Best known today as the author of Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) first exploded into the public consciousness with The Sorrows of Young Werther when he was twenty-four. He was already a respected poet by then; and in addition to these forms, he wrote travelogues, autobiographical sketches, essays, letters, and proverbs in rhyme and prose. This collection offers outstanding examples of each genre from the great German writer's prolific career.
The poems range in theme from youthful romantic obsessions to mature reflections on life. "The Erl-King" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" appear among the ballads, and his fiction in this collection includes the entire text of Werther and passages from Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and other works. Other writings feature observations on travel in Italy, criticism of the works of Shakespeare and Byron, and letters to friends and family. These sensitive translations by Sir Walter Scott, Stephen Spender, Thomas Carlyle, and others were specially selected by the Nobel laureate and giant of modern German literature, Thomas Mann, who provides an informative introduction.