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Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

translated by George Madison Priest
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[Dim illumination. The EMPEROR and Court have entered.]

Herald. Mine ancient office of announcing plays
Is marred by spirits' mystic interference;
In vain one dares in reasonable ways
To fathom their mysterious appearance.
The chairs are placed, the seats are ready all;
The Emperor is seated just before the wall;
Upon the arras there he may with ease behold
The glorious battles that men fought of old.
Now Emperor and Court are seated here;
The benches crowd together in the rear;
And lovers in this spirit-hour's uncanny gloom
Have found beside their loved ones lovely room.
And so, since all have duly taken places,
We're ready, let the spirits come and face us!


Astrologer. Now let the drama start without delay.
Our Sire commands! Ye walls, give way!
Naught hinders now. Here magic doth conspire;
The arras rolls away as if by fire.
The wall is splitting, turning in the gloom,
A deep stage seems to be appearing,
A light mysterious to be nearing,
And I ascend to the proscenium.
Mephistopheles [rising to view in the prompter's box].
I hope for favour here from all and each,
For promptings are the Devil's art of speech.


You know the tempo of the stars on high;
You'll understand my whispering masterly.
Astrologer. By magic might before us doth appear,
Massive enough, an ancient temple here.
Like Atlas who upheld the sky of old,
Columns enough, in rows, you can behold.
Well for the weight of stone may they suffice,
Since two could bear a mighty edifice.
Architect. So that's antique! I can't say I would praise it;
Top-heavy, clumsy, is the way to phrase it.
Rude is called noble, awkward great; far more
I love slim shafts that boundless soar.
High pointed arches lift the soul on high,
Such edifices most do edify.
Astrologer. Receive with reverent awe star-granted hours
By magic's spells enthralled be Reason's powers,
And in its stead, arising far and free,
Reign glorious, daring Phantasy!
What you desired so boldly, be it now perceived;
It is impossible, therefore to be believed.

[Faust rises to view on the other side of the proscenium.]

Astrologer. In priestly robe and wreathed, a wonder-man!
Who'll now fulfil what he in faith began,
A tripod with him from the depths below.
Now from the bowl the incense-perfumes flow.
He girds himself, the lofty work to bless;
Henceforth there can be nothing but success.
Faust [in the grand manner].
In your name, Mothers! ye who have your throne
In boundless space, eternally alone,
Yet not alone. Around your heads there waver
Life's images, astir, yet lifeless ever.
What once has been, in radiance supernal,
It's stirring there, for it would be eternal,
And ye allot it, Powers who all things sway,
To vaulted night, to canopy of day.
On some the lovely stream of life lays hold,
Others are sought by the magician bold;
Boldly in rich profusion he displays
The marvel whereon each would like to gaze.
Astrologer. The glowing key doth scarcely touch the bowl,
Over the prospect misty vapours roll;
They creep along, then cloud-like on they fare,
Spread out, round off, entwine, they part, they pair.
Now note a mystic masterpiece! For lo!
The vaporous clouds make music as they go.
Aerial tones bring forth - what can it be?
While they proceed, all turns to melody.
The columned shaft, the very triglyph, rings;
Yea, I believe that all the temple sings.
The mist is sinking; from the filmy haze
A handsome youth steps forth with measured pace.
Here ends my task, I do not need to name him;
As gentle Paris who would not proclaim him?

[PARIS steps forth.]

A Lady. What glorious, blooming youth and strength I see!
A Second Lady. Fresh as a peach, as full of juice, is he!
A Third Lady. The finely chiselled, sweetly swelling lip!
A Fourth Lady. From such a cup how would you like to sip?
A Fifth Lady. He's handsome, yes, and yet not quite refined.
A Sixth Lady. A bit more graceful might he be, I find.
A Knight. I think I see him when a shepherd boy. He's wearing
No traces of a prince and naught of courtly bearing.
Another Knight. Oh, well! Half nude the youth is fair to look upon,
But we must see him with his armour on.
A Lady. He seats him gently and with easy grace.
A Knight. You'd find his lap, perchance, a pleasant place?
Another Lady. He lays his arm so lightly over his head.
Chamberlain. That's not allowed! How thoroughly ill-bred!
A Lady. You lords can always find some fault to cavil at.
A Chamberlain. Before the very Emperor to stretch himself like that!
A Lady. He's only playing, thinks he's quite alone.
A Chamberlain. A play too should be courteous near the throne.
A Lady. Sleep captures now the charming youth completely!
A Chamberlain. And now he'll snore, quite properly and meetly!
A Young Lady [enraptured].
What fragrance with the incense-stream is blending,
Refreshment to my inmost bosom sending!
An Older Lady. A zephyr pierces deep into my soul, in truth!
It comes from him.
A Very Old Lady. It is the bloom of youth,
Ambrosia-like within the boy distilling
And all the atmosphere around us filling.

[HELENA appears.]

Mephistopheles. So that is she! She'd not disturb my rest;
Pretty indeed, but still I'm not impressed.
Astrologer. For me right now there's nothing more to do;
I see and honourably confess it true.
The Fair One comes, and had I tongues of fire!-
Always did Beauty many songs inspire.
Who sees her is enrapt! and far too blessed
For human lot the man who her possessed.
Faust. Have I still eyes? Is Beauty's spring, outpouring,
Revealed most richly to my inmost soul?
My dread path brought me to this loftiest goal!
Void was the world and barred to my exploring!
What is it now since this my priesthood's hour?
Worth wishing for, firm-based, a lasting dower!
Vanish from me my every vital power
If I forsake thee, treacherous to my duty!
The lovely form that once my fancy captured,
That in the magic glass enraptured,
Was but a foam-born phantom of such beauty!-
To thee alone I render up with gladness
The very essence of my passion,
Fancy, desire, love, worship, madness!
Mephistopheles [from the prompter's box).
Be calm! Don't drop your role in such a fashion!
An Elderly Lady. Tall, well-formed, but her head's too small for me.
A Fairly Young Lady. Just see her foot! How could it clumsier be?
A Diplomat. I have seen princesses of this same kind!
She's beautiful from head to foot, I find.
A Courtier. She nears the sleeper, cunningly demure.
A Lady. How hideous by that form so young and pure!
A Poet. By her rare beauty he is beamed upon.
A Lady. A picture! Luna and Endymion!
A Poet. Quite right! and now the goddess seems to sink,
Bends over him as if his breath to drink.
How enviable! - A kiss! - The cup is full.
A Duenna. Before the crowd! My word! That is too cool.
Faust. A fearful favour for the youth!
Mephistopheles. Be still
And let the phantom do all that it will.
A Courtier. She steals away, light-footed. He awakes.
A Lady. Just as I thought, another look she takes.
A Courtier. He is astounded, thinks a wonder doth occur.
A Lady. But what she sees, no wonder is to her.
A Courtier. She turns around to him with charming grace.
A Lady. I see, she'll take him now into her school;
Stupid is every man in such a case.
He thinks, I guess, that he's the first - the fool!
A Knight. She'll pass with me! A fine, majestic air!
A Lady. The courtesan! How vulgar, I declare!
A Page. Where he is now, oh, would that I were there!
A Courtier. In such a net who would not fain be caught?
A Lady. Through many hands has gone that jewel rare;
Even the gilding's rather worse for wear.
Another Lady. From her tenth year she has been good for naught.
A Knight. Each makes the best his own as chance obtains;
I'd be contented with these fair remains.
A Dryasdust Scholar. I see her plainly and yet, frankly, I can see
That one may doubt if she the right one be.
What's present always causes obfuscation;
I like to cling to written attestation.
And there I read that, soon as she was sighted,
The Trojan greybeards all were most delighted.
Methinks, that fits the case here perfectly.
I am not young and yet she pleases me.
Astrologer. A youth no more! A man, heroic, brave,
Embraces her who scarce herself can save.
Strong-armed, he lifts her high in air.
Will he, then, bear her off?
Faust. Rash fool, beware!
You dare? You hear not? Halt! It is too much!
Mephistopheles. Why, this mad phantom-play, you've made it such!
Astrologer. But one word more! From all we've seen today,
I call the piece The Rape of Helena.
Faust. What! "Rape?" Fellow, am I for naught here?
This key do I not hold it in my hand,
I whom through stormy solitudes it brought here,
Through waves of horror to this solid land?
Here do I plant my foot! Realities are here,
Here strife with spirits may the spirit dare
And for itself the great twin-realm prepare.
Though she was far, how can she nearer be?
I'll save her and then doubly mine is she.
I dare! Ye Mothers, Mothers! grant this favour!
Who once has known her can renounce her never!
Astrologer. What are you doing, Faustus, Faustus! With what might
He seizes her! The form is fading from our sight.
Toward the youth he turns the key, and lo!
He's touching him! - Now! it is done! Ah, woe on woe!

[Explosion. FAUST lies on the ground. The phantoms dissolve in vapour.]

Mephistopheles [taking FAUST on his shoulder].
So there it is! To deal with fools is evil
And in the end it even harms the Devil.

[Darkness, tumult.]

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