The Myth of Prometheus: a poem by Goethe, a painting by Rubens, music by Schubert and Hugo Wolf…


Prometheus (1774)
by Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)


Hide your heavens, Zeus,
in cloudy vapours
and practise your stroke, like a boy
beheading thistles,
on oaktrees and mountain summits;
still you must leave me
my steady earth,
and my hut, not built by you,
and my hearth,
whose warm glow
you envy me.

I know nothing more pitiful
under the sun than you Gods!
You feed your splendour
pathetically
on expensive sacrifices
and the breath of prayers
and would starve, were not
children and beggars
fools full of hope.

When I was a child,
not knowing out from in,
I turned my bewildered gaze
to the sun, as if there might be above it
an ear to hear my sorrow,
a heart like mine
to have mercy on the afflicted.

Who helped me
against the overweening Titans?
Who rescued me from death,
from slavery?
Was it not you, my holy glowing heart,
who did it all?
and young and good, deceived,
glowed thanks for rescue
to the slumberer in the heavens?

I, worship you? What for?
Did you ever relieve
the ache of the heavy-laden?
Did you ever wipe away
the tears of the terror-stricken?
Was I not hammered into the shape of Man
by almighty Time
and eternal Destiny,
my masters, and yours?

No doubt you supposed
I should hate life,
flee to the desert,
because not every
blossom of dream became fruit?

Here I sit, make men
on my own pattern,
a breed to resemble me,
to suffer pain, to weep,
to feel pleasure and joy,
and, like me,
to pay you no attention!

* * * * *

Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Translated by D.M. Black
Modern Poetry in Translation
New Series, No. 16 (2000)
Read it in German or Portuguese

Prometheus depicted in a sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1762 (Louvre)

Prometheus depicted in a sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1762 (Louvre)

Music by Hugo Wolf (1889):

Music by Franz Schubert (1819):

* * * * *

Poets previously published on Awestruck Wanderer:

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