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ART. I.-BROOKS'S FAUST.
1. Faust. A Tragedy. Translated from the German of GOETHE. With Notes. By CHARLES T. BRooks. Second Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1856.
2. Ungelehrte Erklärung des Goethe'schen Faust. Von J. A. HARtung. 3. Goethe's Faust, Erster und zweiter Theil. Zum erstenmal vollständig erläutert. Von H. DÜNTZER.
FAUST has been often translated, oftener than any other of Goethe's works, than anything else in German literature, but never before, we believe, by a poet; never by one who unites in the same measure as the author of this volume the three most essential qualifications for such a work, poetic appreciation, rhythmical skill, and accurate knowledge of the German.
We said Faust. We should have said the First Part of Faust. And hereby hangs a criticism. The First Part of Faust bears the same relation to the whole drama, that the "Inferno" does to the whole of Dante's Divina Commedia,. or that the first part of Don Quixote does to the entire romance. The translator was not bound to english both parts, but he was bound, we think, to indicate in some way the incompleteness of his undertaking, and not, while giving us a fragment, to designate it by a title which virtually says, This VOL. LXIII. 5TH S. VOL. I. NO. I.
is the entire work. Grant, if you please, the inferiority of the Second Part. That may be a reason for omitting to translate it, but not for ignoring its existence. We must regard it as an oversight, that neither title, preface, nor note of the volume before us offers any recognition, or any intimation, of the fact that there is anything more of the original Faust than the portion here presented.
Mr. Brooks's eminent success and long-established reputation as a translator of German lyrics-an art in which he has few rivals-justified an undertaking which, in view of the numerous attempts in this kind already before the public, might otherwise seem presumptuous or superfluous. Only by surpassing all its predecessors could the new translation vindicate its right to be. That Mr. Brooks has done this we cannot absolutely affirm, inasmuch as all the translations of Faust are not known to us. But this we can assert with the utmost positiveness, that his version is greatly superior to any we have read, in the most essential requisite of a good translation, to wit, the carrying over, not of the bare and substantial sense alone, but also of the tone and hue, the very aroma, of the original. No version can accomplish this (except in single and rare passages), otherwise than proximately. Mr. Brooks is one of the few translators of Faust who have even seriously attempted it, so far as the metrical order is concerned. Single passages have been better rendered by other hands, but no translation that we are acquainted with equals this as a whole, and we doubt if a better will ever be produced by one and the same hand. A better version is possible only by combining the several excellences of many in one. And such an eclectic Faust we hope one day to see, the present version serving as the basis.
Unequalled as a whole, Mr. Brooks's translation is preeminently successful in precisely those passages which, owing to the difference in the structure of the two languages, present the greatest metrical difficulties to the English versifier, and which, accordingly, most translators do not attempt to render with metrical precision. The predominance of monosyllables in English speech is unfavorable to female rhymes, for which the German, abounding in dissyllabic terminations,
possesses especial aptitude. Most translators renounce in despair this peculiar grace of German rhythm, and change the penultimate accent of the original into the more emphatic but far less musical ultimate. It requires some ingenuity and a good deal of patience to overcome this difficulty. Mr. Brooks, who is eminent in the former quality, has faced it fairly, and has not succumbed for want of the latter. The best passages in his version are those to which his predecessors have most failed to do justice.
A difficult piece of rhythm for the English versifier is the "Dedication," an ottava rima, in which the first, third, and fifth verses rhyme with each other, and the two last with each other, in female rhymes. Mr. Brooks has succeeded admirably in preserving this metrical form, with the least possible modification of the phraseology of the original. the two concluding stanzas:
“These later songs of mine, alas! will never
Sound in their ears to whom the first were sung.
"And now I feel a long-unwonted yearning
For that calm, pensive, spirit-realm to-day;
Strange awe comes o'er me; tear on tear falls burning;
What I possess I see afar off lying,
And what I lost is real and undying."
Every metrical translation involves a compromise, greater or less, between meaning and rhythm. The exact meaning and the exact rhythm in two different languages can seldom be made to coincide. The question is, Which shall be sacrificed? If we give up the metre, we lose the tone of the poem, which is quite as essential a constituent of it as the sense. And, since any other metre may refuse to express the exact sense, it would follow that a prose translation is the
best. And this is the position assumed by Mr. Hayward, the prose translator of Faust. But in our judgment a prose rendering of a poem is no more a translation of it, than the libretto of an opera is the exhibition of an opera, or the description of a man the portrait of that man, or than a piece of charcoal is the fac-simile of a diamond, albeit the chemical value of both bodies may be the same. Poetry is not prose versified, a metrical form arbitrarily tacked to a given meaning; but in every true poem the measure is co-original and co-ordinate with the sense, and cannot be separated from it. We say, therefore, that a prose version of a poem, which preserves the exact phraseology, can never be so true a translation as a metrical one, in which the phraseology is much modified. And, more than this, in the higher forms of lyrical composition the metre is so constitutive and vital an element, so strong is the consent between melody and matter, that the same metre with other words may express more truly the spirit of the poem, than the same words with another metre ; and he who should translate female rhymes into male, and anapæsts or trochees into iambics, would as surely miss the effect of the original as if he substituted a different sense.
In translating a genuine poem, then, the first point to be considered is the measure. The exact metre must be preserved, at whatever cost of phraseology, so the main idea and general purport of the original are not perverted or lost. Where the structure of the language does not admit of this, a true translation is out of the question. The more peculiar the metre, the more essential it is to the spirit and purport of the piece. There are passages of Faust in which the measure, and not the language, is the true exponent of the author's intent, and where a change in the metre would be a change in the meaning. The words here are mere supporters of the rhythm, suggesting the thought rather than stating it. Such is the song of the spirits, by which, at the bidding of Mephistopheles, Faust is lulled to sleep in his own study. It consists of some sixty dactylic verses, which, without a single distinct proposition, express the flow of joyous images awakened in the soul by the contemplation of nature. We know of no passage in the whole compass of German poetry which