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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

THE MASTER IN CROSS-SECTION Goethe, Poems and Epigrams, selected, translated and introduced by Michael Hamburger (Anvil Press) £6.95, £3.95 pb.

I admit to finding Michael Hamburger's Introduction to these selected Goethe poems at first disarming, or perhaps even disingenuous: 'I translated those poems I was moved - and able - to translate in my own fashion, a strictly empathetic one . . . a great many total failures narrowed down my choice; and a few partial failures were admitted, where the right rhymes did not present themselves, and that subtraction left something substantial or essential enough to do justice to Goethe's wisdom, if not to his art.' Low-key and reasonable par excellence - and indeed a good case is made for even a partial selection, on the grounds that Goethe's philosophy is all-pervasive, informing the most distant outposts of his synthesizing mind - 'elusive as Goethe's totality is, with its irreducible component of anonymity, it can be grasped imaginatively in the tiniest of its parts'. Even so, I found it hard to contemplate any selection which included none of the early Strassburg poems, which had no 'Willkommen und Abschied', no 'Ganymed' or 'Prometheus', no 'An den Mond', no 'Seefahrt' - the list could be prolonged considerably. It is a measure of this volume's success that, by the time I had read it, such misgivings had largely dispersed, though by a process as fairly subjective as the translator's own admitted criteria of selection, I inevitably still regretted some of the omissions.

On the other hand I found myself grateful for the honesty of Michael Hamburger's approach, and for ...

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