Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dedication from Faust

While I was in Germany this summer, I spent some time translating the beginning of Goethe's Faust into English, trying to keep the verse structure of the original. It was my way of trying to switch my brain into German mode.

I went back and revised my translation of the opening passage. Both Walter Kaufmann and David Luke have fine translations of this passage from Faust, but I still like mine the best.


You return again, oh, you shifting shapes
That earlier appeared to clouded sight.
Shall I hold fast to the image that gapes
Before my heart, proclaiming what is right?
You make it so. So, fine. Your image rapes
My mind and forces me toward endless light.
My breast is filled with youthful stuttering,
From you shall come the magic uttering.

You bring with you a sight of former days
And such beloved shadows cast about;
Same as of old, these half-forgotten ways,
First love appears, also true friendship's route;
The pain is new again, returns and stays
In my life's labyrinth, and can't get out,
And now those good and ever lovely hours
Tossed by chance, rain down on me in showers.

They hear it not, my soaring bird-like song,
Those blessed souls to whom at first I sang.
Long dead are all those friends for which I long,
Scattered, ah! who once made such a clang.
My sorrows ring out to an unknown throng,
In grief my heart sounds forth an awful bang,
And that which once was said in my song's praise
When my friends lived, now through the cold world strays.

And I am gripped by long forgotten moans,
For from the kingdom of the dead they came,
And sweep now in those strange unspoken tones
My lisping song, as from a harp it came,
A shudder holds me, groan falls down on groans,
The mighty heart, at once is mild and tame;
What I possess is what is far away,
And what has gone, will be with me today.

So much of the meaning of Goethe's poetry is in the form itself. I hope I've managed to capture at least some of it here.