Author(s): Johann Wolfgang von GoetheDownload
Goethe schrieb über 60 Jahre an seinem “Faust” und nannte “diese sehr ernsten Scherze” am Ende sein “Hauptgeschäft”: Dabei entstand eines der großartigsten und gleichzeitig komplexesten Werke der Weltliteratur.(Amazon)
Some Reviews: 1187 in Goodreads.com
I have four books I told myself I’d read this year. Goethe’s Faust is one (well, technically, it’s two). I initially came across Kline’s translation and, since it was free and it seemed to be written in normal English, I gave it a try.
Unfortunately, the readability of that version is less than I initially thought – I found myself reading Wikipedia to keep track of what was going on. After I reached the second part and felt like shooting someone rather than continue reading the book, I searched for another translation, this time by way of recommendations. I found David Luke’s and it was almost love.
The introduction is a must-read – something I don’t often say, but in this case, it really makes sense of some things which confused me in the beginning: when Gretchen’s mother died, what was up with the random Earth Spirit who appeared in the beginning, never to be mentioned again and why a Walpurgis’ Night Dream had nothing to do with anything.
Faust, Part One, reads like a medley of adventures and poetry and more like a writing experiment that went on for a long time rather than a consistent text. Which can be horrible… or exciting.
‘Through many a long day you’ll be taught
That what you once did without thinking,
As easy as if it were eating or drinking,
Must be done in order: one! two! three!
But truly, this though factory of ours
Is like some weaver’s masterpiece:
One treadle stirs a thousand threads,
This way and that the shuttles whistle,
Threads flow invisibly, one … stroke
Ties a thousand knots …. The philosopher steps in
And proves to you it had to be so;
The first was so, the second was so,
And therefore the third and fourth were so.
If the first and second hadn’t existed,
The third and fourth would never have existed.
And this is praised by every scholar,
But never a one becomes a weaver.
To know and describe a living thing
You first get rid of all its spirit:
Then the parts are all in the palm of your hand,
And all that you lack is the spirit that binds them!
Encheiresis naturae, chemists call it,
And fool themselves and never know it’
I have read his Werther previously, so was familiar with his Sturm und Drang, but there he created a tragic hero, here it is something different.
Exquisite words conduce to exquisite generation, where (I’m reminded of Virgil) each word is child of that preceding and parent to the procession. It has the gravity of a great opera, the lucid and disturbed poignancy of a Shakespearean Lolita and chills more often than it warms.
Faust reaches into disheartening epistemology and other philosophic despair, making politics from theosophy. It is beautiful.
Five stars to the masterpiece, three stars to the somewhat odd translation, which is a decent support for the German student who could use some assistance, but doesn’t stand well on its own.
Our translator tries to give the sense of the lines rather than the meaning, which can be helpful when encountering archaic idioms, but which often arbitrarily breaks the imagery of its language, and sometimes feels obtusely motivated. I never did recover from the bafflement of seeing lines like “Halte! Halte!” rendered as “Oh, please wait for me to begin!” Just, no.
If you don’t know any German I would most certainly not recommend this translation. The only other one I’m familiar with is Kaufmann’s, which I would actually also not recommend. I’ve not yet found one that does a very good job of preserving the magic of the original.
My favorite work of literature ever written. I absolutely love Goethe’s Faust I; it is definitely the most sublime and inspiring work of literature in my mind. I think that the story of Dr. Faust alone is fascinating, but the version created by the German Romantic Goethe, whose genius can only be rivaled by Shakespeare, perhaps, is by far the most excellent, widely surpassing the play of Marlowe. My favorite quote from literature is in the monologue between Faust and his friend Wagner in Act I when the eponymous alchemist articulates his inner conflict with august eloquence: “Two souls alas, are lodged within my breast, which struggle there for undivided reign. One to the world, with obstinate desire and closely-cleaving organs still adheres. Above the mist, the other doth aspire, with sacred vehemence, to purer spheres.” Not only the colossal magnificance of the plot of the diabolical dealings and ill-fated love story between Faust and Gretchen and the lyrically spellbinding language enrich this work with such treasure, but the character of Mephisto is, what I believe, one of the most brilliant characters ever conceived. I could go on and on and revisit the profound affinity I have for this gold-mine of literature, but simply put– it’s my unequivocal favorite and I must say it should be read by anyone with a taste for great literature.