There was a programme on ITV years ago, The Prisoner. It had an episode “Hammer into Anvil”, which I enjoyed. It was about a tyrant (Nr 2 for those who remember it) who was responsible for the death of an innocent woman. Nr 6 swears to avenge her death, but Nr 2 laughs at him, “You are merely an anvil, I am the hammer”. But in the end it is is Nr 2 who is broken.
The question is, what are you, someone pushed around by events that surround you, or someone who takes the lead to make your part of this world better.
That was my first encounter with Goethe. Since then I have learned to know the German people better, and to love their language. In the original Goethe words are wonderful. I only wish I could do them justice, but I simply cannot keep both the pattern and the rhyming in an English version.
Geh! gehorche meinen Winken,
Nutze deine jungen Tage,
Lerne zeitig klüger sein:
Auf des Glückes großer Wage
Steht die Zunge selten ein;
Du mußt steigen oder sinken,
Du mußt herrschen und gewinnen,
Oder dienen und verlieren,
Leiden oder triumphieren,
Amboß oder Hammer sein.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832
Go and follow my commandments
Use your time to learn of wisdom,
In the bright days of your youth
On the fortunes of a wager
Builds but rarely honour’s crown
You must climb or you must fall back
You must win and gain the triumph
Or serve, forever bend the knee
Fail in grief, or live in triumph
Anvil or a hammer be.
Malcolm Cowen copyright 2016