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Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

translated by George Madison Priest
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[Moon tarrying in the zenith.]

Sirens [couched around on the cliffs, fluting and singing].
If of yore, by spells nocturnal,
Did Thessalian hags infernal
Draw thee down, a crime intending,
Gaze thou where night's arch is bending
Down with calmness never-ending
On the billowy, twinkling ocean,
And illumine the commotion
Rising from the billowing sea!
To thy service vowed are we,
Lovely Luna, gracious be!
Nereids and Tritons [as wonders of the sea].
With a louder, shriller singing,
Through the breadth of ocean ringing,
Summon here the deep's gay throng!
From the cruel tempest's riot
Fled we to the deepest quiet,
Hither lured by lovely song.
Here behold us decorated
With gold chains and high elated;
Crowns and jewels do ye capture,
Brooches, girdles that enrapture.
All this harvest is your prey.
To us here these shipwrecked treasures
Ye have brought with your sweet measures,
Ye, the magnets of our bay.
Sirens. Well we know, in cool seas biding,
How the fishes, smoothly gliding,
Joy in life, from trouble far;
Yet, ye festive hosts quick moving,
We today would see you proving
That ye more than fishes are.
Nereids and Tritons.
We, before we hither wandered,
Thought of that and deeply pondered.
Sisters, brothers, swiftly fare!
Needs today but little travel
Proof to show past any cavil
That we more than fishes are.

[They disappear.]

Sirens. Away they speed and race
Straight toward Samothrace;
With kindly wind gone are they far.
What mean they to do in the eerie
Domain of the Mighty Cabiri?
They're gods, and stranger were never;
They beget their like ever and ever
And never know what they are.
Linger thou on thy height,
Lovely Luna, stay thy light,
That the night may not vanish
Nor the day may us banish.
Thales [on the shore, to HOMUNCULUS].
To ancient Nereus I would lead the way;
We're not far distant from his cave today,
But hard and stubborn is his pate,
Contrary, sour, old reprobate.
Nothing of mortal humankind
Is ever to that grumbler's mind.
The future, though, is known to him,
Wherefore men hold him in esteem
And honour him where he holds sway.
Kind has he been to many a one.
Homunculus. Let's try it then and see. Come on!
My glass and flame not cost me straightway.
Nereus. Are they men's voices that my ear has heard?
How quick with wrath my inmost heart is stirred!
These creatures would be gods by sheer endeavour,
Yet damned to be like their own selves forever.
In days of old I could divinely rest,
Yet I was oft impelled to aid the Best,
But when at last I saw what they had done,
'Twas quite as if I had not counselled one.
Thales. Yet people trust you, greybeard, ocean seer;
You are the Sage; oh, drive us not from here!
Gaze on this flame, like to a man, indeed;
Your counsel only will it hear and heed.
Nereus. Counsel! With men has counsel once availed?
Vain are shrewd warnings to a fast-closed ear.
Oft as their deeds proved, men have grimly failed;
Self-willed are they still as they always were.
How I warned Paris with a father's trust
Before another's wife ensnared his lust!
Upon the Grecian shore he stood up bold,
And what I saw in spirit I foretold:
The reeking air above, a ruddy glow,
Rafters ablaze, murder and death below:
Troy's Judgment Day, held fast in noble rhyme,
A horror famous to the end of time.
Reckless he laughed at all that I could tell;
He followed his own lust and Ilion fell-
A giant corpse, stark when its torments ceased,
To Pindus' eagles a right welcome feast.
Ulysses too! Told I not him erewhiles
Of Cyclops' horrors and of Circe's wiles?
His dallying, his comrades' thoughtless vein,
And what not all - but did it bring him gain?
Till, late enough, a favouring billow bore
The long-tossed wanderer to a friendly shore.
Thales. Of course such action gives a wise man pain;
Still, if he's kind, he'll try it once again.
An ounce of thanks will in its bliss outweigh,
Yes, tons of thanklessness for many a day.
And nothing trifling to implore have we:
The boy here wisely wants to come to be.
Nereus. Don't spoil my rarest mood, I pray!
Far other things await me here today:
My daughters all I've summoned here to me,
The Dorides, the Graces of the Sea.
Olympus not, nor yet your soil, can bear
A form that is so dainty and so fair.
From dragons of the sea, all in most winsome motion,
They leap on Neptune's coursers; in the ocean,
Their element, so tenderly at home
They seem to float upon the very foam.
On Venus' radiant, pearly chariot drawn,
Comes Galatea, lovely as the dawn.
Since Cypris turned from us her face,
She reigns in Paphos in the goddess' place.
And so, long since, the gracious one doth own,
As heiress, templed town and chariot-throne.
Away! It spoils a father's hour of pleasure,
Harshness of tongue or hate of heart to treasure.
Away to Proteus! Ask that wondrous elf:
How one can come to be and change one's self.

[He goes off toward the sea.]

Thales. We have gained nothing by this stay.
Though one finds Proteus, straight he melts away;
And if he stops for you, he'll say at last
Things that confuse you, make you stand aghast.
But, after all, such counsel do you need;
Let's try it and pursue our path with speed.

[They go away.]

Sirens [above on the rocks].
What's that far off, half hiding,
Through ocean's billows gliding?
As if, to breezes bending,
White sails were hither wending.
Bright beam they over waters,
Transfigured ocean's daughters!
Let us climb down! They're singing!
List to the voices ringing!
Nereids and Tritons.
What we escort and carry
Shall make you glad and merry.
Chelone's shield gigantic,
Gleams with stern figures antic;
They're gods whom we are bringing.
High songs must ye be singing.
Little in height,
Potent in might
Who shipwrecked men deliver,
Gods old and honoured ever.
Nereids and Tritons.
We're bringing the Cabiri
To the peaceful pageant cheery,
For where they rule auspicious
Neptune will be propitious.
We give way to you:
With resistless power
Ye save the perishing crew
In dire shipwreck's hour.
Nereids and Tritons.
We have brought three only,
The fourth one tarried lonely;
He said he must stay yonder
Since he for all must ponder.
One god the other god
Can jeer and prod.
Their good deeds revere ye!
All their ill ones fear ye!
Nereids and Tritons.
To seven ye should be praying.
Where are the three delaying?
Nereids and Tritons.
For that we've no suggestion,
But on Olympus question;
Haply the eighth's there biding,
Not thought-of yet, and hiding.
In favours to us steady,
Yet are they all not ready.
Peerless, unexplainable,
Always further yearning,
With desire and hunger burning
For the unattainable.
Such our ways:
Where power most sways,
Worship we raise,
Sunward, moonward: it pays!
Nereids and Tritons.
How brightly shines our fame! behold!
Leading this pageant cheery!
The heroes of olden time
To such fame don't climb,
Where and how it unfold,
Although they've won the Fleece of Gold,
Ye've won the Cabiri!

[Repeated in full chorus.]

Although they've won the Fleece of Gold,
We! Ye! the Cabiri!

[NEREIDS and TRITONS move past.]

Homunculus. These shapeless forms I look upon,
As poor clay-pots I take them;
Their hard heads wise men often run
Against them and there break them.
Thales. That's just the thing that men desire;
The rusty coin is valued higher.
Proteus [unperceived]. This pleases me, an ancient fabler!
The odder 'tis, the respectabler.
Thales. Where are you, Proteus?
Proteus [ventriloquizing, now near, now far]. Here! and here!
Thales. I pardon you that ancient jeer;
But with a friend such idle words forgo!
You speak from some false place, I know.
Proteus [as if from a distance]. Farewell!
Thales [softly to HOMUNCULUS]. He is quite near. Shine brilliantly!
As curious as a fish is he;
Assume what form and place he may, be sure,
Flames are for him unfailing lure.
Homunculus. At once a flood of light I'll scatter,
Discreetly, though, for fear the glass might shatter.
Proteus [in the form of a giant tortoise].
What beams so winsome, fair, and dear?
Thales [concealing HOMUNCULUS].
Good! If you wish, you can observe it near.
Don't let the little effort worry you,
Appear on two feet just as humans do.
It's with our will and by our courtesy
That what we now conceal, who wills may see.
Proteus [in a noble form].
In clever, worldly pranks you still have skill.
Thales. You change your form with pleasure still.

[He has uncovered HOMUNCULUS.]

Proteus [astonished]. A radiant dwarflet! Such I never did see!
Thales. He asks advice and fain would come to be.
He has, he told me, come to earth
But half-way formed, a quite peculiar birth.
He has no lack of qualities ideal
But lacks too much the tangible and real.
Till now the glass alone has given him weight;
He'd like forthwith to be incorporate.
Proteus. You are a virgin's son, yea, verily:
You are before you ought to be!
Thales [softly]. And from another angle things seem critical;
He is, methinks, hermaphroditical.
Proteus. Success must come the sooner in that case;
As soon as he arrives, all will fit into place.
But here there is not much to ponder:
Your start must be in that wide ocean yonder!
There on a small scale one begins,
The smallest things is glad to swallow,
Till step by step more strength he wins
And forms himself for greater things to follow.
Homunculus. Here stirs a soft and tender air,
What fragrant freshness and what perfume rare!
Proteus. Dearest of urchins! I believe your story.
Farther away, it grows more ravishing;
The air upon that narrow promontory
Is more ineffable, more lavishing;
There, near enough, the host we'll see
Now floating hither over the sea.
Come with me there!
Thales. I'll come along. Proceed!
Homunculus. A threefold spirit striding - strange, indeed!

[TELCHINES OF RHODES on hippocampi and sea-dragons, wielding Neptune's trident.]

Chorus. The trident of Neptune we've forged which assuages
The wildest of billows when old Ocean rages.
When in the dense cloud-banks the Thund'rer is grumbling,
It's Neptune opposes the horrible rumbling;
However forked lightning may flash and may glow,
Still wave upon wave dashes up from below,
And all that between them in anguish has wallowed,
Long hurled to and fro, by the depths all is swallowed;
Wherefore he has lent us his sceptre today.
Now float we contented and lightly and gay.
You, to Helios dedicated,
You, to bright day consecrated,
Greet we in this stirring hour
When all worship Luna's power!
Telchines. O loveliest goddess in night's dome appearing!
The praise of thy brother with rapture art hearing.
To Rhodes ever blessed an ear thou dost lend,
For there doth a paean eternal ascend.
He begins the day's course, with keen, radiant gaze,
When finished the journey, our troop he surveys.
The mountains, the cities, the wave, and the shore
Are lovely and bright to the god we adore.
No mist hovers round us, and if one appear,
A beam and a zephyr - the island is clear!
Phoebus there sees his image in forms hundredfold,
As giant, as youth, as the Gentle, the Bold.
We first, it was we who first nobly began
To shape the high gods in the image of man.
Oh, leave them to their boasting, singing!
To sunbeams, holy and life-bringing,
Dead works are but an idle jest.
They melt and mould in tireless rapture,
And when in bronze a god they capture,
They deem it great and swell their breast.
What end comes to these haughty men?
Their forms of gods, so great and true,
Long since an earthquake overthrew,
And they were melted down again.
All life on earth, whatever it be,
Is never aught but drudgery;
In water life has far more gain.
I'll bear you to the endless main,
I, Proteus-Dolphin.

[He transforms himself.]

Now it's done!
There where the happiest fates are leading
I'll take you on back and speeding
I'll wed you to the ocean. On!

Thales. Yield to the worthy aspiration
And at its source begin creation,
Ready for life's effective plan!
There you will move by norms unchanging;
Through forms a thousand, myriad, ranging,
You will, in time, become a man.

[Homunculus mounts upon PROTEUS-DOLPHIN.]

Proteus. Come, spirit, seek the realm of ocean;
At once, unfettered every motion,
Live here and move as you would do.
But let not higher orders lure you,
For once a man, I can assure you,
Then all is at an end with you.
Thales. That's as may be; yet it's not ill
A man's role in one's time to fill.
Proteus [to THALES]. Well, one of your kind, to be sure!
For quite a while they do endure;
For midst your pallid phantom-peers
I've seen you now for many hundred years.
Sirens [on the rocks].
See yon cloudlets, how they mingle
Round the moon, how fair a ring!
Doves they are, with love a-tingle,
White as light is every wing.
Paphos sent them as her greeting,
Ardent, radiant, they appear,
Thus our festival completing,
Fraught with rapture full and clear!
Nereus [approaching THALES].
Though night-wanderer make a pother,
Call yon ring an apparition,
Still we spirits take another,
Take the only right position.
They are doves that are attending
On my daughter's pearly car;
Taught long since, in times afar,
Wondrously they're hither wending.
Thales. Since it gives a real man pleasure,
I too hold that as the best
When a sacred, living treasure
Finds in him a still, warm nest.
Psylli and Marsil [on sea-bulls, sea-calves, and sea-rams].
In Cyprus' rugged vaults cavernal
By sea-god never battered,
By Seismos never shattered,
Fanned by the zephyrs eternal,
And, as in days long departed,
In conscious quiet glad-hearted,
The chariot of Cypris we've guarded,
Through murmuring night's soft vibration,
Over waves and their lovely pulsation,
Unseen by the new generation,
The loveliest daughter we lead.
Our duty we're quietly plying,
From no Eagle nor Winged Lion flying,
Nor from Cross nor Moon,
As each dwells upon its throne,
Now swaying, now essaying,
Driving forth and now slaying,
Harvest and towns in ashes laying.
Thus on, with speed,
Hither the loveliest mistress we lead.
Lightly moving, hasting never,
Round the chariot, line on line,
Now ring twines with ring, to waver
In a series serpentine.
Come, ye vigorous Nereides,
Sturdy women, pleasing, wild,
Bring, ye delicate Dorides,
Galatea, her mother's child:
Earnest, like the gods, a woman
Meet for immortality,
Yet like women gently human,
Of alluring charm is she.
Dorides [in a chorus, all mounted on dolphins, passing by NEREUS].
Light and shadow, Luna, lend us,
On this flower of youth shine clear!
To our father we present us,
Pleading bring we bridegrooms dear.


They are boys we saved from dreaded
Gnashing of the angry main;
On the reeds and mosses bedded,
Warmed we them to light again.
Here, with kisses warm and tender,
Loyal thanks must they now render;
May the Good thy favour gain!
Nereus. Great is the gain to win a twofold treasure:
Pity to show and in the show take pleasure.
Father, laudst thou our endeavour,
Grant us joy deserved, in truth;
Let us hold them fast forever
To the deathless breast of youth.
Nereus. You may delight in your fair capture.
Fashion to men the youthful crew;
Not mine to lend an endless rapture,
That only Zeus can grant to you.
The wave that surges and that rocks you,
All ows to love no constant stand,
And when this fancy fades and mocks you,
Then set them quietly on land.
Your love; sweet boys, doth us inspire,
Yet sadly we needs must sever;
Eternal the troth that we desire,
But gods will suffer it never.
The Youths.
We're sailor-boys of gallant mood,
Pray further kindly tend us!
We've never had a life so good,
Nor can fate better send us.

[GALATEA approaches in her shell chariot.]

Nereus. It is you, my darling!
Galatea. O Sire, the delight!
Linger, ye dolphins! Entrancing the sight!
Nereus. They're gone already, they draw us apart,
Wider and wider the circles sweep.
What do they care for the pain of my heart?
Would they but take me out over the deep!
Yet only one glance is so dear
That it pays for the whole long year.
Thales. Hail! Hail again!
How blooms my joy amain!
By Truth and Beauty I'm penetrated...
From water first was all created!
And water is the all-sustaining!
Ocean, continue forever thy reigning.
If thou the clouds wert sending not,
Wert swelling brooks expending not,
Here and there rivers wert bending not,
And streams beginning, ending not,
Where then were the world, the mountains, and plain?
'Tis thou who the freshest of life dost maintain.
Echo [chorus of all the circles].
'Tis thou from whom freshest of life wells again.
Nereus. Wheeling afar, they turn apace,
No more meet us face to face;
In lengthened chains extended,
In circles festively blended,
In countless companies they career.
But Galatea's sea-shell throne
I see ever and anon.
It shines like a star
The crowd among!
My loved one beams through all the throng,
However far,
Shimmers bright and clear,
Ever true and near.
In this dear water brightens
All that my lamplet lightens,
All wondrous fair to see.
This living water brightens
Where first thy lamplet lightens
With glorious harmony.
Nereus. What mystery new to our wondering eyes
Do I see in the midst of these bevies arise?
What flames round the sea-shell, at Galatea's feet?
Now mighty it flares up, now lovely, now sweet,
As if with love's pulsing 'twere touched and arrayed.
Thales. Homunculus is it, by Proteus swayed...
The symptoms are those of a masterful yearning,
Prophetic of agonized throbbing and burning.
He'll shatter himself on the glittering throne.
See it flame, now it flashes, pours forth - it is done!
Sirens. What marvel of fire in the billows is flashing
That sparkling against one another are crashing?
It beams and hitherward wavers, and bright
All forms are aglow on the pathway of night,
And roundabout all is by fire overrun.
Now Eros be ruler who all hath begun!
Hail, ye waves! Hail, sea unbounded,
By the holy fire surrounded!
Water, hail! Hail, fire's glare!
Hail to this adventure rare!
All Together.
Hail, thou gently blowing breeze!
Hail, earth rich in mysteries!
Hail, fire, sea, whom we adore,
Hail, ye elements all four!

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