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Selected Poetry by Johann Wolfgang von…

Selected Poetry (edition 2005)

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, David Luke (Editor), David Luke (Introduction), David Luke (Translator)

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Title:Selected Poetry
Authors:Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Other authors:David Luke (Editor), David Luke (Introduction), David Luke (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics, Paperback, 2005. 8vo. xliv+283 pp. Translation, Introduction [xiii-xliv] and notes [pp. 249-275] by David Luke, 1999. Index of German/English titles and first lines [pp. 276-283]. First published thus, 1999.
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Selected Poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Penguin Classics) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Selected Poetry

Penguin Classics, Paperback, 2005.

8vo. xliv+283 pp. Translation, Introduction [xiii-xliv] and Notes [pp.249-275] by David Luke, 1999. Index of German/English titles and first lines [pp. 276-283].

First published thus, 1999.


Bibliographical note and acknowledgements


I. The Younger Goethe (1770-1786)

1. May Song - Mailied
2. Welcome and Parting - Willkommen und Abschied
3. Ganymede - Ganymed
4. Prometheus - Prometheus

From the 'Urfaust', c. 1774
5. 'Well, that's Philosophy I've read' (lines 354-97) - 'Habe nun, ach! Philosophie'
6. In life like a flood (501-9) - 'In Lebensfluten'
7. 'There once was a king' (2759-82) - 'Es war ein König in Thule'
8. 'My heart's so heavy' (3374-413) - 'Meine Ruh ist hin'
9. 'What are the joys of heaven' (3345-65) - 'Was ist die Himmelsfreud'
10. 'Who killed me dead?' (4412-20) - 'Meine Mutter, die Hur'

11. On the Lake - Auf dem See
12. Restless Love - Raslose Liebe
13. 'Why was deep insight given to us' - 'Warum gabst du uns die tiefen Blicke'
14. A Wanderer's Night Song I: 'Messenger of heaven' - Wandrers Nachtlied I: 'Der du von dem Himmel bist'
15. A Wanderer's Night Song II: 'Now stillness covers' - Wandrers Nachtlied II: 'Über allen Gipfeln'
16a. To the Moon (First version) - An den Mond (Erste Fassung)
16b. To the Moon (Final version) - An den Mond (Letzte Fassung)
17. The Fisherman - Der Fischer
18. The Elf King - Erlkönig
19. [The Song of the Fates]* - [Das Lied der Parzen]
20. Human Limitations - Grenzen der Menschheit
21. Divinity - Das Göttliche
22. 'Oh do you know the land' - 'Kennst du das Land'
23. 'Only the lonely heart' - 'Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt'
24. 'Who never wept to eat his bread' - 'Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß'
25. Anacreon's Grave - Anakreons Grab

II. Classical and Middle Years (1786-1810)

From the Roman Elegies, 1788-90
26. II. 'Speak to me, stones' - 'Saget, Steine, mir an'
27. III. 'More than ever I had hoped' - 'Mehr als ich ahndete schön'
28. VII. 'Now on classical soil I stand' - 'Froh empfind ich mich nun'
29. XV. 'Eros was ever a rogue' - 'Amor bleibet ein Schalk'
30. XVII. 'You were two perilous serpents' - 'Zwei gefährliche Schlangen'
31. XVIII. 'Caesar would hardly have got me' - 'Cäsarn wär ich wohl nie'
32. XXIII. 'Strength, and a bold and liberal' - 'Zieret Stärke den Mann'
33. XXIV. 'Once in the garden's far corner' - 'Hinten im Winkel des Gartens'

From the Venetian Epigrams, 1790
34. 1. 'Pagan burial-urns and sarcophagi' - 'Sarkophagen und Urnen'
35. 9. 'Give me, Priapus, another name for it!' - 'Gib mir statt ''der Schwanz'''
36. 16. 'If I'd the husband I need' - 'Wär ich ein häusliches Weib'
37. 21. 'Dear little shape that might have' - 'Wie von der künstlichsten Hand'
38. 28 'Show us the parts of the Lord' - 'Heraus mit dem Teile des Herren!'
39. 30. 'Goats, go and stand of my left!' - 'Böcke, zur Linken mit euch!'
40. 33. 'Oh, how intently I used to observe' - 'Oh, wie achtet ich sonst'
41. 40. 'It is such joy to hug my beloved' - 'Wonniglich ists, die Geliebte'

Miscellaneous classical epigrams, c. 1796
42. '''Why'', asked Beauty, ''oh Zeus,''' - 'Warum bin ich vergänglich'
43. 'True love is love that stays constant' - 'Das ist die wahre Liebe'
44. 'Whom shall you trust, honest friend?' - 'Wem zum glauben ist'
45. 'Strive towards wholeness' - 'Immer strebe zum Ganzen'
46. 'Let us not all be the same' - 'Gleich sei keiner dem andern'

From Hermann and Dorothea, 1796-7
47. 'Thus the men talked' (Canto IV, lines 1-64) - 'Also sprachen die Männer'
48. 'So together they walked' (Canto VIII, 1-104) - 'Also gingen die zwei'

From Faust Part One, 1797-1808
49. Dedication (lines 1-32) - Zueignung
50. [Song of the Archangels] (243-70) - [Gesang der Erzengel]
51. 'Ice thaws on the river' (903-940) - 'Vom Eise befreit'
52. 'In the beginning was the Word' (1224-37) - 'Geschrieben steht'

53. The God and the Dancing-girl - Der Gott und die Bajadere
54. Permanence in Change - Dauer im Wechsel
55. Nature and Art - Natur und Kunst
56. Nocturne - Nachtgesang
57. The Diary - Das Tagebuch

III. The Later Goethe (1810-1832)

From the West-Eastern Divan, 1814-1818
58. Hegira - Hegira
59. Singing and shaping - Lied und Gebilde
60. A Phenomenon - Phänomen
61. A Past within the Present - Im gegenwärtigen Vergangenes
62. Talismans - Talismane
63. Unbounded - Unbegrenzt
64. Suleika speaks - Suleika spricht
65. The Secret - Geheimes
66. Engulfed - Versunken
67. 'Love for love and hour for hour' - 'Lied um Liebe, Stund um Stunde'
68. 'Beloved, let me show you' - 'An vollem Büschelzweigen'
69a. 'As I sailed on Euphrates' - 'Als ich auf dem Euphrat schliffte'
69b. 'This I'm happy to interpret' - 'Dies zu deuten bin erbötig!'
70. Ginkgo biloba - Gingo biloba
71. The Night of the Full Moon - Vollmondnacht
72. 'West wind, how I envy you' - 'Ach, um deine feuchten Schwingen'
73. 'King Behramgur, they say, invented' - 'Behramgur, sag man, hat den Reim'
74a. Summer Night - 'Sommernacht'
74b. 'Well, so at last I've learnt' - 'So hab ich endlich'
75. Privileged Animals - Begünstigte Tiere
76. Higher and Highest Matters - Höheres and Höchtes
77. Ecstatic Longing - Selige Sehnsucht

Miscellaneous late poems and epigrams
78. Old Age - Das Alter
79. Advertisement - Annonce
80. 'If a man's dead idle' - 'Wer aber recht bequem ist'
81. 'A man's a misfit' - 'Dem ist es schlect'
82. 'The hero Napoleon came' - 'Am Jüngsten Tag'
83. [The Death of a Fly] - [Fliegentod]
84. At Midnight - Um Mitternacht
85. Primal Words. Orphic - Urworte. Orphisch
86. The Pariah - Paria
The Pariah's Prayer - Des Paria Gebet
Legend - Legende
The Pariah's Thanksgiving - Dank des Paria
87. A Trilogy of Passion - Trilogie der Leidenschaft
To Werther - An Werther
Elegy - Elegie
Reconcilement - Aussöhnung
88. The Bridegroom - Der Bräutigam
89. [On Contemplating Schiller's Skull] - [Bei Betrachtung von Schillers Schädel]
90. 'Dusk has fallen' - 'Dämmrung senkte sich von oben'
91. To the Rising Full Moon - Dem aufgehenden Vollmonde
92. [A Legacy] - [Vermächtnis]

From Faust Part Two, 1800-1831
93. 'When a fragrance has descended' (lines 4634-65) - 'Wenn sich lau die Lüfte füllen'
94. 'How strong and pure the pulse' (4679-727) - 'Des Lebens Pulse schlagen'
95. 'So much admired and so much censured' (8488-515) - 'Bewundert viel und viel'
96. 'The jagged summits of its mountain' (9526-61) - 'Und duldet auch auf seiner Berge'
97. 'We shall dwell amid this tremor' (9992-10038) - 'Wir in dieser tausend Äste'
98. 'A watchman by calling' (11 288-303) - 'Zum Sehen geboren'
99. 'Woods, hitherwavering' (11 844-89) - 'Waldung, sie schwankt heran'
100. 'All that must disappear' (12 104-11) - 'Alles Vergängliche'

Index of German titles and first lines
Index of English titles and first lines

* Square brackets indicate editorial titles not used by Goethe.


There are those who say that poetry is what is lost in translation. I do like this, for it implies that there is a good deal of poetry in every prose. Somerset Maugham, who has the dubious honour to be my favourite writer, never wrote poetry but was always very fond of reading it. He was fortunate to have two native languages (English and French) and to know a third one (German) well enough to read poetry in them. He once perceptively remarked, as he often did, that one really should read poetry in one's native language, for there are nuances and associations for the native speaker that no foreigner, no matter how long he's lived in a foreign country and how well he knows its language, can hope to grasp. This is a somewhat harsh saying but I daresay it is true; so those of us who want to read poetry in a foreign language will just have to learn it as well as possible and make the best of a bad job.

At all events poetry is a very curious animal - especially if you try to read it in your third language. But it's like falling in love, one just can't help it.

Having recently fallen in love with Franz Schubert, and especially with his songs - or Lieder, to use the more appropriate German word - it was only too natural that I should fall in love with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, especially with his poetry. For one thing, my introduction to the former was the setting of Goethe's terrifying and haunting poem Erlkönig which illustrates in a most compelling way something I later found to be quite typical for Schubert: his ability to convey feelings, and especially to illuminate every single word of a poem, with music is nothing short of miraculous; for another thing, from Schubert's over 600 songs, almost 70 are settings of poems by Goethe - no other poet stimulated Schubert's genius to such a degree. So I have looked for some nice introduction to one of the greatest poets who ever lived and found that this Penguin Classics volume edited by David Luke is indeed a most wonderful place to start the exploration of the world of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Since I am absolutely the last man in the world to judge Mr Luke's translations, nor am I any more capable of judging his selection though 100 pieces spanning 60 years do sound impressive, I will concentrate my modest powers of reflection and observation on his editorial work. It is quite excellent indeed. To begin with, Mr Luke's more than 30 pages long Introduction is simply magnificent; it is hard to imagine a better one for perfect novices to Goethe. The editor follows closely the life of the great poet, putting with enviable dexterity all his major poetical works in the appropriate biographical context and even touching on some of Goethe's prose writings. The only caveat on Mr Luke's essay - and it is a caveat that I already learn to expect in writings about any great man - is that he seems a trifle preoccupied with Goethe's numerous love affairs and even with his sexual experiences. But there are serious attenuating circumstances in this case. After all, Goethe himself told us that his passionate infatuations with beautiful German maidens (figuratively speaking) played a very important role as his inspiration and that pretty much everything he wrote was either autobiographical or inspired by the events of his life. It must be said that Mr Luke, as a general rule, is remarkably convincing in elucidating the tenuous relationships between Goethe's mistresses and his poetry.

In addition to being a comprehensive overview of Goethe's life and works, Mr Luke's introduction is also a great source of charming and revealing details about the personality of the great poet. I was fascinated to learn that not only did Goethe know his equally illustrious colleague Friedrich Schiller, but there was warm friendship and considerable correspondence between them which lasted for a decade. The occasion gives Mr Luke an excellent opportunity to be vastly amusing: Napoleon's victorious wars in Germany and his occupation of German lands, he casually mentions, certainly troubled Goethe less than the death of Schiller. On a more serious side, it is saying a great deal to know that Goethe did indeed meet Napoleon whom, like many cultivated Germans at the time, he greatly admired. As far as Schiller is concerned, Mr Luke's speculative remark that it is doubtful whether Goethe would ever have continued with the writing of the first part of Faust without the solid intellectual support of his friend tantalisingly suggests a really great significance of this unique friendship. As a music lover, it was of certain importance to me to learn that Goethe once met Beethoven but did not at all like his music, at least until the end of his life when some piano playing by Felix Mendelssohn himself changed that. In short, it is not often that one finds a scholarly introduction which mingles biographical detail and critical appreciation in so adroit and compelling a manner as David Luke does in the Penguin Classics edition of Goethe's Selected Poetry.

The Notes of Mr Luke are equally well written, informative and meticulous. The editor has provided every single piece in his selection with short commentary about its biographical background, sometimes only by way of reference to the exhaustive introduction, and has even touched on some interesting matters of passages impossible to translate without significant loss of quality. I must say, though, that Mr Luke's notes are also quite provocative and controversial sometimes. Despite the parallels with Ganymede and the Shakespeare's Oberon, I remain extremely sceptical about the ''unconventional eroticism'' of Erlkönig and especially about the boy in the poem being ''paedophilically desired''; surely, a less obscene explanation about these ''schöne Spiele'' that the Erlkönig wants to play with the child can be found. Anyway, these are minor drawbacks. For the most part, Mr Luke's notes add a new and important dimension of understanding.

There is one last point I want to make. The good news is that all hundred pieces in the volume are translated into English in a line-to-line manner (though both versions always appear on two neighbouring pages, which is a bit weird). The bad news is that, unlike the earlier book edited by David Luke and first published by Penguin in 1964, all translations here are verse translations. I am not really sure this type is the better one. It seems to me that, of all types of literature there are, poetry is the one that must be read in original language; the wider one's knowledge of that language, the better. I certainly think, though, that one might profit much more from reading poetry in original language when one has a scant knowledge of, than reading verse translations into language which one is very fluent in, including native speakers. Now, certainly poetry is the worst possible way to learn a foreign language, but I do think that simple prose translations can help a lot not only in this respect but also in terms of achieving a much better understanding of the original poem. Indeed, I am pretty sure that more or less literal translations, whatever lack of poetic merit they may have, bring you closer to the spirit of a poet who happened to write in a language you have only a very superficial knowledge of. It goes without saying that you do need to improve that knowledge as much as possible.

Coming back to Somerset Maugham, who obviously was quite at ease with the German language, at all events at ease enough to quote a poem by Goethe without any translation, he once made the shrewd observation that German, though somewhat cumbersome for prose, is indeed a very fine language for poetry. While reading Goethe's poems, even with my appallingly sketchy knowledge of the language, I cannot but fully agree. Be that as it may, there is hardly a better way to start your journey into the endless realm of the German poetry than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his overwhelming personality. Despite my reservation to verse translations, which are all but different poems than the original ones, David Luke's anthology remains an engrossing read, not least because of his magisterial Introduction and conscientious Notes. Last but not least, the editor's recommendation to read the poems and extracts in the volume in the chronological order in which they are printed is well worth following; thus one goes through the life of Goethe together with the poet himself. With a guide like David Luke, it is a most unforgettable journey.

PS The final Alles Vergängliche, that is the final eight lines of Faust, make a very suitable coda of a wonderful volume, especially if listened to when sung by solo tenor and male choir and accompanied by large symphonic orchestra and organ as in Eine Faust-Symphonie by Franz Liszt (1811-1886). ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Dec 17, 2010 |
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