This is what happens when you download every free translation of a German writer, without paying any attention to the titles. The book is actually a series of twenty four interrelated poems, all about Goethe’s sporty Italian mistress, and the things they got up to in and out of his garden in Rome. By the time I finished the first poem, I knew I was in for some serious laughs.
Perhaps the bawdiest thing to emerge from the 1780’s, this poem begins, and centers on, an old wooden figure of Priapus, the Greek and Roman god of gardens and fertility, that Goethe finds in his garden. The speaker in the last poem is appropriately Priapus himself, and I will include a section that is acceptable for polite society. It turns out that it’s not easy to be a really old god.
Faggots are heaped all about me against the cold of the winter,
Which I hate for the crows settling them down on my head,
Which they befoul very shamefully. Summer’s no better: the servants
Empty their bowels and show insolent, naked behinds.
Filth, above and below! I was clearly in danger of turning
Into filth myself, toadstool, rotten wood!
Now, by your efforts, O noblest of artists, I shall recover
With fellow gods my just place. And it’s no more than my due.
Jupiter’s throne, so dishonestly won, it was I who secured it:
Color and Ivory, marble and bronze, not to mention the poems.
Now, all intelligent men look upon me in kindness. They like to
Form their own image of me, just as the poet has done.
Nor do the girls take offense when they see me–by no means the matrons.
None finds me ugly today, though I am monstrously strong.Goethe
Not surprisingly, this poem was censored, but by the writer himself. It was meant for an audience of one, his friend and fellow poet Friedrich Schiller. Literary and musical types will remember Schiller as the author of the “Ode to Joy,” which is the basis of the great ending of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It may not be a coincidence that that poem was also censored, as the original title and subject was “An die Freiheit” (Ode to Freedom), instead of “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy). The German authorities thought that whole freedom thing was too hot to handle.
Our celebration of freedom will be here in a week. Just don’t read this poem anywhere near Disneyworld.