Faust PDF By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“‘There are two maxims of translation,’ says he: ‘the one requires that the author, of a foreign nation, be brought to us in such a manner that we may regard him as our own’

The other, on the contrary, demands of us that we transport ourselves over to him, and adopt his situation, his mode of speaking, and his peculiarities.

The advantages of both are sufficiently known to all instructed persons, from masterly examples. Is it necessary, however, that there should always be this alternative?

Where the languages are kindred and equally capable of all varieties of metrical expression, may not both these “maxims” be observed in the same translation?

Goethe, it is true, was of the opinion that Faust ought to be given, in French, in the manner of Clement Marot.

But this was undoubted because he felt the inadequacy of modern French to express the naive, simple realism of many passages.

The same objection does not apply to English. There are a few archaic expressions in Faust, but no more than are still allowed—nay, frequently encouraged—in the English of our day.

“You are right,” said Goethe; “there are great and mysterious agencies included in the various forms of Poetry.

If the substance of my ‘Roman Elegies’ were to be expressed in the tone and measure of Byron’s ‘Don Juan,’ it would really have an atrocious effect.”—Eckermann.

“The rhythm,” said Goethe, “is an unconscious result of the poetic mood.

If one should stop to consider it mechanically, when about to write a poem, one would become bewildered and accomplish nothing of real poetical value.”—Ibid.

All that is poetic in character should be rhythmically treated! Such is my conviction; and if even a sort of poetic prose should be gradually introduced, it would only show that the distinction between prose and poetry had been completely lost sight of.”—Goethe to Schiller, 1797.

Tycho Mommsen, in his excellent essay, Die Kunst des Deutschen Uebersetzers as neueren Sprachen, goes so far as to say.

“The metrical or rhymed modeling of a poetical work is so essentially the germ of its being, that, rather than by giving it up, we might hope to construct a similar work of art before the eyes of our countrymen, by giving up or changing the substance.

“The immeasurable result which has followed works wherein the form has been retained—such as the Homer of Voss, and the Shakespeare of Tieck and Schlegel—is incontrovertible evidence of the vitality of the endeavor.”

[C]“Goethe’s poems exercise a great sway over me, not only by their meaning but also by their rhythm. It is a language which stimulates me to composition.”—Beethoven.

The various theories of translation from the Greek and Latin poets have been admirably stated by Dryden in his Preface to the “Translations from Ovid’s Epistles,”

And I do not wish to continue the endless discussion,—especially as our literature needs examples, not opinions.

A recent expression, however, carries with it so much authority, that I feel bound to present some considerations that the accomplished scholar seems to have overlooked. Mr. Lewes

justly says: “The effect of poetry is a compound of music and suggestion; this music and this suggestion are intermingled in words, which to alter is to alter the effect. For words in poetry are not, as in prose, simple representatives of objects and ideas: they are parts of an organic whole,—they are tones in the harmony.”

He thereupon illustrates the effect of translation by changing certain well-known English stanzas into others, equivalent in meaning, but lacking their felicity of words, their grace, and melody.

I cannot accept this illustration as valid, because Mr. Lewes purposely omits the very quality which an honest translator should exhaust his skill in endeavoring to reproduce.

He turns away from the one best word or phrase in the English lines he quotes, whereas the translator seeks precisely that one best word or phrase (having all the resources of his language at command), to represent what is said in another language.

More than this, his task is not simply mechanical: he must feel, and be guided by, a secondary inspiration.

Surrendering himself to the full possession of the spirit which shall speak through him, he receives, also, a portion of the same creative power.

Mr. Lewes reaches this conclusion: “If therefore, we reflect what a poem Faust is, and that it contains almost every variety of style and meter, it will be tolerably evident that no one unacquainted with the original can form an adequate idea of it from translation,”

AuthorJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Language English
No. of Pages264
PDF Size23.1 MB

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