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Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethetranslated by George Madison Priest
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BY THE UPPER PENEUS
Mephistopheles [peering around].
As mid these little fires I wander aimless,
I find myself quite strange and disconcerted.
Naked are almost all, some few are shirted;
The griffins impudent, the sphinxes shameless,
Winged, curly things - who'll ever dare to name them?
Seen fore and aft, they're crude enough to shame them...
It's true, indecency is our ideal,
But the antique is too alive and real.
By modern taste the nude should be controlled
And overlaid in fashions manifold.
A loathsome folk! yet so I must not treat them;
As new-come guest I should politely greet them...
Hail, ye wise grizzlies, hail, ye ladies fair!
A Griffin [snarling]. Not grizzlies! Griffins! No one likes to hear
Himself called grizzly. In each word there rings
An echo of the source from which it springs.
Graves, growling, grumpy, gruesome, grim, and grey,
All of one sort in etymology are they,
And put us out of sorts.
Mephistopheles. Yet - not to leave this thesis-
The gri in your proud title Griffin pleases.
Griffin [as above and continuously so].
Of course! The kinship has been proved to hold.
'Tis true, it's oft rebuked but oftener extolled.
Let one but grip at maidens, crowns, and gold;
Fortune is mostly gracious to the Gripper bold.
Ants of the colossal kind.
You speak of gold! In great heaps did we hoard it,
In rocky caverns secretly we stored it;
The Arimaspians have nosed it out,
They bore it off so far they laugh and shout.
Griffin. We'll bring them to confess their deed.
Arimaspians. But not in this free night of jubilee.
Ere morning all will squandered be;
This time we'll probably succeed.
Mephistopheles [who has seated himself between the SPHINXES].
How pleasantly I grow familiar here;
I understand them one and all.
A Sphinx. We breathe our spirit-tones into your ear,
And then you render them material.
Until we know you better, tell your name.
Mephistopheles. Men think that many a title I may claim.
Are Britons here? Such travellers are they;
Cascades and battlefields they love to trace,
Ruins and many a musty classic place;
A worthy goal they would find here today.
They testified that in the old stage-play
I was seen there as "Old Iniquity."
A Sphinx. How did they hit on that?
Mephistopheles. It puzzles even me.
A Sphinx. Perhaps! - Do you know planets and their power?
What say you to the aspect of the hour?
Mephistopheles [looking upward].
Star courses star, I see the clipped moon glide
And feel quite happy at your cosy side;
I'll warm myself against your lion's-hide.
'Twould hurt to soar up, I'd but go astray.
Propound some riddles or charades to play.
A Sphinx. Express yourself; that too will be a riddle.
See if your inmost essence you can rede:
"What both the pious and the wicked need:
For those a breastplate for ascetic fencing,
For these a comrade crazy pranks advancing,
Both but the joy of Zeus enhancing."
First Griffin [snarling]. I don't like him.
Second Griffin [snarling more loudly]. What is it he wants here?
Both. The nasty wretch belongs not in our sphere!
You think perhaps the guest's nails do not scratch
And with your sharp claws cannot match?
Just try it!
A Sphinx [gently]. Here you might forever stay,
But from our midst you'll drive yourself away.
At home you think to do just as you please,
But if I err not, here you're ill at ease.
Mephistopheles. Right appetizing are you upward from the bosom,
But further down your beastly part is gruesome.
A Sphinx. These words, you hypocrite, you'll surely rue,
Because our paws are sound; but I can see
That with that shrunken horse's-foot you do
Not feel at ease in our society.
[SIRENS prelude overhead.[
Mephistopheles. What birds are they who're cradled yonder
On boughs beside the poplared river?
A Sphinx. Beware! The best of men have ever
Been led by that singsong to wander.
Ah, why mar thy taste completely,
Mid these hideous wonders dwelling?
Hear our notes accordant swelling,
See our hosts come singing sweetly
As becometh sirens meetly.
Sphinxes [mocking them in the same melody].
Force them down! And so reveal them!
Mid the branches they conceal them;
Nasty falcon-claws they're wearing
And will fall on thee, unsparing,
If thou lendest willing ear.
Hence with hate, let envy perish!
We the purest pleasures cherish
Strewn beneath the sky's blue sphere!
On the earth and on the ocean
Let him see in every motion
Sign of welcome and of cheer.
Mephistopheles. What novelties and how assuring
When both from string and voice alluring
The tones about each other twine.
But lost on me is all the trilling,
Tickling my ears but never thrilling
Down in its depths this heart of mine.
Sphinxes. Speak not of heart! Vain so to call it!
A shrivelled-up, old leathern wallet
Would better with your face combine.
Faust [approaching]. How strangely satisfying are these creatures!
Repulsive, yet what big, compelling features!
I feel now the approach of some good chance;
Whither is hailing me that earnest glance?
[Referring to the SPHINXES.]
Before such Oedipus once stood his ground;
[Referring to the SIRENS.]
Before such did Ulysses writhe, in hemp fast bound;
[Referring to the ANTS.]
By such was noblest treasure once amassed;
[Referring to the GRIFFINS.]
By these 'twas kept inviolate to the last.
New spirit thrills me when I see all these;
Great are the figures, great the memories.
Mephistopheles. In former times such creatures you'd have scouted
Which now it seems that you approve;
Aye, when one seeks his lady-love,
Monsters themselves are welcome and not flouted.
Faust [to the SPHINXES]. Ye forms like women, answer me and say:
Has anyone of you seen Helena?
Sphinxes. We did not last till Helena's generation;
Hercules slew the last ones of our nation.
From Chiron you might get the information.
This ghostly night he's galloping around;
If he will stop for you, you've gained much ground.
With us too thou wouldst not miss it!...
When Ulysses, with us whiling,
Sped not past us, unreviling,
Much he told made bright his visit;
All his tales we'd tell to thee
If thou camest to renew thee
To our meadows by the sea.
A Sphinx. Sir, hark not to trickery!
Whereas Ulysses to the mast,
Let us now with good counsel bind thee.
If lofty Chiron thou canst find thee,
What I have sworn, thou wilt learn at last.
[Faust goes away.]
Mephistopheles [vexed]. What croaks on pinions rushing by?
So fast that they elude the eye?
Swiftly in single file they fly.
A hunter tires of such as these.
A Sphinx. Like to the storm that winter harrows,
Reached scarcely by Alcides' arrows,
They are the swift Stymphalides.
They mean well with their croak-salute,
Their vulture's-beak, their goose's-foot.
Here in our midst they'd like to be
And prove they're of our pedigree.
Mephistopheles [as if intimidated].
Some other things are hissing shrill.
A Sphinx. For fear of these you need not quake;
They are the heads of the Lernaean snake;
Cut from the trunk, they think they're something still.
But say, what's wrong? why so distressful?
Why this behaviour so unrestful?
Where would you go? Be off, good-by!-
I see, that chorus twists your neck awry.
Don't force yourself to stay! Go, leave this place,
Greet yonder many a charming face.
The Lamiae, wanton wenches, you'll find there,
Their foreheads brazen, faces smiling,
As when the satyrs they're beguiling.
There all things may a goat's-foot dare.
Mephistopheles. You'll stay here and I'll find you here again?
Sphinxes. Yes! Go and mingle with the airy train.
We long ago are wont, from Egypt coming here,
To sit enthroned to the thousandth year.
Respect to our position you must pay.
Thus rule we lunar, rule we solar day.
At the pyramids our station,
We look on the doom of races,
War and peace and inundation,
With eternal changeless faces.
BY THE LOWER PENEUS
[PENEUS surrounded by waters and nymphs.]
Peneus. Wake and stir, ye whispering bushes,
Softly breathe, ye reeds and rushes,
Rustle, willows by the river,
Lisp, ye poplar sprays a-quiver,
To my interrupted dream!...
Fearful, stirring breezes wake me
And mysterious tremors shake me
From my rippling, restful stream.
Faust [stepping to the edge of the river].
If I dare such fancies harbour,
Deep within the tangled arbour
Of these twigs and bushes noises
Sounded as of human voices.
Wave doth seem a very chatter,
Zephyr sounds a jesting patter.
Nymphs [to FAUST].
Ah, best were it for thee
To lie here, reviving
In coolness thy members
Worn out by their striving,
The rest thus enjoying
That from thee doth flee;
We'll rustle, we'll murmur,
We'll whisper to thee.
Faust. I am awake! Oh, let them stay me,
Those peerless forms, and let them sway me
As mine eye sees them in its quest.
What thrills run through my every member!
Do I but dream? Do I remember?
Ah, once before was I so blessed.
A cooling stream is softly gliding,
Amid the trembling copse half hiding;
It scarcely murmurs in its flow.
From every side, clear and delighting,
A hundred streamlets are uniting
To fill a bath-like pool below.
The fair young limbs of women trouble
The liquid mirror, showing double,
And double so the eye's delight!
Bathing with joy, each other aiding,
Now boldly swimming, shyly wading,
Ending in screams and water-fight.
These should content me, here with pleasure
My sight should be restored at leisure;
Yet toward yonder leafy screen
My vision ever further presses;
The verdant wealth of those recesses
Surely enveils the lofty queen.
Strange and marvellous! Swans are swimming
From the inlets, hither skimming
In their stately majesty,
Calmly floating, sweetly loving,
Heads and beaks uplifted moving
In proud self-complacency.
But among them one seems peerless,
In his self-love proud and fearless;
Through the throng he sails apace,
Swells his plumage like a pillow,
He, a billow breasting billow,
Speeds on to the sacred place...
The others to and fro, together,
Swim with unruffled, radiant feather,
Or soon in stirring, splendid fray
Seek to divert each timid beauty
Away from any thought of duty
To save herself if save she may.
Sisters, hearken, lend a hearing
At the river's verdant shore;
If I err not, more and more
Sounds of horse's hoofs are nearing.
Would I knew who in swift flight
Brings a message to this night!
Faust. I believe the earth's resounding
To a steed that's hither bounding.
Turn there, my glance!
A most auspicious chance,
Can it be hither faring?
O marvel past comparing!
A rider's trotting on toward me.
Spirited, strong, he seems to be;
Borne on a snow-white steed he's nearing...
I do not err, I know him now,
The famous son of Philyra!-
Halt, Chiron, halt! and give me hearing!
Chiron. What now? What is it?
Faust. Check your pace and stay!
Chiron. I do not rest.
Faust. Take me along, I pray!
Chiron. Then, mount! and I can question you at leisure:
Whither your way? You're standing on the shore
And I will bear you through the stream with pleasure.
Faust [mounting]. Whither you will, I'll thank you evermore...
The noble pedagogue, so great in name,
Who reared full many a hero, to his fame,
The troop of Argonauts, renowned in story,
And all who built the poets' world of glory.
Chiron. Let us not talk of that. As mentor, none,
Not Pallas' self, is venerated.
For, after all, in their own way men carry on
As if they never had been educated.
Faust. The doctor who can name each plant, who knows
All roots, even that which deepest grows,
Who soothes the wounded, makes the sick man whole,
You I embrace with all my might and soul.
Chiron. If at my side a hero felt the smart,
I knew the aid and counsel to be tendered!
But in the end all of my art
To parsons and herb-women was surrendered.
Faust. Upon a true, great man I gaze!
Who will not hear a word of praise,
Modestly strives to shut his ears
And acts as had he many peers.
Chiron. You are well-skilled, I see, in idle patter,
Princes and common folk alike to flatter.
Faust. At least confess that you have seen
The greatest men that in your time have been.
You've with the noblest vied in earnest strife
And like a demigod have lived your life.
Of all the figures of heroic mould
Whom as the ablest did you hold?
Chiron. Among the Argonauts, superb procession!
Each one was worthy after his own fashion,
And by the special power that he possessed,
Could do what lay beyond the rest.
Castor and Pollux ever did prevail
Where youthful bloom and beauty turned the scale.
In swift resolve and act for others' good
The sons of Boreas proved their hardihood.
Reflective, strong and shrewd, in council wise,
Thus Jason ruled, a joy to women's eyes.
Then Orpheus, gentle, still, and contemplating,
But, when he smote the lyre, all subjugating;
Keen-sighted Lynceus who by day and dark
Past reef and shallow steered the sacred bark.
Danger is tested best by banded brothers:
When one achieves, then praise him all the others.
Faust. I beg, of Hercules I would be learning!
Chiron. Oh, woe! Awaken not my yearning!...
Phoebus I ne'er had seen, nor yet
Seen Ares, Hermes, as they're called, in fine,
When my enraptured vision met
A form that all men call divine.
A king by birth as was no other,
A youth most glorious to view,
A subject to his elder brother
And to the loveliest women too.
His like will Gaea bring forth never
Nor Hebe lead to Heaven again;
Songs struggle in a vain endeavour,
Men torture marble all in vain.
Faust. Though men may strive in stone and story,
Never has he appeared in all his glory.
You now have spoken of the fairest man;
Tell of the fairest woman all you can!
Chiron. What! Woman's beauty? That is not worth telling,
Too oft a rigid image do we see;
I praise alone a being welling
With love of life and gaiety.
Self-blest is beauty, cold and listless,
'Tis winsomeness that makes resistless,
Like that of Helena whom once I bore.
Faust. You bore her?
Chiron. Aye, upon this back.
Faust. Was I not crazed enough before?
And here to sit! Such bliss I do not lack!
Chiron. She also grasped me by the hair,
Seizing it just as you are doing now.
Faust. I'm losing all my senses! Tell me how,
Whence, whither? Ah, you really did her bear?
She only is my whole desire!
Chiron. Easy it is to tell what you require.
Castor and Pollux had at that time freed
Their darling sister from base robbers' greed.
The robbers, wonted not to be subdued,
Took heart and in a storm of rage pursued.
Brothers and sister, speeding on their way,
Were checked by swamps that near Eleusis lay;
The brothers waded, but I splashed, swam over;
Then off she sprang, she stroked and pressed me
On my wet mane, thanked and caressed me
Sweetly self-conscious, affectionate and sage.
How charming was she! young, the joy of age!
Faust. Just ten years old!
Chiron. The doctors of philology
Have fooled you like themselves, I see.
Peculiar is it with a mythologic dame;
The poet brings her, as he needs, to fame;
She never grows adult and never old,
Always of appetizing mould,
Ravished when young, still wooed long past her prime.
Enough, the poet is not bound by time.
Faust. Then, here too, be no law of time thrown round her!
On Pherae's isle indeed Achilles found her
Beyond the pale of time. A happiness, how rare!
In spite of fate itself love triumphed there.
Is it beyond my yearning passion's power
To bring to life the earth's most perfect flower?
That deathless being, peer of gods above,
Tender as great; sublime, yet made for love!
You saw her once, today I've seen her too,
Charming as fair, desired as fair to view.
My captured soul and being yearn to gain her;
I will not live unless I can attain her.
Chiron. Strange person! As a man you feel an ecstasy,
But to us spirits you seem mad to be.
Now, as it haps, good fortune meets you here,
Since for some moments every year
I'm wont to Manto to repair
Who, Aesculapius' child, in silent prayer
Implores her father, for his honour's gain,
To throw some light in the physicians' brain
That from rash slaughter may their hands refrain.
I love her most of all the guild of sybils,
Gentle and kind, nor prone to shifty quibbles.
If but a while you stay, her art secure
By powerful roots will work your perfect cure.
Faust. I'm sound in mind. A cure is not my aim;
Else, like to others, I'd be base and tame
Chiron. The noble fountain's cure, neglect it not!
Be quick, dismount! We've reached the spot.
Faust. Say, whither have you in this gruesome night
Borne me through pebbly waters in our flight?
Chiron. Here Rome and Greece each bearded each in fight,
Olympus on the left, Peneus on the right.
The greatest realm that ever was lost in sand;
The monarch flees, the conquering burghers stand.
Look up! Here stands, significantly near,
The eternal temple in the moonlight clear.
Manto [dreaming within].
From horse-hoofs bounding
The sacred stairs are resounding;
Demigods are drawing near.
Raise your eyes; behold who's here!
Manto [awakening]. Welcome! I see you do not fail to come.
Chiron. Likewise for you still stands your temple-home.
Manto. Are you still roaming, never weary?
Chiron. Well, you abide in stillness eerie,
The while I circle joyously.
Manto. I wait here, time encircles me.
And this man?
Chiron. Him hath this ill-fated night
Caught in its whirl and brought here to your sight.
Helena, go his wits a-spinning,
Helena he has dreams of winning,
But knows no way to make beginning,
Most worthy, Aesculapian cure to prove.
Manto. Who yearns for the impossible I love.
[CHIRON is already far away.]
Manto. Enter, audacious one, glad shall you be;
The gloomy way leads to Persephone.
Within Olympus' cavern foot
She lists in secret for prescribed salute.
Here did I smuggle Orpheus in of old.
Use your turn better! Quick! be bold!
BY THE UPPER PENEUS
Sirens [by the upper Peneus as before].
Plunge ye in Peneus' flood!
Meetly splashing, swimming, fording,
Linking songs in tones according,
For these ill-starred people's good.
Without water weal is none!
If our goodly bands were faring
To the Aegean, swift repairing,
Every joy would then be won.
Back the foaming wave is going,
Down its bed no longer flowing;
Quakes the ground, the waters choke,
Shores and pebbles crack and smoke.
Let us flee! Come, all! Come on!
For this marvel profits none.
Hence! Ye noble guests and merry,
To the ocean revel hurry,
Glittering where the waves are twinkling,
Heaving gently, shores besprinkling,
There where Luna twofold gloweth,
Holy dew on us bestoweth.
There a life astir and cheerful,
Here an earthquake dire and fearful.
Hence, ye prudent, haste away!
For this place strikes with dismay.
Seismos [growling and blustering in the depths].
Shove again with shoulders straining,
Stoutly all your strength arraigning!
Upper regions we'll be gaining,
Where to us must all give way.
What a most unpleasant quivering,
What a hideous, fearsome shivering!
What a wavering, what a shocking,
Surging to and fro and rocking!
An unbearable affray!
But we shall not change our places,
Though all hell bursts in our faces.
Now a dome - behold the wonder!-
Is arising. Ah, 'tis yonder
Very Ancient, long since hoar,
Who built Delos' isle of yore,
Drove it upward from the billow
For a travailing woman's pillow.
He, with straining, pressing, rending,
Rigid arms and shoulders bending,
Like an Atlas in his gesture,
Heaves up earth and all its vesture,
Loam and stone and sand and gravel,
Quiet shores and calm beds' level.
Thus the valley's placid bosom
Rends he with a power gruesome,
Still most strenuous, never sated,
A colossal caryatid,
Bears an awful weight of boulders,
Buried still up to his shoulders.
But 'twill not come near these spaces;
Sphinxes now are in their places.
Seismos. I, only, wrought this little matter
As men will finally declare;
But for my batter and my clatter
How would this world be now so fair?
How would your mountains stand above there
In clear and splendid ether-blue,
If them I had not worked to shove there?
A picturesque, entrancing view!
Whenas (the primal sires surveying,
Chaos and Night) I saw my honour lost,
I, with the Titans joined in playing,
Hurled Ossa, Pelion too, as balls are tossed.
Thus we raged on in youthful passion
Till vexed and weary at the last
Both mountains we, in wanton fashion,
Like twin peaks on Parnassus cast...
Apollo gladly lingers yonder
There in the muses' blest retreat.
For Jove himself and for his bolts of thunder
I heaved on high his lofty seat.
Thus I, by strainings superhuman,
Pushed from the depths to upper air,
And dwellers glad I loudly summon
New life henceforth with me to share.
Sphinxes. Surely one would call primeval
What so burg-like looms today,
But we saw the earth give way
To the straining, vast upheaval.
A bushy wood is spreading up the side,
While rocks on rocks still roll on like a tide.
A Sphinx will never let such things perturb her,
Nor in her sacred seat will aught disturb her.
Griffins. Gold a-spangle, gold a-flitter,
Through the chinks I see it glitter.
Let none rob you of the prize:
Up and claw it, emmets! Rise!
Chorus of Ants.
Whereas the giant ones
Upward could shove it,
Ye nimble, pliant ones,
Swift speed above it!
Scurry ye out and in!
In each cranny
Is every crumb ye win
Wealth for the canny.
Ye must discover it,
The slightest treasure,
Swiftly uncover it
In every fissure.
Toil like the busy bees,
Ye swarms, retrieve it.
Gold only shall ye seize!
What's oreless, leave it!
Griffins. Come, come! Bring in a heap of gold!
Beneath our claws fast will we hold.
They're bolts none others can excel,
They guard the greatest treasure well.
Pygmies. We are in our places truly,
Know not how it did befall.
Whence we came, don't ask unduly,
For we're here now once for all.
As a joyous place to settle,
Suitable is every land;
If a rocky rift shows metal,
Straightway is the dwarf at hand.
Male and female, busy, ready,
Exemplary is each pair;
We know not if once already
This the case in Eden were.
Our lot gratefully we treasure,
For we find things here are best;
Mother Earth brings forth with pleasure
In the east as in the west.
Hath in a night the Earth
The little ones brought to birth,
The smallest she will create too,
They will find each his mate too.
Hasten, in spaces
Pleasant take places!
Haste, the work heeding,
Not strong but speeding!
Peace is still with ye,
Build ye the smithy
For troops to shapen
Armour and weapon.
All ye ants, cluster,
Metals to muster!
Tiny but swarming,
Our orders hear ye
And firewood bear ye!
Heap in a pyre
Charcoal prepare ye!
With bow and arrow
Foes will we harrow!
Herons that wander
By that pond yonder,
Numberless nesting there,
Haughtily breasting there,
Shoot them straightway,
All them together,
In helm and feather
Us to array.
Ants and Dactyls.
Who now will save us!
Iron we're bringing,
Chains to enslave us.
Chains we're not springing,
Not yet the hour;
Heed, then, their power!
The Cranes of Ibycus.
Cries of murder, moan of dying!
Fearful pinions fluttering, flying!
What a groan and moan and fright
Pierces upward to our height!
All have fallen in the slaughter,
Reddened with their blood the water.
Greedy lust, misshapen, cruel,
Steals the heron's noble jewel.
On the helmet now it waves,
Oh, these fat-paunched, bow-legged knaves!
Comrades with our host in motion,
Serried wanderers of the ocean,
Summon we, for vengeance mated,
In a case so near related.
Let none spare his strength or blood!
Hate eternal to this brood!
[They disperse in the air, croaking.]
Mephistopheles [on the plain].
The northern witches I command, but these,
Spirits so alien, make me ill at ease.
The Blocksberg's a convenient place to roam;
Wherever you are, you find yourself at home.
Dame Ilsa watches for us on her Stone,
Wakeful is Henry on his lofty Throne;
The Snorers snort, in truth, in Elend's ears,
But all remains unchanged a thousand years.
But who knows here, if, where he stand or go,
The ground will not heave upward from below?...
I wander through a level dale quite happily,
And then behind me rises suddenly
A mountain - scarce a mountain, yet in height
Enough to block the sphinxes from my sight.
Here, down the valley, many a fire is glaring,
Its light on these strange scenes and figures flaring...
Still, knavishly confusing, lo! the amorous crew
Flutter and dance before me, flee and woo.
But softly now! Though used to many savours,
Wherever they be, one still seeks novel flavours.
Lamiae [drawing MEPHISTOPHELES after them].
Quicker and quicker!
And never tarry!
Chatting and prating.
It is so merry,
The ancient tricker
To lure behind us
To penance dreary.
Foot-stiff and weary,
On he comes hobbling,
After us wobbling;
He drags his foot,
Hasting to find us.
Vain is his suit.
Mephistopheles [standing still].
Cursed fate! Men are but women's fools!
From Adam down, becozened tools!
Older we grow but who grows wise and steady?
Were you not fooled enough already?
We know that wholly worthless is this race
With pinched-in waist and painted face;
Naught's wholesome in a folk so misbegotten;
Grasp where you will, in every limb they're rotten.
We know it, see it, we can feel it,
And still we dance if but the vile jades reel it!
Lamiae [pausing]. Halt! See him ponder, hesitate, delay!
Turn back to meet him lest he slip away!
Mephistopheles [striding forward]. Go on! nor in the web of doubt
Let yourself be entangled foolishly;
For if no witches were about,
Why, who the devil would a devil be!
Lamiae [most winsomely]. Round this hero circle we;
Surely soon within his breast
Love for one is manifest.
Mephistopheles. True, in this uncertain gleam,
Pretty wenches do you seem,
And you'll hear no slurs from me.
An Empusa [intruding]. Nor slur me! A maiden too,
Let me join your retinue.
Lamiae. In our group she'll never fit,
And our sport? she ruins it.
Empusa [to MEPHISTOPHELES]. From ass-foot Coz Empusa, greeting!
The trusty one whom now you're meeting.
You only have a horse's foot;
Still, take, Sir Coz, my best salute!
Mephistopheles. Strangers alone were here by expectations,
But now, alas! I'm finding near relations.
Indeed, an ancient book doth tell us:
Everywhere cousins from the Hartz to Hellas.
Empusa. I'm swift in acting with decision,
In many forms could meet your vision;
But honour due you I would pay
And so the ass's head I've donned today.
Mephistopheles. I note, with people of this sort
Kinship is stuff of great import;
But come what may, it's all the same,
The ass's head I'd fain disclaim.
Lamiae. Avoid this hag! She doth but scare
Whatever lovely seems and fair;
What fair and lovely was before,
She comes, and see! it is no more!
Mephistopheles. These cousins too, slim and delicious,
Of one and all I am suspicious;
Behind such darling cheeks of roses
I have a fear of metamorphoses.
Lamiae. Just try it, do! We are not few.
Lay hold! and if the game's luck favours you,
Grab for yourself the first, great prize.
What means this lustful, droning tune?
What sort of way is this to spoon?
You strut along and act so wise!
Into our group now see him stride!
Lay one by one your masks aside
And show your nature to his eyes.
Mephistopheles. The fairest have chosen me...
Oh, woe! A withered broomstick, she!
And this one?... Hideous face! Oh, what a lot!
Lamiae. Do you deserve things better? Think it not!
Mephistopheles. The little one I'd like to clasp...
A lizard's slipping from my grasp!
And snake-like is her slippery braid.
Well, then, a tall one I will catch...
And now a thyrsus-pole I snatch!
Only a pine-cone as its head.
Where will this end?... Let's try a fat one.
Perhaps I'll find delight in that one.
A last attempt! Then it will do!
So flabby, fubby, worth a treasure
As Orientals such things measure...
But ah, the puff-ball bursts in two!
Lamiae. Scatter asunder, flicker around him,
Like lightning, in black flight surround him.
The interloping witch's son!
Ye bats, in horrid, changeful reeling,
Whirl ye, on noiseless pinions wheeling!
He'll get off cheap when all is done.
Mephistopheles [shaking himself].
I have not grown much wiser, that seems clear.
The North's absurd, absurd it's also here;
Ghosts here and there are a confounded crew,
Tasteless the people and the poets too.
A masquerade is here, I swear,
A sensual dance as everywhere.
At lovely rows of masks I grasped
And shuddered at the things I clasped...
I gladly lend myself to cheating
But ask to have it not so fleeting.
[Losing himself among the rocks.]
Where am I? Where does this lead out?
There was a path, now stone-heaps roundabout.
I came along on level ways,
And rubble-stuff now meets my gaze;
I clamber up and down in vain.
My sphinxes - where find them again?
I'd not have dreamed so mad a sight,
Aye, such a mountain in one night!
"A witch-ride" would not name it wrong;
They bring their own Blocksberg along.
Oread [from a natural rock]. Come up to me! My mount is old
And still has its primeval mould.
Revere these cliff-paths steep ascending
And Pindus' last spur far extending!
Unshaken, thus I reared my head
When over my shoulders Pompey fled.
Beside me here this phantom rock
Will vanish at the crow of cock.
Such fairy-tales I often see arise
And perish in like sudden wise.
Mephistopheles. Honour to thee, thou honoured head!
With mighty oaks engarlanded.
Moonbeams, however clear and bright,
Never can pierce thy sable night.-
But by the bushes there I see
A light that's glowing modestly.
How strange that all must happen thus!
In truth, it is Homunculus.
Whence do you come, you little rover?
Homunculus. From place to place I flit and hover
And wish that in the best sense I might be.
My glass I long impatiently to shatter;
Only from what I've seen and see,
I do not like to venture on this matter.
But I'll tell you quite confidentially:
I've tracked two sages whom I've overheard
Say "Nature!" "Nature!" - 'twas their only word.
I will not part me from them, seeing
That they must know this earthly be-ing;
And in the end I'll doubtless learn
Whither most wisely I'm to turn.
Mephistopheles. Accomplish that in your own way.
Wherever ghosts may be appearing,
The sage finds welcome and a hearing;
And that his art and favour may elate,
A dozen new ghosts he'll at once create.
You'll not gain sense, except you err and stray!
You'll come to birth? Do it in your own way!
Homunculus. Good counsel, though, a man should never scout.
Mephistopheles. Proceed, then, and we'll see how things turn out.
Anaxagoras [to THALES]. You will not let your rigid mind be bent.
Is aught more needed to make you assent?
Thales. To every wind the wave bows fain enough,
But from the rugged rock it holds aloof.
Anaxagoras. Through flaming gas arose this rock we're seeing.
Thales. In moisture came organic life to being.
Homunculus [between the two].
Ah, by your side to go, pray, suffer me!
I'm yearning to begin to be.
Anaxagoras. Have you, O Thales, even in one night
Brought such a mountain out of slime to light?
Thales. Nature with all her living, flowing powers
Was never bound by day and night and hours.
By rule she fashions every form, and hence
In great things too there is no violence.
Anaxagoras. But here there was! Plutonic, savage fire,
Aeolian vapours' force, explosive, dire,
Broke through the ancient crust of level earth
And a new mountain straightway came to birth.
Thales. The hill is there; so much at least is gained.
But what is thereby furthered and attained?
Both time and leisure in such strife one poses
And only leads the patient rabble by their noses.
Anaxagoras. Quickly with Myrmidons the hill is teeming,
They occupy the clefts; and now come streaming
Pygmies and ants and fingerlings
And other active little things.
After the great you never have aspired
But hermit-like have lived retired;
If you can wont yourself to sovereignty,
Then crowned as king I'll have you be.
Homunculus. What says my Thales?
Thales. That I won't advise.
With little people little deeds arise;
Among the great, the little man grows great.
See there! The cranes, the swarthy cloud,
They menace the excited crowd
And they would menace thus the king.
With beaks sharp-pointed, talons fierce,
The little ones they tear and pierce;
Already doom comes thundering.
Herons had suffered impious slaughter,
Standing about the tranquil water.
But from that rain of murd'rous engines
Has sprung a blessed, bloody vengeance;
It stirs the rage of brotherhood
And lust for pygmies' impious blood.
Shield, helmet, spear - how profit these?
What use to dwarfs the heron feather?
How ant and dactyl hide together!
The host now wavers, breaks, and flees.
Anaxagoras [after a pause, solemnly].
If till now subterranean I praised,
In this case be my prayer to Heaven raised.
O Thou on high, the same eternally,
In name and form threefold supernally,
By all my people's woe I cry to Thee,
Diana, Luna, Hecate!
Thou breast-expanding One, most deeply pensive One,
Thou peaceful seeming One, mighty intensive One,
Break from the glooms of Thy dark chasm clear,
And without magic let Thine ancient might appear!
Am I too quickly heard?
Hath my prayer
To yonder sphere
The ordered course of Nature stirred?
And greater, ever greater, draweth near
The goddess' throne, her full-orbed sphere-
To gaze upon, appalling, dire!
And ruddier, redder glows its fire...
No nearer! threatening orb, I pray,
Lest Thou wilt sweep us, land, and sea away!
Thessalian witches? Can it then be true
That Thee once from Thy proper path they drew,
By spells of impious magic sung,
And fatal gifts from Thee so wrenched and wrung?...
The brilliant shield, behold, it darkles!
And now it splits and flares and sparkles!
What clattering! What hissing yonder!
And midst it what wild hurricane and thunder!
Humbly I kneel here at Thy throne!
Forgive I have invoked it, I alone!
[He throws himself on his face.]
Thales. What has this man not seen and heard!
I know not rightly what occurred;
Nor yet like him have I experienced it.
They're crazy hours, let us admit.
And Luna's swaying comfortably
In her old place as formerly.
Homunculus. Look at the pygmies' seat! I vow,
The hill was round, it's pointed now.
I seemed to feel an awful shock;
Down from the moon had plunged a rock;
At once, without a question, too,
Both friend and foe it squashed and slew.
High arts like these I have to praise,
Which, by some great creative might,
Working above, below, could raise
This mountain-pile in but one night.
Thales. Be calm! 'Twas but like thought in rapid flight.
Let them be gone, the nasty brood!
That you were not their king is good.
Now to the sea's glad fate let us repair.
They hope and honour rare guests there.
Mephistopheles [climbing up on the opposite side].
Up steep rock stairways I am forced to fag me,
Through stubborn roots of ancient oak trees drag me!
Up in my Hartz there is a resinous savour
With hints of pitch, and that enjoys my favour
Almost like brimstone... In this Grecian place,
Of scents like these there's scarcely any trace.
I'm curious to know and would inquire
Wherewith they feed hell's torments and hell's fire.
A Dryad. At home be wise as it befits you there;
Abroad you have no cleverness to spare.
Homeward you should not turn your thoughts while here;
You should the sacred oaks' high worth revere.
Mephistopheles. We think of what behind us lies;
What we were used to seems a Paradise.
But say: What cowers in the cavern there,
Threefold in form and dimly lighted?
A Dryad. The Phorkyads! Approach them if you dare
And speak to them if you are not affrighted.
Mephistopheles. Why not? - I see a something and I wonder.
I must confess although it hurts my pride:
The Like of them I've never yet espied.
Why, worse mandrakes, they look yonder...
How can the Deadly Sins then ever be
Considered ugly in the least degree
If one has seen this monstrous trinity?
We would not suffer it to dwell
Upon the threshold of our grimmest hell.
Here in the land of beauty it is rooted,
The classic, antique land reputed...
They seem to scent me now and stir and chitter;
Like vampire bats they peep and twitter.
A Phorkyad. Give me the eye, my sisters, to espy
Who to our temple dares to come so nigh.
Mephistopheles. Most honoured! I approach you, with your leave,
That I your threefold blessing may receive.
I come, though as a stranger, be it stated,
Yet, if I err not, distantly related.
Gods ancient and revered I've seen ere now,
To Ops and Rhea made my deepest bow.
The Fates, your sisters too, whom Chaos bore,
I saw them yesterday - or else the day before.
But others like yourselves I've never sighted,
And I stand mute, amazed, delighted!
The Phorkyads. Intelligent this spirit seems to be.
Mephistopheles. That no bard sings your praise amazes me.
And say! How came it, how could it have been?
Your likeness, worthy ones, I've never seen!
On you the chisel should try out its art,
And not on Juno, Pallas, Venus, and that sort.
The Phorkyads. Immersed in stillest night and solitude,
We Three have never felt that thought intrude.
Mephistopheles. How should it? Since withdrawn from earthly view,
Here you see none, nor anyone sees you.
But choose in other places to reside
Where art and splendour equally preside,
Where daily in quick time from marble blocks
Heroes leap into life in flocks,
The Phorkyads. Silence! Stir in us no longings new!
What would it profit if we better knew?
We, born in night, akin to night alone,
Are almost to ourselves, to others quite, unknown.
Mephistopheles. In such a case there is not much to say.
To others, though, one can one's self convey.
One eye, one tooth, suffices for you three,
So it would tally with mythology
If into two the being of you three were blended
And your third form to me were lended
For a brief time.
One Phorkyad. What think you? Should we try?
The Other Phorkyads. Let's try it! But without the tooth or eye.
Mephistopheles. Take these away? The essence then you'll take,
For it's the perfect image that they make.
One Phorkyad. Press one eye to - quite easily it's done-
And of your tusks show only one;
At once you will attain our profile meetly
And sisterly resemble us completely.
Mephistopheles. Much honour! Be it so!
The Phorkyads. So be it!
Mephistopheles [in profile like a PHORKYAD]. Done!
Here stand I, Chaos' well-beloved son!
The Phorkyads. Daughters of Chaos we, by undisputed right!
Mephistopheles. Oh, shame! They'll call me now hermaphrodite!
The Phorkyads. What beauty in the sisters' triad new!
We have two eyes, our teeth are two.
Mephistopheles. From all eyes I must hide this visage well
To fright the devils in the pool of Hell.
If you have problems understanding these alchemical texts, Adam McLean now provides a study course entitled How to read alchemical texts : a guide for the perplexed.
Works of Nicolas Flamel
Works of George Ripley
Works of Sendivogius
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum
Emerald tablet of Hermes
Texts from Musaeum Hermeticum
Spanish alchemical texts
German alchemical texts
French alchemical texts
Russian alchemical texts
Italian alchemical texts