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Goethe's Faust Paperback – December 4, 1962
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Text: English, German (translation)
From the Publisher
The best translation of Faust available, this volume provides the original German text and its English counterpart on facing pages. Walter Kaufmann's translation conveys the poetic beauty and rhythm as well as the complex depth of Goethe's language. Includes Part One and selections from Part Two.
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This book is truly a bargain at Amazon's price. I would highly recommend it to any English/German bilingual individuals who have never read Goethe's "Faust." It is a highly academic and poetic work of literature. Interested parties/readers should not ignore the opportunity to indulge in Goethe's most famous and extensive poetic creation.
Goethe introduces a very different God and Satan than what Marlowe had in mind, even though he works within a commonly accepted Christian theological framework. (MacLeish's J.B. seems in retrospect to be highly derivative from Goethe's Faust -- but still a good read in its own right, nonetheless.)
The facing translation is a great way for any English speaker to widen his or her German vocabulary.
I know that people avoid Faust for being too formidable and daunting. They need not feel so. It is amazing just how smoothly the translation of Part One reads. You do not want to put it down. Yet it is so very accurate- a quick glance across to the opposing German original confirms that.
As for Part Two, it doesn't read quite so smoothly, but that is no fault of the translator, since the original German also lacks the perfect flow and polish of Part One. Goethe didn't have sixty more years to perfect it as he did with the first part. In fact, we are only given a translation of the first and last acts. The intervening three acts are summarized in the introduction. My sole criticism of this edition is that the summary should have been actually bound between these two acts so that you do not have to flip back to the introduction to refresh your memory. Still, you can piece the full flavor and meaning out of Part Two in spite of these obstacles.
The author tells us in the introduction that we shouldn't fall into the Germanic trap of analyzing the idea behind the story. He seems to insist that we appreciate it for poetry and characterization and leave it at that. To my mind that would be frivolous. The core idea in Faust is the tale of the German nation- indeed of most of western civilization. Faust the scholar and magician represents the dissatisfaction and arrogance of modern man. Not content with comprehending God's will and putting himself in accord with the Divine order he tries to play God himself in order to "improve" creation. He sells his soul to do this, but then he was incapable of faith in the first place (in spite of first hand dealings with the supernatural.) This is directly analogous to those scientists who unravel the glories and mysteries of creation every day, yet do not pause to appreciate the existence of a Creator. Needless to say, Faust's efforts always end in failure and dissatisfaction- and disaster for those whose life he touches (Gretchen.)
The second part is a continuation of this theme, for Faust has learned nothing in Part One. If anything he is more ambitious and insatiable. He seeks after gold, influence, power, command, land, even progeny and a trophy wife (Helen of Troy.) It all turns out twisted. In fact, just short of his final, hard-won triumph he suddenly drops dead from old age. Nothing lasting- except ill effects- remain of his life's constant striving.
Yet, Faust is saved. The translator says that this is unexplainable. He seems to attribute it to softness of heart on the part of Goethe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As the Lord states in the Prologue: "A good man in his darkling aspiration/ Remembers the right road throughout his quest." In other words, the Lord knows that Faust was trying to do good- it was just that through his flaws and limitations he ended up making a mess of things. This was also Boethius' understanding- even when we do wrong it is out of a flawed quest to achieve the Good. Even Gretchen (who has now re-ascended to her place as part of the Divine Feminine) understands and forgives Faust. Faust has now the perspective to understand and learn from his errors on earth. He is now truly fit to teach other souls hard-won lessons of worth.
May this also be the ultimate fate of all modern men.