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Author(s) of the publication: Tatyana ZDORIK

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by Tatyana ZDORIK, Cand. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), member of the Goethe Commission of the RAS Scientific Council "History of World Culture", State Institute of Art Criticism, RF Ministry of Culture, Moscow, Russia

The Moscow-based INSAN Publishers have brought out a new edition of Goethe's works translated into Russian by Venera Dumayeva-Valiyeva. The interest in this great German author is much alive here in Russia.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) needs no superlatives like great, preeminent and so forth... He is just as intimate to us as are de Cervantes, Dante, Shakespeare or Moliére... Or just like the great Russian authors Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoyevsky. Germany boasts of two giants, Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller.

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Goethe is not just as fortunate in this country as Shakespeare published time and again, actually every year. Goethe's first Russian translations appeared in the 18th century; the first translation of Faust came out in 1838; his collected works in six volumes were published in St. Petersburg between 1865 and 1871. And his complete edition in 13 volumes, between 1932 and 1949 (published in Moscow and Leningrad). That's all... In 2009, the Goethe jubilee year, a few Russian editions of the poet's works came off the press in small prints. Sold out immediately, they are now hard to come by So the latest edition is a gratifying fact.

It is in a good format, illustrated with Goethe's portraits painted or drawn in different years of his life. Each translation goes side by side with the German original.

The translator, Venera Dumayeva-Valiyeva, has done a good job. She does deserve kudos: hers was a bold undertaking, for Goethe the thinker and poet is a universe indeed! The range of his literary works is staggering in its diversity-lyrical poems and elegies, prose novels and drama pieces; ballads and fairy-tales... A man of versatile parts, Goethe lived a long creative life. He overwhelms us by sheer depth of vision, verve and multifarious interests, the talents that stayed with him till his last days.

In one of his fairy-tales Goethe portrayed a princess who, once she touched any living thing, had it turned into stone right away. A real Gorgon! But this Medusalike maid was waiting for her destined one. I won't tell what happened next but just say this fairy-tale is among his recent translations. The tragedy Faust, however, was his greatest opus classicum to which he devoted over thirty years of his life (actually, fifty-seven, for Goethe had been working on it, on and off, from 1774 to 1831).

His multifarious interests extended far beyond literature and philosophy. Apart from his colossal literary heritage (making up as many as 77 volumes in the original, and thus far only 13 volumes in Russian translations), Goethe left several original science-related articles. He took a keen interest in natural sciences like botany, zoology, osteology (the study of the bones of vertebrates), mineralogy, geology and chromatics (the scientific study of colors). Proceeding from his personal observations, Goethe made a tangible contribution to the morphology of plants and animals, and even came up with a major discovery in osteology-he discovered an intermaxillary jaw bone in animals (formerly believed to be found in man only).

In mineralogy, Goethe first described manganese epi-dote in his article Egeran. Happy over this find, the poet devoted to it one of his last poems. He wrote another article, on granite, translated into Russian. In yet another article less known to us, "Eratic Blocks", Goethe pioneered in a new science then, glaciology. Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873), an American naturalist born in Switzerland and long considered to be a pioneer in this field, did not bear the palm, it was Goethe who did.

Goethe was remarkable for his exceptional inquisi-tiveness. Traveling, both on foot and on horseback over the mountains of Germany, Italy and Switzerland (a tireless walker and traveler that he was), he could not but help noticing huge blocks of granite lying right on the plowland. How could they get in there? "Catastrophe-minded" geologists thought these boulders were flung over dozens and hundreds of kilometers by great disastrous events in the geology of the earth.

But Goethe was an evolutionist: he did not believe Nature to be developing by catastrophic fits and starts, it took form but sluggishly, with the time factor as its engine (Goethe was the first to speak of millions of years in the evolution of the earth until it became what we see it now).

Straying as far as Swiss glaciers, Goethe saw that affected by annual thawing, recent glaciers left a trail of stones. And the poet had a brainwave: Europe might have witnessed "epochs of the great cold", as he put it.

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Thereupon it became warmer, and the ice melted away, leaving behind huge granite boulders, each weighing many tons, brought in from Scandinavia. Today this is a copybook truth known to any schoolchild–about glaciations in Europe. But it was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who had first conjectured about that!

Goethe peopled his works with events and phenomena that he had observed at first hand or discovered as a natural scientist. For instance, in his novel Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1828) one of its heroes, a geologist, lectures to young Wilhelm during a halt in their journey about eratic blocks, repeating almost word for word the author's scientific article on the subject.

But now back to our muttons, that is Venera Dumayeva-Valiyeva's translation of Goethe. I hope my reader will be lenient and excuse my digression... Yet, she is a bold woman who had spent years and years studying and translating Goethe.

The title of the latest Goethe edition in her translation is this: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Poems. And the subtitled she added, Selected Works. It was an audacious job of work, for she had to include works translated in the 19th and 20th centuries by such eminent men of letters as Vassily Zhukovsky, Mikhail Lermontov, Feodor Tyutchev, Afanasiy Fet, Boris Pasternak, Wilhelm Levik, Nikolai Vilmont, among other foremost translaters. By offering her own translations, Ms. Dumayeva-Valiyeva kind of challenges them and, as I see it, does not emerge victorious in some cases. But there are also really good translations, like the ballad Der Sänger (1830), Goethe's program piece of poetry. In her translation his verses are easy to read and hear, which is certainly an asset.

Her translation of Goethe's Natur und Kunst sie scheinen sich zu fliehen, is likewise excellent:

Es gilt nur ein redliches Bemühen! Und wenn wir erst in abgemessnen Stunden Mit Geist und Fleiss uns an die Kunst gebunden, Mag frei Natur in Herzen glühen.

The moral: one needs quite a bit of inspiration and application to marry Nature and Art.

Some translations are good enough, like Was heisst denn Reichtum?, while others are not up quite to the mark, like Der Harfenspieler, translated once by Feodor Tyutchev. The original reads:

Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass, Wer nie die kummervollen Nächte Auf seinem Bette weinend sass, Der kennt euch nicht, ihr himmlischen Mächte.

Tyutchev's translation is certainly more elegant. Ms. Dumayeva-Valiyeva interpolated the Russian word slepo (blindly) into the original text, thus getting the verse out of rhyme here.

Still and all, her effort looks quite laudable to us, for it involves a perfect knowledge of Russian and German, and lots of other things like versification, history, culture, and talent above all. Ms. Venera Dumayeva-Valiyeva has coped fine with one of the world classics who is very hard to translate. In so doing she has made a worthy contribution to Goethe scholarship and in bringing the masterpieces of the great German within reach of Russian readership.


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Tatyana ZDORIK, GOETHE: ALWAYS OURS // Chisinau: Library of Moldova (LIBRARY.MD). Updated: 03.09.2021. URL: (date of access: 20.09.2021).

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