Faust: A Tragedy, Part One

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Author, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Author, Martin Harry Greenberg, Translator Yale University Press $27.5 (156p) ISBN 978-0-300-05655-6
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 11/01/1992
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