Faust: A Tragedy, Parts One and Two, Fully Revised

Faust: A Tragedy, Parts One and Two, Fully Revised


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A classic of world literature, Goethe’s Faust is a philosophical and poetic drama full of satire, irony, humor, and tragedy. Martin Greenberg re-creates not only the text’s varied meter and rhyme but also its diverse tones and styles—dramatic and lyrical, reflective and farcical, pathetic and coarse, colloquial and soaring. His rendition of Faust is the first faithful, readable, and elegantly written translation of Goethe’s masterpiece available in English. At last, the Greenberg Faust is available in a single volume, together with a thoroughly updated translation, preface, and notes.

“Greenberg has accomplished a magnificent literary feat. He has taken a great German work, until now all but inaccessible to English readers, and made it into a sparkling English poem, full of verve and wit. Greenberg's translation lives; it is done in a modern idiom but with respect for the original text; I found it a joy to read.”—Irving Howe (on the earlier edition)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300189698
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 07/29/2014
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 984,893
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a German poet, novelist, playwright and politician. Martin Greenberg is best known for his translations of Goethe and von Kleist. He won a citation from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and received the Harold Morton Landon Verse Translation Award from the American Academy of Poets. W. Daniel Wilson is Professor of German at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Read an Excerpt

Faust A Tragedy

Parts One & Two Fully Revised

By Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Martin Greenberg


Copyright © 2013 Martin Greenberg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-19071-7


"In the beginning was the Deed!"


Manager, Poet, Clown

MANAGER. You two who've always stood by me
When times were hard and the playhouse empty,
What do you think we may hope for
From this tour of ours through German country?
I'd like to please the crowd here, for
They're really so easy-going, so patient,
The posts are up, the floorboards laid,
And all looking forward to the entertainment.
Staring about, composed, at ease,
They hope for a real surprise, each one,
I know with this audience how to please,
But I've never been in a fix like this one.
It's true what they're used to is pretty bad
But Lord, what a terrible lot they've read.
So how surprise them with something lively and new,
A piece with some meaning that amuses them too?
I don't deny what pleases me most
Are droves of people, a great host,
Trying with all their might to squeeze
Through the strait gate to our paradise,
When it's daylight still, not even four,
Using elbow and fist to get to the ticket seller,
Like starving men rushing the baker's door—
For the sake of a seat prepared to commit murder.
Who works such a wonder on such a mixture
Of people? Why, of course it's the poet,
So fall to, dear colleague, and let's see you do it!

POET. Don't talk to me about that crazy crowd,
One look at them and all my wits desert me!
Oh shield me from that shoving, shouting horde That swallows you up against your will completely!
No, lead me to some quiet, remote place
Where poets only know real happiness,
Where love and precious friends inspire and nurse
The blessed gift that is the power of verse.

Oh dear, what struggles up from deep inside us,
Syllables our lips shape hesitantly
Into scenes ineffective now, and now effective,
Is drowned out in the present's hurlyburly;
Years must pass till, seen in time's perspective,
Its shape and soul shine forth as they are truly.
What's all flash and glitter lives a day,
The real thing's treasured by posterity.

CLOWN. Posterity! Oh that word—don't let's start a row!
If all I ever thought of was the hereafter,
Who'd set the audience laughing in the here and now?
To be amused, that's their hearts' desire.
Having a clown on the stage who knows what his business is
Is not to be sneezed at—it matters to know how to please. When yours is the stuff to delight and content a whole
You don't sourly mutter the public's a mob, always changeable.
What you want's a full house, the sign out saying Standing
Room Only,
For the bigger the house, the better the response you can
count on,
So be a good fellow and show us what true drama is really.
Your imagination, let it pour out like a fountain,
Its wonders matched by wisdom, good sense, feeling,
By passion too—but mind you, show us some fooling!

MANAGER. But what's the first requirement? Plenty of action!
They're spectators so what they want to see is things happen.
If you've got business going on every minute
That catches people's attention, their roving eyes rivet,
Then you don't have to worry, they're yours, they're won over,
When the curtain comes down they'll shout "Author! Author!"
With a public so large you need an abundance to please
them all.
Something for everyone, that's how to seize them all,
The last thing you want is to be classically economical.
In the theater today only scenes and set pieces do,
The way to succeed is to serve up a stew,
You can cook it up fast, dish it out easy too.
Now tell me, what good is your artistic unity,
The public will only make hash of it anyway.

POET. You don't understand—all that's just hackwork,
A true artist never stoops to such stuff!
Those fine purveyors of cheap patchwork
For you are the measure of dramatic truth.

MANAGER. Go ahead, scold me. I don't mind your censure.
To do a job right you use the tools that are called for.
Remember, it's soft wood you've got to split,
Consider the people for whom you write:
One's here because he's bored, another
Comes stuffed from eating a seven-course dinner,
But worst by far are the ones who come to us
Straight from reading the latest newspapers.
The crowd arrives here distracted, distrait,
Thinking of this and that, not of a play.
The reason they come is mere curiosity,
The ladies exhibit their shoulders and finery,
Put on a great show without asking a salary.
Oh, the dreams poets dream in their ivory tower!
Flattered, are you, to see the house full?
Well, take a good look at our clientele,
The half vulgar and loud, half unmoved and sour,
One's mind's on his card game after the play,
Another's on tumbling a girl in the hay.
It's for people like that you fools torture the Muses?
Listen to me: You'll never go wrong
If you pile it on, pile it on, and still pile it on.
Bewilder, confound them with all your variety,
The public's the public, they're a hard lot to satisfy.
But goodness, how worked up you seem to be!
What's wrong? I can't tell if it's anguish or ecstasy.

POET. Go out and find yourself some other lackey!
You expect the poet, do you, frivolously,
For the sake of your blue eyes to debase
Nature's finest gift to the human race?
How does he teach humankind feeling,
Master the elements, every one?
I'll tell you, by the music pealing
Forth from his breast orphically,
Which then by reflux back on him returning
Reverberates as Nature's deep-voiced harmony.
When Nature winds life's endless thread
Indifferently on the bobbin, when
The noisy cries of her countless creatures
No music make, uproar instead,
Who melodizes the monotonous din
And makes all move in living measures?
Who calls each mute particular
To sing its part in the general chorus
In a glorious concord of myriad voices?
Who links our passions to wild tempests,
Our solemn moods to fading sunsets?
Unrolls before the feet of lovers
A lovely carpet of spring flowers?
Twines green leaves meaning nothing at all
To crown those proven most worthy of all?
Assures us of Olympus, upon it assembled the gods?—
That revelation of man's powers, the poet, does!

CLOWN. Then go on and use them, your marvelous powers!
Go at your business of making verses
The way you go at a love adventure:
A chance encounter, you're attracted, linger,
And little by little you find yourself caught.
You're so happy, later you're not;
First you're enraptured, then it's nothing but trouble,
And before you know it it's a whole novel,
Write the play we want that way, you know how to do it!
Jump right into life's richness and riot,
All of us live life, few have an idea about it,
And my, how it interests wherever you scratch it!
Color, confusion, a wild hurlyburly,
With a glimmer of truth amid errors' obscurity,
And there you have it, exactly the right brew
To refresh everyone, make them think a bit too.
Then the best of our youth will flock here to listen,
Gripping their seats in anticipation.
The sensitive soul will find in your play
Food to feed his melancholy;
One thing touches one man, another another,
The end result is, all discover
What's in their hearts. The young are still ready
To laugh at a good thrust, let their tears flow in pity,
Warmly respond to lofty ambitions,
Cherishing still their bright dreams and illusions.
You'll never please those whose race is run,
For them there are no more surprises,
But the youth for whom all's just begun,
They will shower you with praises.

POET. Then give me back those times again
When I, too, was a leaf uncurled
And song after song poured out of me
Like a fountain flowing uninterruptedly;
When mist still veiled the morning world
And a bud was a promised miracle,
When I plucked the thousand flowers that filled
The vales with their rich spectacle.
The nothing I owned was more than enough,
By fictions delighted, impelled toward truth,
Oh give me back that unquelled ardor,
The happiness whose depth is pain,
The strength of hate, love's superpower,
Oh give me back my youth again!

CLOWN. Youth, my dear colleague, you need in the following cases:
When the enemy's crowding you hard in the fight,
When pretty girls in summer dresses
Kiss and squeeze you with all their might,
When running hard, you glimpse in the distance
The wreath that rewards the fleetest foot,
When after the madly whirling dances
With drinking you wear the night out.
But to sweep the old familiar harp strings
Boldly yet with fine grace too,
To make by pleasing indirections
For the end your drama has in view—
That's a job for you old fellows,
And we respect you for your skill;
Age doesn't make us childish, God knows,
Just finds us the same old children still.

MANAGER. We've talked enough, now let me see
Your tardy quill produce results,
Our business is to stage a play,
Not waste the time in compliments.
And please—don't say you're not in the mood,
It never arrives if you hesitate timidly.
You say you're a poet, good, very good,
Let's hear it, then, your poetry.
You know what's wanted, good strong stuff—
To work now, work, go right at it,
What's put off today, tomorrow's put off;
How precious to us is every minute.
A resolute spirit, acting timely,
Seizes occasion by the short hairs,
It won't let go but hangs on grimly,
Once committed, it perseveres.

You know how on our German stage
We're free to try whatever we please,
So don't imagine I want you to save
Me money on paint and properties.
Hang out heaven's big and little lamps,
Scatter stars over the canvas sky,
Let's have fire and flood and dizzying steeps,
All sorts of birds and beasts—do the thing liberally.
And thus on a narrow platform you're able
To go all the way round Creation's great circle
At a brisk enough pace, yet deliberately as well,
From Heaven, through this our world, down to Hell.


The Lord. The Heavenly Host. Then Mephistopheles. The three Archangels advance to front.

RAPHAEL. The sun as always sounds his music
In contest with each brother sphere,
Marching round and around, with steps terrific,
His appointed circle, year after year.
To see him lends us angels strength,
But what he is, oh who can say?
The inconceivably great works are great
As on the first creating day.

GABRIEL. And swift, past all conception swift,
The jeweled globe spins on its axletree,
Celestial brightness alternating
With shuddering night's obscurity.
Against the rock-bound littoral
The sea is backwards seething hurled,
And rock and sea together hurtle
With the eternally turning world.

MICHAEL. And tempests vying, howling, riot
From sea to land, from land to sea,
Linking in tremendous circuit
A chain of blazing energy.
The thunderbolt makes ready for
The thunderclap a ruinous way—
Yet Lord, your servants most prefer
The stiller motions of your day.

ALL THREE. From seeing this we draw our strength,
But what You are, oh who can say?
And all your great works are as great
As on the first creating day.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Lord, since you've stopped by here again,
liking to know
How all of us are doing, for which we're grateful,
And since you've never made me feel de trop,
Well, here I am too with your other people.
Excuse, I hope, my lack of eloquence,
Though this whole host, I'm sure, will think I'm stupid.
Coming from me, high-sounding sentiments
Would only make you laugh—that is, provided
Laughing is a thing Your Worship still did
About suns and worlds I don't know beans, I only see
How mortals find their lives pure misery.
Earth's little god's shaped out of the same old clay,
He's the same queer fish he was on the first day.
He'd be much better off, in my opinion, without
The bit of heavenly light you dealt him out.
He calls it Reason, and the use he puts it to?
To act more beastly than beasts ever do.
To me he seems, if you'll pardon my saying so,
Like a long-legged grasshopper all of whose leaping
Only lands him back in the grass again chirping
The tune he's always chirped. And if only he'd
Stay put in the grass! But no! It's an absolute need
With him to creep and crawl and strain and sweat
And stick his nose in every pile of dirt.

THE LORD. Is that all you have got to say to me?
Is that all you can do, accuse eternally?
Is nothing ever right for you down there, sir?

MEPHISTOPHELES. No, nothing, Lord—all's just as bad as ever.
I really pity humanity's myriad miseries,
I swear I hate tormenting the poor ninnies.

THE LORD. Do you know Faust?


THE LORD. My good servant!

MEPHISTOPHELES. You don't say! He serves you, I think, very
Finds meat and drink, the fool, in nothing earthly,
Drives madly on, there's in him such a torment,
He himself is half aware he's crazy;
Heaven's brightest stars he imperiously requires
And from the earth its most exciting pleasures;
All, all, the near at hand and far and wide,
Leave your good servant quite unsatisfied.

THE LORD. If today his service shows confused, disordered,
With my help he will see the way clear forward;
When the sapling greens, the gardener can feel certain
Flower and fruit will follow in due season.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Would you care to bet on that? You'll lose,
I tell you,
If you'll give me leave to lead the fellow
Gently down my broad, my primrose path.

THE LORD As long as Faustus walks the earth
I shan't, I promise, interfere.
While still man strives, still he must err.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Well thank you, Lord—it's not the dead and gone
I like dealing with. By far what I prefer
Are round and rosy cheeks. When corpses come
A-knocking, sorry, Master's left the house;
My way of working's the cat's way with a mouse.

THE LORD. So it's agreed, you have my full consent.
Divert the soul of Faust from its true source
And if you're able, lead him along, Hell bent
With you, upon the downward course—
Then blush for shame to find you must admit:
For all his dark impulses, imperfect sight,
A good man always knows the way that's right.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Of course, of course! Yet I'll seduce him from it
Soon enough. I'm not afraid I'll lose my bet.
And after I have won it,
You won't, I trust, begrudge me
My whoops of triumph, shouts of victory.
Dust he'll eat
And find that he enjoys it, exactly like
That old aunt of mine, the famous snake.

THE LORD. There too feel free, you have carte blanche.
I've never hated your likes much;
I find of all the spirits of denial,
You jeerers not my severest trial.
Man's very quick to slacken in his effort,
What he likes best is Sunday peace and quiet;
So I'm glad to give him a devil—for his own good,
To prod and poke and incite him as a devil should.
[To the Angels] But you who are God's true and faithful
Delight in the world's wealth of living beauty!
May the force that makes all life-forms to evolve,
Enfold you in the dear confines of love,
And the fitfullness, the flux of all appearance,
By enduring thoughts give enduring forms to its transience. [The Heavens close, the Archangels withdraw.]

MEPHISTOPHELES. I like to see the Old Man now and then,
And take good care I don't fall out with him.
How very decent of a Lord Celestial
To talk man to man with the Devil of all people.


Excerpted from Faust A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Martin Greenberg. Copyright © 2013 Martin Greenberg. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction by W. Daniel Wilson, ix,
Translator's Note, xix,
Part One, 3,
Part Two, 169,
Notes, 443,

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