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Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

translated by George Madison Priest
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Night. In a high-vaulted, narrow Gothic chamber FAUST, restless in his chair by his desk.

Faust. I've studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine,
And even, alas! Theology
All through and through with ardour keen!
Here now I stand, poor fool, and see
I'm just as wise as formerly.
Am called a Master, even Doctor too,
And now I've nearly ten years through
Pulled my students by their noses to and fro
And up and down, across, about,
And see there's nothing we can know!
That all but burns my heart right out.
True, I am more clever than all the vain creatures,
The Doctors and Masters, Writers and Preachers;
No doubts plague me, nor scruples as well.
I'm not afraid of devil or hell.
To offset that, all joy is rent from me.
I do not imagine I know aught that's right;
I do not imagine I could teach what might
Convert and improve humanity.
Nor have I gold or things of worth,
Or honours, splendours of the earth.
No dog could live thus any more!
So I have turned to magic lore,
To see if through the spirit's power and speech
Perchance full many a secret I may reach,
So that no more with bitter sweat
I need to talk of what I don't know yet,
So that I may perceive whatever holds
The world together in its inmost folds,
See all its seeds, its working power,
And cease word-threshing from this hour.
Oh, that, full moon, thou didst but glow
Now for the last time on my woe,
Whom I beside this desk so oft
Have watched at midnight climb aloft.
Then over books and paper here
To me, sad friend, thou didst appear!
Ah! could I but on mountain height
Go onward in thy lovely light,
With spirits hover round mountain caves,
Weave over meadows thy twilight laves,
Discharged of all of Learning's fumes, anew
Bathe me to health in thy healing dew.
Woe! am I stuck and forced to dwell
Still in this musty, cursed cell?
Where even heaven's dear light strains
But dimly through the painted panes!
Hemmed in by all this heap of books,
Their gnawing worms, amid their dust,
While to the arches, in all the nooks,
Are smoke-stained papers midst them thrust,
Boxes and glasses round me crammed,
And instruments in cases hurled,
Ancestral stuff around me jammed-
That is your world! That's called a world!
And still you question why your heart
Is cramped and anxious in your breast?
Why each impulse to live has been repressed
In you by some vague, unexplained smart?
Instead of Nature's living sphere
In which God made mankind, you have alone,
In smoke and mould around you here,
Beasts' skeletons and dead men's bone.
Up! Flee! Out into broad and open land!
And this book full of mystery,
From Nostradamus' very hand,
Is it not ample company?
The stars' course then you'll understand
And Nature, teaching, will expand
The power of your soul, as when
One spirit to another speaks. 'Tis vain
To think that arid brooding will explain
The sacred symbols to your ken.
Ye spirits, ye are hovering near;
Oh, answer me if ye can hear!

[He opens the book and perceives the sign of the Macrocosm.]

What rapture, ah! at once is flowing
Through all my senses at the sight of this!
I feel a youthful life, its holy bliss,
Through nerve and vein run on, new-glowing.
Was it a god who wrote these signs that still
My inner tumult and that fill
My wretched heart with ecstasy?
Unveiling with mysterious potency
The powers of Nature round about me here?
Am I a god? All grows so clear to me!
In these pure lineaments I see
Creative Nature's self before my soul appear.
Now first I understand what he, the sage, has said:
"The world of spirits is not shut away;
Thy sense is closed, thy heart is dead!
Up, Student! bathe without dismay
Thy earthly breast in morning-red!"

[He contemplates the sign.]

Into the whole how all things blend,
Each in the other working, living!
How heavenly powers ascend, descend,
Each unto each the golden vessels giving!
On pinions fragrant blessings bringing,
From Heaven through Earth all onward winging,
Through all the All harmonious ringing!
What pageantry! Yet, ah, mere pageantry!
Where shall I, endless Nature, seize on thee?
Thy breasts are - where? Ye, of all life the spring,
To whom both Earth and Heaven cling,
Toward whom the withering breast doth strain-
Ye gush, ye suckle, and shall I pine thus in vain?

[He turns the book over impatiently and perceives the sign of the EARTH-SPIRIT.]

How differently upon me works this sign!
Thou, Spirit of the Earth, I feel, art nigher.
I feel my powers already higher,
I glow already as from some new wine.
I feel the courage, forth into the world to dare;
The woe of earth, the bliss of earth to bear;
With storms to battle, brave the lightning's glare;
And in the shipwreck's crash not to despair!
Clouds gather over me-
The moon conceals her light-
The lamp fades out!
Mists rise - red beams dart forth
Around my head - there floats
A horror downward from the vault
And seizes me!
Spirit invoked! near me, I feel, thou art!
Unveil thyself!
Ha! how it rends my heart!
To unknown feeling
All my senses burst forth, reeling!
I feel my heart is thine and to the uttermost!
Thou must! Thou must! though my life be the cost!

[He clutches the book and utters the sign of the
Spirit in a tone of mystery. A ruddy flame flashes up;
the SPIRIT appears in the flames.]

Spirit. Who calls to me?
Faust [turning away]. Appalling apparition!
Spirit. By potent spell hast drawn me here,
Hast long been tugging at my sphere,
And now-
Faust. Oh woe! I can not bear thy vision!
Spirit. With panting breath thou hast implored this sight,
Wouldst hear my voice, my face wouldst see;
Thy mighty spirit-plea inclineth me!
Here am I! - what a pitiable fright
Grips thee, thou Superman! Where is the soul elated?
Where is the breast that in its self a world created
And bore and fostered it? And that with joyous trembling
Expanded as if spirits, us, resembling?
Where art thou, Faust, whose voice rang out to me,
Who toward me pressed with all thy energy?
Is it thou who, by my breath surrounded,
In all the deeps of being art confounded?
A frightened, fleeing, writhing worm?
Faust. Am I, O form of flame, to yield to thee in fear?
'Tis I, I'm Faust, I am thy peer!
Spirit. In the tides of life, in action's storm,
Up and down I wave,
To and fro weave free,
Birth and the grave,
An infinite sea,
A varied weaving,
A radiant living,
Thus at Time's humming loom it's my hand that prepares
The robe ever-living the Deity wears.
Faust. Thou who dost round the wide world wend,
Thou busy spirit, how near I feel to thee!
Spirit. Thou art like the spirit thou canst comprehend,
Not me!


Faust [collapsing]. Not thee!
Whom then?
I, image of the Godhead!
And not even like to thee!

[Somebody knocks.]

O death! I know it - 'tis my famulus-
Thus turns to naught my fairest bliss!
That visions in abundance such as this
Must be disturbed by that dry prowler thus!

[Wagner in dressing-gown and night-cap, a lamp in his hand.
Faust turns round impatiently.]

Wagner. Pardon! I've just heard you declaiming.
'Twas surely from a Grecian tragic play?
At profit in this art I'm also aiming;
For much it can effect today.
I've often heard the boast: a preacher
Might take an actor as his teacher.
Faust. Yes, if the preacher is an actor, there's no doubt,
As it indeed may sometimes come about.
Wagner. Ah! if thus in his study one must stay,
And hardly sees the world upon a holiday,
Scarce through a telescope, and far off then,
How through persuasion shall one lead one's fellow-men?
Faust. Unless you feel, naught will you ever gain;
Unless this feeling pours forth from your soul
With native, pleasing vigour to control
The hearts of all your hearers, it will be in vain.
Pray keep on sitting! Pray collect and glue,
From others' feasts brew some ragout;
With tiny heaps of ashes play your game
And blow the sparks into a wretched flame!
Children and apes will marvel at you ever,
If you've a palate that can stand the part;
But heart to heart you'll not draw men, no, never,
Unless your message issue from your heart.
Wagner. Yet elocution makes the orator succeed.
I feel I am still far behind indeed.
Faust. Seek for the really honest gain!
Don't be a fool in loudly tinkling dress!
Intelligence and good sense will express
Themselves with little art and strain.
And if in earnest you would say a thing,
Is it needful to chase after words? Ah, yes,
Your eloquence that is so glittering,
In which you twist up gewgaws for mankind,
Is unrefreshing as the misty wind,
Through withered leaves in autumn whispering.
Wagner. Ah, God! how long is art!
And soon it is we die.
Oft when my critical pursuits I ply,
I truly grow uneasy both in head and heart.
How hard to gain the means whereby
A man mounts upward to the source!
And ere man's ended barely half the course,
Poor devil! I suppose he has to die.
Faust. Parchment! Is that the sacred fountain whence alone
There springs a draught that thirst for ever quells?
Refreshment? It you never will have won
If from that soul of yours it never wells.
Wagner. Excuse me! But it is a great delight
To enter in the spirit of the ages and to see
How once a sage before us thought and then how we
Have brought things on at last to such a splendid height.
Faust. Oh, yes! Up to the stars afar!
My friend, the ages of aforetime are
To us a book of seven seals.
What you call "spirit of the ages"
Is after all the spirit of those sages
In which the mirrored age itself reveals.
Then, truly, that is oft a sorry sight to see!
I vow, men do but glance at it, then run away.
A rubbish-bin, a lumber-garret it may be,
At best a stilted, mock-heroic play
With excellent, didactic maxims humming,
Such as in puppets' mouths are most becoming.
Wagner. But, ah, the world! the mind and heart of men!
Of these we each would fain know something just the same.
Faust. Yes, "know"! Men call it so, but then
Who dares to call the child by its right name?
The few who have some part of it descried,
Yet fools enough to guard not their full hearts, revealing
To riffraff both their insight and their feeling,
Men have of old burned at the stake and crucified.
I beg you, friend, it's far into the night,
We must break off our converse now.
Wagner. I'd gladly keep awake for ever if I might
Converse with you in such a learned way;
Tomorrow, though, our Easter-Sunday holiday,
This and that question you'll allow.
I've studied zealously, and so
I know much now, but all I fain would know.


Faust [alone]. How strange a man's not quitted of all hope,
Who on and on to shallow stuff adheres,
Whose greedy hands for hidden treasure grope,
And who is glad when any worm appears!
Dare such a human voice resound
Where spirits near me throng around?
Yet still I thank you, poorest one
Of all the sons of earth, for what you've done.
Torn loose by you, from that despair I'm freed
That nearly drove my senses frantic.
That vision, ah! was so gigantic,
I could but feel myself a dwarf indeed.
I, image of the Godhead, and already one
Who thought him near the mirror of the Truth Eternal,
Who revelled in the clearness, light supernal,
And stripped away the earthly son;
I, more than cherub, whose free force
Presumed, prophetic, even now to course,
Creating, on through Nature's every vein,
To share the life of gods: that! - how must I atone!
A Voice of thunder swept me back again.
I may not dare to call myself thy peer!
What though I had the might to draw thee near,
To hold thee I possessed no might.
At that ecstatic moment's height
I felt so small, so great;
Thou cruelly didst thrust me back as one
Doomed to uncertain human fate.
Who will instruct me? And what shall I shun?
Shall I that impulse then obey?
Alas! the deeds that we have done-
Our sufferings too - impede us on life's way.
To what the mind most gloriously conceives,
An alien, more, more alien substance cleaves.
When to the good of this world we attain,
We call the better a delusion vain.
Sensations glorious, that gave us life,
Grow torpid in the world's ignoble strife.
Though Fantasy with daring flight began
And hopeful toward Infinity expanded,
She's now contented in a little span
When in Time's eddy joy on joy's been stranded.
For Worry straightway nestles deep within the heart,
There she produces many a secret smart.
Recklessly rocking, she disturbs both joy and rest.
In new disguises she is always dressed;
She may appear as house and land, as child and wife,
As fire, as water, poison, knife.
What never will happen makes you quail,
And what you'll never lose, always must you bewail.
I am not like the gods! Feel it I must.
I'm like the worm that burrows through the dust,
That in the dust in which it lived and fed,
Is crushed and buried by a wanderer's tread.
Is it not dust that narrows in this lofty wall
Made up of shelves a hundred, is it not all
The lumber, thousandfold light frippery,
That in this world of moths oppresses me?
Here shall I find what is my need?
Shall I perchance in a thousand volumes read
That men have tortured themselves everywhere,
And that a happy man was here and there?-
Why grinnest thou at me, thou hollow skull?
Save that thy brain, confused like mine, once sought bright day
And in the sombre twilight dull,
With lust for truth, went wretchedly astray?
Ye instruments, ye surely jeer at me,
With handle, wheel and cogs and cylinder.
I stood beside the gate, ye were to be the key.
True, intricate your ward, but no bolts do ye stir.
Inscrutable upon a sunlit day,
Her veil will Nature never let you steal,
And what she will not to your mind reveal,
You will not wrest from her with levers and with screws.
You, ancient lumber, that I do not use,
You're only here because you served my father.
On you, old scroll, the smoke-stains gather,
Since first the lamp on this desk smouldered turbidly.
Far better had I spent my little recklessly
Than, burdened with that little, here to sweat!
All that you have, bequeathed you by your father,
Earn it in order to possess it.
Things unused often burden and beset;
But what the hour brings forth, that can it use and bless it.
Why does my gaze grow fixed as if a spell had bound me?
That phial there, is it a magnet to my eyes?
Why does a lovely light so suddenly surround me
As when in woods at night the moonbeam drifts and lies?
Thou peerless phial rare, I welcome thee
And now I take thee down most reverently.
In thee I honour human wit and art.
Thou essence, juice of lovely, slum'brous flowers,
Thou extract of all deadly, subtle powers,
Thy favour to thy Master now impart!
I look on thee, and soothed is my distress;
I seize on thee, the struggle groweth less.
The spirit's flood-tide ebbs away, away.
I'm beckoned out, the open seas to meet,
The mirror waters glitter at my feet
To other shores allures another day.
A fiery chariot floats on airy pinions
Hither to me! I feel prepared to flee
Along a new path, piercing ether's vast dominions
To other spheres of pure activity.
This lofty life, this ecstasy divine!
Thou, but a worm, and that deservest thou?
Yes! turn thy back with resolution fine
Upon earth's lovely sun, and now
Make bold to fling apart the gate
Which every man would fain go slinking by!
Here is the time to demonstrate
That man's own dignity yields not to gods on high;
To tremble not before that murky pit
Where fantasies, self-damned, in tortures dwell;
To struggle toward that pass whose narrow mouth is lit
By all the seething, searing flames of Hell;
Serenely to decide this step and onward press,
Though there be risk I'll float off into nothingness.
So now come down, thou goblet pure and crystalline!
From out that ancient case of thine,
On which for many a year I have not thought!
Thou at my fathers' feasts wert wont to shine,
Didst many a solemn guest to mirth incline,
When thee, in pledge, one to another brought.
The crowded figures, rich and artful wrought,
The drinker's duty, rhyming to explain them,
The goblet's depths, at but one draught to drain them,
Recall full many a youthful night to me.
Now to no neighbour shall I offer thee,
Upon thy art I shall not show my wit.
Here is a juice, one's quickly drunk with it.
With its brown flood it fills thy ample bowl.
This I prepared, I choose this, high upborne;
Be this my last drink now, with all my soul,
A festal, lofty greeting pledged to morn!

[He puts the goblet to his lips.
The sound of bells and choral song.]

Chorus of Angels.
Christ is arisen!
Joy to mortality,
Whom earth's carnality,
Creeping fatality,
Held as in prison!
Faust. What a deep humming, what a clarion tone,
Draws from my lips the glass with mighty power!
Ye deep-toned bells, make ye already known
The Easter-feast's first solemn hour?
Ye choirs, do ye the hymn of consolation sing,
Which angels sang around the grave's dark night, to bring
Assurance of new covenant and dower?
Chorus of Women.
Rare spices we carried
And laid on His breast;
We tenderly buried
Him whom we loved best;
Cloths and bands round Him,
Spotless we wound Him o'er;
Ah! and we've found Him,
Christ, here no more.
Chorus of Angels.
Christ is ascended!
Blessed the loving one
Who endured, moving one,
Trials improving one,
Till they were ended!
Faust. Ye heavenly tones, so powerful and mild,
Why seek ye me, me cleaving to the dust?
Ring roundabout where tender-hearted men will hear!
I hear the message well but lack Faith's constant trust;
The miracle is Faith's most cherished child.
I do not dare to strive toward yonder sphere
From whence the lovely tidings swell;
Yet, wonted to this strain from infancy,
Back now to life again it calleth me.
In days that are no more, Heaven's loving kiss
In solemn Sabbath stillness on me fell;
Then rang prophetical, full-toned, the bell;
And every prayer was fervent bliss.
A sweet, uncomprehending yearning
Drove me to wander on through wood and lea,
And while a thousand tears were burning,
I felt a world arise for me.
Of youth's glad sports this song foretold me,
The festival of spring in happy freedom passed;
Now memories, with childlike feeling, hold me
Back from that solemn step, the last.
Sound on and on, thou sweet, celestial strain!
The tear wells forth, the earth has me again!
Chorus of Disciples.
Though He, victorious,
From the grave's prison,
Living and glorious,
Nobly has risen,
Though He, in bliss of birth,
Creative Joy is near,
Ah! on the breast of earth
We are to suffer here.
He left His very Own
Pining for Him we miss;
Ah! we bemoan,
Master, Thy bliss!
Chorus of Angels.
Christ is arisen
Out of Corruption's womb!
Burst bonds that prison,
Joy over the tomb!
Actively pleading Him,
Showing love, heeding Him,
Brotherly feeding Him,
Preaching, far speeding Him,
Rapture succeeding Him,
To you the Master's near,
To you is here!

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