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Faust: A Tragedy

A major new translation of one of the greatest dramatic-poetic works in all of German literature
A magnificent drama shaped by themes of redemption and salvation, "Faust" is the magnum opus of Goethe, athe last true polymath to walk the eartha (George Eliot). As his journey continues, Faust follows Mephistopheles through ancient Greek mythology. Deeply smitten by the incomparably beautiful Helen of Troy, Faust marries Helen, embodying for Goethe his aimaginative longing to join poetically the Romantic medievalism of the Germanic West to the classical genius of the Greeks.a "Faust, Part II" even includes eerie premonitions of such modern phenomena as inflation and the creation of life by scientific synthesis.
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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

a One of those great works of literature into which a writer has been able to combine his ranging preoccupations and understanding as he worked.a aA. S. Byatt, from the Preface

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