Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) perhaps comes as close as any man to deserving the title of universal genius. Poet, dramatist, critic, scientist, administrator and novelist, he was born at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1749, the son of well-to-do parents with intellectual interests; and he studied at the University of Leipzig and at Strassburg, where he wrote a play which initiated the important Sturm und Drang movement. During the next five years he practiced law in Frankfurt and wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther, a remarkable novel autobiographical of one side of Goethe's nature. In 1775 he went to visit the court of the young Duke of Weimar, and, except for an extended journey to Italy a decade later, stayed there the rest of his life, filling at one time or another all the major posts in the Weimar government. Here a close friendship with Schiller developed, and here he conducted important scientific experiments and published a steady stream of books of the highest order and in many different forms. He became the director of the Weimar Theatre in 1791 and made it the most famous in Europe. His life held a number of ardent loves, which he celebrated in lyrics that are compared to Shakespeare's, and in 1806 he married Christiane Vulpius whom he had loved for many years. In later life Goethe became a generous patron of younger writers, including Byron and Carlyle. In 1790 he published the first version of his life work as Faust, a Fragment, but Part I of the completed Faust did not appear until 1808, while Part II was finished and published only a few months before Goethe's death in 1832. Cyrus Hamlin is Chairman of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. Walter Arndt is Sherman Fairchild Professor in the Humanties, Emeritus, at Dartmouth College. His translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin was awarded the Bollingen Prize.
This difficult work has defeated many translators, not only as a result of its sophisticated verse style and varying tone but because it has dramatic flaws that Goethe's wit and lyric powers, embedded in the original, made beside the point. Greenberg's brief introduction considers this history of translators' failures and submits that what previous attempts have lacked is a natural idiom; this translator attempts ``a free-ranging diction, meters looser, often, than those Goethe uses, and a much looser rhyming made up of half rhymes, assonance, and consonance.'' Yet Greenberg's spirit of compromise is hard to accept, especially his slackening of meter. Rhymes, for their part, are usually much less than ``half,'' and the mangled stresses, particularly at line breaks, are a great loss. These disappointments are compounded by how little success Greenberg makes of his vaunted natural idiom, as shown in such lines as ``So let's hear the terms, what the fine print is; / Having you for a servant's a tricky business'' and ``Now try and tell me, you know-it-alls, / There's no such thing as miracles!'' Rather than engaging a living language, he seems to look for idiom in pastiches of jargon. (Dec.)
The Faust legend is better known to English-speaking readers through Marlow's tragedy than through the later drama from Goethe, Germany's greatest author. Various 20th-century translators have tried to make Goethe's most famous work palatable to contemporary English audiences. With its facing German text, Walter Kaufmann's 1961 translation is most valuable for the serious student. Here, Greenberg has come closest to a version that might encourage stage productions. It boasts outstanding poetry and the use of the American vernacular, which makes the flavor of the original accessible to non-German speaking readers. Recommended for subject collections but also for smaller libraries wanting a good translation of this classic author.-- Ingrid Schierling, Univ. of Colorado at Colorado Springs