe's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" comes to mind whenever thinking about all of what is happening to us and our society.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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 accursed 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, Oh 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."

1779, translation by Edwin Zeydel, 1955

It doesn't come quite across the same in the translation from the original German.  It is too hard to keep the meter, make things rhyme and make the exact same meaning come across without losing something of the impact.  The music of the original language is not quite there.  But, I could not have made a translation that good, regardless of how hard I would have tried.

How often at work we see that someone wants to eliminate a work process, a procedure, without understanding it's purpose, its history of evolution, and thereby summons a whole set of problems that everybody had forgotten about or never knew; problems that the problematic procedure or process — a solution to a long-forgotten problem — had been solving perfectly or almost so for quite some time. 

What would be wrong with trying to perfect a solution that may be found wanting?  If one has a hang nail, then there are better solutions than to amputate the afflicted finger or even the whole hand.

Isn't it just the same with the eradication of the family?  Problems are re-emerging to plague us that humanity never wrote down because they had been solved before writing had been invented or had been solved a long as 5,000 to 2,000 years ago.  The progress that civilization made during the past few thousand years is being rapidly undone in a mad rush that began when a few decades ago we started to dismantle the family and other social traditions, as we try our best to return to the paganism of the stone age and the moral standards of the jungle.

Nevertheless, who's got the right incantations, who knows the magic words? It wasn't all that long ago when we still had them, remember? If not, no wonder you are happy with what you've got. You don't know what you are missing.

We should at least get rid of the apprentices.  They sure are making a mess of things.

—Walter

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Posted 2000 12 28
Updates:
2001 01 16 (to install link to Remember?)