Goethe’s masterpiece and perhaps the greatest work in German literature, Faust has made the legendary German alchemist one of the central myths of the Western world. Here indeed is a monumental Faust, an audacious man boldly wagering with the devil, Mephistopheles, that no magic, sensuality, experience, or knowledge can lead him to a moment he would wish to last forever. Here, in Faust, Part I, the tremendous versatility of Goethe’s genius creates some of the most beautiful passages in literature. Here too we experience Goethe’s characteristic humor, the excitement and eroticism of the witches’ Walpurgis Night, and the moving emotion of Gretchen’s tragic fate.
This authoritative edition, which offers Peter Salm’s wonderfully readable translation as well as the original German on facing pages, brings us Faust in a vital, rhythmic American idiom that carefully preserves the grandeur, integrity, and poetic immediacy of Goethe’s words.
About the Author
Before he was thirty, Goethe had proven himself a master of the novel, the drama, and lyric poetry. But even more impressive than his versatility was his unwillingness ever to settle into a single style or approach; whenever he used a literary form, he made of it something new.
Born in 1749 to a well-to-do family in Frankfurt, he was sent to Strasbourg to earn a law degree. There, he met the poet-philosopher Herder, discovered Shakespeare, and began to write poetry. His play Götz von Berlichingen (1773) made him famous throughout Germany. He was invited to the court of the duke of Sachsen-Weimar, where he quickly became a cabinet minister. In 1774 his novel of Romantic melancholy, The Sorrows of a Young Werther, electrified all of Europe. Soon as he was at work on the first version of his Faust, which would finally appear as a fragment in 1790.
In the 1780s Goethe visited England and immersed himself in classical poetry. The next decade saw the appearance of Wihelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, his novel of a young artist education, and a wealth of poetry and criticism. He returned to the Faust material around the turn of the century and completed Part 1 in 1808.
The later years of his life were devoted to a bewildering array of pursuits: research in botany and in a theory of colors, a novel (Elective Affinities), the evocative poems of the West-Easters Divan, and his great autobiography, Poetry and Truth. In his eighties he prepared a forty-volume edition of his works; the forty-first volume, published after his death in 1832, was the send part of Faust.
Goethe’s wide-ranging mind could never be confined to one form or one philosophy. When asked for the theme of his masterwork, Faust, he could only say. “From heaven through all the world to hell”; his subject was nothing smaller.
Read an Excerpt
Wavering forms, you come again;
once long ago you passed before my clouded sight.
Should I now attempt to hold you fast?
Does my heart still look for phantoms?
You surge at me! Well, then you may rule as you rise about me out of mist and cloud.
The airy magic in your path stirs youthful tremors in my breast.
You bear the images of happy days,
and friendly shadows rise to mind.
With them, as in an almost muted tale,
come youthful love and friendship.
The pain is felt anew, and the lament sounds life's labyrinthine wayward course and tells of friends who went before me and whom fate deprived of joyous hours.
They cannot hear the songs which follow,
the souls to whom I sang my first,
scattered is the genial crowd,
the early echo, ah, has died away.
Now my voice sings for the unknown many whose very praise intimidates my heart.
The living whom my song once charmed are now dispersed throughout the world.
And I am seized by long forgotten yearnings for the solemn, silent world of spirits;
as on an aeolian harp my whispered song lingers now in vagrant tones.
I shudder, and a tear draws other tears;
my austere heart grows soft and gentle.
What I possess appears far in the distance,
and what is past has turned into reality.
Prelude in the Theater
Manager, Dramatic Poet, Comic Character.
You two who often stood by me in times of hardship and of gloom,
what do you think our enterprise should bring to German lands and people?
I want the crowd to be well satisfied,
for, as you know, it lives and lets us live.
The boards are nailed, the stage is set,
and all the world looks for a lavish feast.
There they sit, with eyebrows raised,
and calmly wait to be astounded.
I have my ways to keep the people well disposed,
but never was I in a fix like this.
It's true, they're not accustomed to the best,
yet they have read an awful lot of things.
How shall we plot a new and fresh approach and make things pleasant and significant?
I'll grant, it pleases me to watch the crowds,
as they stream and hustle to our tent
and with mighty and repeated labors press onward through the narrow gate of grace;
while the sun still shinesit's scarcely four o'clock
they fight and scramble for the ticket window,
and as if in famine begging at the baker's door,
they almost break their necks to gain admission.
The poet alone can work this miracle on such a diverse group. My friend, the time is now!
Oh, speak no more of motley crowds to me,
their presence makes my spirit flee.
Veil from my sight those waves and surges that suck us down into their raging pools.
Take me rather to a quiet little cell where pure delight blooms only for the poet,
where our inmost joy is blessed and fostered by love and friendship and the hand of God.
Alas! What sprang from our deepest feelings,
what our lips tried timidly to form,
failing now and now perhaps succeeding,
is devoured by a single brutish moment. 70
Often it must filter through the years before its final form appears perfected.
What gleams like tinsel is but for the moment.
What's true remains intact for future days.
Oh, save me from such talk of future days!
Suppose I were concerned with progeny,
then who would cheer our present generation?
It lusts for fun and should be gratified.
A fine young fellow in the present tense is worth a lot when all is said and done.
If he can charm and make the public feel at ease,
he will not mind its changing moods;
he seeks the widest circle for himself,
so that his act will thereby be more telling.
And now be smart and show your finest qualities,
let fantasy be heard with all its many voices.
Above all, let there be sufficient action!
They come to gaze and wish to see a spectacle.
If many things reel off before their eyes,
so that the mob can gape and be astounded,
then you will sway the great majority and be a very popular man.
The mass can only be subdued by massiveness,
so each can pick a morsel for himself.
A large amount contains enough for everyone,
and each will leave contented with his share.
Give us the piece you write in pieces!
Try your fortune with a potpourri
that's quickly made and easily dished out.
What good is it to sweat and to create a whole?
The audience will yet pick the thing to pieces.
You do not feel the baseness of such handiwork.
How improper for an artist worth his salt!
I see, the botchery of your neat companions has been the maxim of your enterprise.
Such reproaches leave me unperturbed.
A man who wants to make his mark must try to wield the best of tools.
You have coarse wood to split, remember that;
consider those for whom you write!
A customer may come because he's bored,
another may have had too much to eat;
and what I most of all abhor:
some have just put down their evening paper.
They hurry here distracted, as to a masquerade,
and seek us out from mere curiosity.
The ladies come to treat the audience to their charms and play their parts without a salary.
Now are you still a dreamer on poetic heights?
And yet content when our house is filled?
Observe your benefactors at close range!
Some are crude, the others cold as ice.
And when it's finished, this one wants a deck of cards and that one pleasure in a whore's embrace.
Why then invoke and plague the muses for such a goal as this, poor fools?
I say to you, give more and more and always more,
and then you cannot miss by very much.
You must attempt to mystify the people,
they're much too hard to satisfy
What's got into youare you anguished or ecstatic
Go find yourself another slave!
The poet, I suppose, should wantonly give back,
so you'd be pleased, the highest right that Nature granted him, the right of Man!
How does the poet stir all hearts?
How does he conquer every element?
Is it not the music welling from his heart
that draws the world into his breast again?
When Nature spins with unconcern the endless thread and winds it on the spindle,
when the discordant mass of living things sounds its sullen dark cacophony,
who divides the flowing changeless line,
infusing life, and gives it pulse and rhythm?
Who summons each to common consecration where each will sound in glorious harmony?
Who bids the storm accompany the passions,
the sunset cast its glow on solemn thought?
Who scatters every fairest April blossom along the path of his beloved?
Who braids from undistinguished verdant leaves a wreath to honor merit?
Who safeguards Mount Olympus, who unites the gods?
Man's power which in the poet stands revealed!
Very well, then put to use those handsome powers and carry on the poet's trade,
as one would carry on a love affair.
One meets by accident, emotes, and lingers,
and by and by one is entangled,
one's bliss increases, then one is in trouble;
one's rapture grows, then follow grief and pain,
before you know, your story is completed.
We must present a drama of this type!
Reach for the fullness of a human life!
We live it all, but few live knowingly;
if you but touch it, it will fascinate.
A complex picture without clarity,
much error with a little spark of truth
that's the recipe to brew the potion whence all the world is quenched and edified.
The fairest bloom of youth will congregate to see the play and wait for revelation;
then every tender soul will eagerly absorb some food for melancholy from your work.
First one and then another thing is stirred,
so each can find what's in his heart.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Warning--this is not the complete Faust as advertised. Only part one.
Goethe¿s ¿Faust¿ is arguably the most important milestone in Romantic literature. Taking the famous medieval legend of Dr. Faustus and his pact with the devil, Goethe adapted the tale of old, and transformed it into a great love story, and a probing poetical tract on the nature of good and evil, salvation and damnation, failing and striving, the innate search for truth and lasting fulfilment.
Part One (first published 1808) features Faust¿s disgust with his life and the world at large, and attempting to unite with the Spirit of creation and soar above the petty corporality of earth, the proud old scholar is dashed to the ground, for he must first work his salvation out on earth by the sweat of his brow before he can be admitted into the presence of the Deity. In desperation, Faust tries to commit suicide, but then makes a wager with the devil: if Mephistopheles can show him that one moment of bliss he is searching for and succeeds in persuading him to cease all his human striving for that one moment, then his soul is forfeit. The devil agrees to the wager, grants Faust the gift of youth, and the adventures begin. He meets young Margareta and falls in love, a romance that leads to tragedy for the innocent maiden.
David Luke¿s award-winning translation is one of the best I have read. While the rhythms do jar on occasion, this does not take away from the `flow¿ of this rendition. There will always be discrepancies when a text is taken out of its original language in any case, so it is more constructive to concentrate on the `readability¿, this translation succeeds in portraying the mood of Goethe¿s text and the personality of his vibrant characters. In some instances, it may be argued the translation is too modern, for example, lines [2065-2070] when Mephistopheles prepares his magic flying cloak for their journey to a new life of youthful debauchery:
¿One merely spreads one¿s cloak¿you¿ll find
It give us aerial elevation.
Though, please, this bold step for mankind,
I¿ll set the burners going, heat some air, and lo!
We travel light, the earth lies far below.¿
Did Neil Armstrong land on the moon in Goethe¿s time? Of course not, but Luke¿s witty lines humorously displays Mephistopheles¿ rakish personality and has become one of my personal favourites in this English edition.
The book features an informative introduction on Goethe¿s biography and the composition of Part One and includes a graph displaying how he edited and added to the scenes until he arrived at the text we know today.
There is also a select bibliography, a general chronology of Goethe¿s life and career, and helpful explanatory endnotes for those who wish to study the details of the text more thoroughly. For ¿Urfaust¿ scholars, Luke highlights the lines that were part of Goethe¿s early draft.
E.A. Bucchianeri, author of ¿Faust: My Soul be Damned for the World¿
Genius for its time. It is no wonder that Mellville cites him in his work.
I think that 'Faust' is a excellent book. It displays the remmicks of good and evil and respresents of how one's soul is a very important source of who one is. Goeth has really captured the true essence of the human soul.
What does Faust mean? Tough to find too many books more open to interpretation since Columbus landed on American soil. Obvious comparisons with Adam and Eve and the serpent: except the sinner/first one to bite the apple/knowledge-seeker here is a man (yup, feminists have jumped all over that one). interpretations still up for grab: is the sinner a rebel? overly ambitious? is wanting knowledge a deadly sin (ie. pride) -- should Faust be punished? ; or maybe the socialist interpretations are right and Mephistoles symbolizes dissidence -- truth seekers may just be rejecting oppression...down with the elites, closed minds and limited worldviews! Is Mephistopheles the tempter, trying to destroy Faust or is he freeing him? This book was also the center of a cultural war of interpretation in Germany between the Nazis and the spirit of the Weimar....we all know who won that battle... What Goethe was really trying to say, you'll have to decide for yourself...The cultural war (or class war?) is far from over...so read it!
I'm not sure what to think of the tone of the book over all, as I come away from it with a feeling that Faust is being condemned to the devil for seeking too much knowledge. I feel like there is also something of the old "doctor wanting to be god" joke in here, as well. But I get the feeling that, over time, Faust will come to be one of my favorite characters, along with Voltaire's Candide and Camus' Meursault. And there is definitely something "absurdly" tragic about Goethe's character, as well. Because, to me, Faust isn't just about someone who makes a deal with the devil to make his life better. Rather, it's about someone whose thirst for knowledge is never slaked, who seeks to know everything and what it's like to be everyone. Or, should I say, Faust seeks to be omniscient. (And I have to wonder, is that necessarily a bad thing? Would the world be worse off if we knew just what it was like to be the millionaire in his mansion, or the low class beggar in the city?) But to get back on track: at the same time, he realizes he is merely only a human, and he is burdened, depressed, and frenzied by the knowledge that he probably can never know everything--and there is something so full of humility, so pathetically human about his situation. This leads him to not just "make a deal" with the devil, but to acquiesce to Mephistopheles as a sort of last resort. Why not, if there is no other way he can gain omniscient knowledge, anyway? Of course, Mephistopheles makes him become enamored with a woman, and this love transports Faust, and makes him finally feel like he has gained everything he's ever wanted. Where am I going with this? I don't know, because I don't quite know what Goethe was going for, either. But Faust's words say it all the better:"And here, poor fool! with all my loreI stand, no wiser than before"
Sequels are never as good as the originals. :-( It may be sacrilege to say it and the books were meant by Goethe to be read as a unified whole, but part two diverges way too far into classical allegory for my tastes. Only for the hardcore. Bring a headlamp and leave a popcorn trail, you might get lost.Just a few quotes:On life; I thought of the mist trail in Yosemite when I read these lines:¿And so I turn, the sun upon my shoulders,To watch the water-fall, with heart elate,The cataract pouring, crashing from the boulders,Split and rejoined a thousand times in spate;The thunderous water seethes in fleecy spume,Lifted on high in many a flying plume,Above the spray-drenched air. And then how splendidTo see the rainbow rising from this rage,Now clear, now dimmed, in cool sweet vapour blended.So strive the figures on our mortal stage.This ponder well, the mystery closer seeing;In mirrored hues we have our life and being.¿On marital dissatisfaction:¿Observe the married creature:There I begin; and can in every caseThe purest bliss by idle whims deface,So varies mood and hour and human nature.And holding in his arms what most should charm him,Each fool will set his dreams on some new yearning;From highest joy, now grown familiar, turning,He shuns the sun, and takes the frost to warm him.With practiced hand I rule in these affairs,And bring in Asmodeus, trusty devil,To sow, when time is ripe, conjugal evil,And thus I wreck the human-race in pairs.¿
A great journey-of-the-soul type book (even if you're an atheist). Just a wonderful human argument which any and all humans experience at one time or another.