Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Faust

First Part of the Tragedy

I

Night

(A lofty-arched, narrow, Gothic chamber. Faust, in a chair at his desk, restless.)

Faust

I’ve studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine —
And even, alas! Theology —
From end to end, with labor keen;
And here, poor fool! with all my lore
I stand, no wiser than before:
I’m Magister — yea, Doctor — hight,
And straight or cross-wise, wrong or right,
These ten years long, with many woes,
I’ve led my scholars by the nose —
And see, that nothing can be known!
That knowledge cuts me to the bone.
I’m cleverer, true, than those fops of teachers,
Doctors and Magisters, Scribes and Preachers;
Neither scruples nor doubts come now to smite me,
Nor Hell nor Devil can longer affright me.

For this, all pleasure am I foregoing;
I do not pretend to aught worth knowing,
I do not pretend I could be a teacher
To help or convert a fellow-creature.
Then, too, I’ve neither lands nor gold,
Nor the world’s least pomp or honor hold —
No dog would endure such a curst existence!
Wherefore, from Magic I seek assistance,
That many a secret perchance I reach
Through spirit-power and spirit-speech,
And thus the bitter task forego
Of saying the things I do not know —
That I may detect the inmost force
Which binds the world, and guides its course;
Its germs, productive powers explore,
And rummage in empty words no more!

O full and splendid Moon, whom I
Have, from this desk, seen climb the sky
So many a midnight — would thy glow
For the last time beheld my woe!
Ever thine eye, most mournful friend,
O’er books and papers saw me bend;
But would that I, on mountains grand,
Amid thy blessed light could stand,
With spirits through mountain-caverns hover,
Float in thy twilight the meadows over,
And, freed from the fumes of lore that swathe me,
To health in thy dewy fountains bathe me!

Ah, me! this dungeon still I see.
This drear, accursed masonry,
Where even the welcome daylight strains
But duskly through the painted panes.
Hemmed in by many a toppling heap
Of books worm-eaten, gray with dust,
Which to the vaulted ceiling creep,
Against the smoky paper thrust —
With glasses, boxes, round me stacked,
And instruments together hurled,
Ancestral lumber, stuffed and packed —
Such is my world: and what a world!

And do I ask, wherefore my heart
Falters, oppressed with unknown needs?
Why some inexplicable smart
All movement of my life impedes?
Alas! in living Nature’s stead,
Where God His human creature set,
In smoke and mould the fleshless dead
And bones of beasts surround me yet!

Fly! Up, and seek the broad, free land!
And this one Book of Mystery
From Nostradamus’ very hand,
Is’t not sufficient company?
When I the starry courses know,
And Nature’s wise instruction seek,
With light of power my soul shall glow,
As when to spirits spirits speak.
Tis vain, this empty brooding here,
Though guessed the holy symbols be:
Ye, Spirits, come — ye hover near —
Oh, if you hear me, answer me!

(He opens the Book, and perceives the sign of the Macrocosm.)

Ha! what a sudden rapture leaps from this
I view, through all my senses swiftly flowing!
I feel a youthful, holy, vital bliss
In every vein and fibre newly glowing.
Was it a God, who traced this sign,
With calm across my tumult stealing,
My troubled heart to joy unsealing,
With impulse, mystic and divine,
The powers of Nature here, around my path, revealing?
Am I a God? — so clear mine eyes!
In these pure features I behold
Creative Nature to my soul unfold.
What says the sage, now first I recognize:
“The spirit-world no closures fasten;
Thy sense is shut, thy heart is dead:
Disciple, up! untiring, hasten
To bathe thy breast in morning-red!”

(He contemplates the sign.)

How each the Whole its substance gives,
Each in the other works and lives!
Like heavenly forces rising and descending,
Their golden urns reciprocally lending,
With wings that winnow blessing
From Heaven through Earth I see them pressing,
Filling the All with harmony unceasing!
How grand a show! but, ah! a show alone.
Thee, boundless Nature, how make thee my own?
Where you, ye beasts? Founts of all Being, shining,
Whereon hang Heaven’s and Earth’s desire,
Whereto our withered hearts aspire —
Ye flow, ye feed: and am I vainly pining?

(He turns the leaves impatiently, and perceives the sign of the Earth-Spirit.)

How otherwise upon me works this sign!
Thou, Spirit of the Earth, art nearer:
Even now my powers are loftier, clearer;
I glow, as drunk with new-made wine:
New strength and heart to meet the world incite me,
The woe of earth, the bliss of earth, invite me,
And though the shock of storms may smite me,
No crash of shipwreck shall have power to fright me!
Clouds gather over me —
The moon conceals her light —
The lamp’s extinguished! —
Mists rise — red, angry rays are darting
Around my head! — There falls
A horror from the vaulted roof,
And seizes me!
I feel thy presence, Spirit I invoke!
Reveal thyself!
Ha! in my heart what rending stroke!
With new impulsion
My senses heave in this convulsion!
I feel thee draw my heart, absorb, exhaust me:
Thou must! thou must! and though my life it cost me!

(He seizes the book, and mysteriously pronounces the sign of the Spirit. A ruddy flame flashes: the Spirit appears in the flame.)

Spirit

Who calls me?

Faust (with averted head)

   Terrible to see!

Spirit

Me hast thou long with might attracted,
Long from my sphere thy food exacted,
And now —

Faust

   Woe! I endure not thee!

Spirit

To view me is thine aspiration,
My voice to hear, my countenance to see;
Thy powerful yearning moveth me,
Here am I! — what mean perturbation
Thee, superhuman, shakes? Thy soul’s high calling, where?
Where is the breast, which from itself a world did bear,
And shaped and cherished — which with joy expanded,
To be our peer, with us, the Spirits, banded?
Where art thou, Faust, whose voice has pierced to me,
Who towards me pressed with all thine energy?
He art thou, who, my presence breathing, seeing,
Trembles through all the depths of being,
A writhing worm, a terror-stricken form?

Faust

Thee, form of flame, shall I then fear?
Yes, I am Faust: I am thy peer!

Spirit

In the tides of Life, in Action’s storm,

A fluctuant wave,

A shuttle free,

Birth and the Grave,

An eternal sea,

A weaving, flowing

Life, all-glowing,

Thus at Time’s humming loom ’tis my hand prepares

The garment of Life which the Deity wears!

Faust

Thou, who around the wide world wendest,
Thou busy Spirit, how near I feel to thee!

Spirit

Thou’rt like the Spirit which thou comprehendest,
Not me!

(Disappears.)

Faust (overwhelmed)

Not thee!
Whom then?
I, image of the Godhead!
Not even like thee!

(A knock).

O Death! — I know it —’tis my Famulus!
My fairest luck finds no fruition:
In all the fullness of my vision
The soulless sneak disturbs me thus!

(Enter Wagner, in dressing-gown and night-cap, a lamp in his hand. Faust turns impatiently.)

Wagner

Pardon, I heard your declamation;
’Twas sure an old Greek tragedy you read?
In such an art I crave some preparation,
Since now it stands one in good stead.
I’ve often heard it said, a preacher
Might learn, with a comedian for a teacher.

Faust

Yes, when the priest comedian is by nature,
As haply now and then the case may be.

Wagner

Ah, when one studies thus, a prisoned creature,
That scarce the world on holidays can see —
Scarce through a glass, by rare occasion,
How shall one lead it by persuasion?

Faust

You’ll ne’er attain it, save you know the feeling,
Save from the soul it rises clear,
Serene in primal strength, compelling
The hearts and minds of all who hear.
You sit forever gluing, patching;
You cook the scraps from others’ fare;
And from your heap of ashes hatching
A starveling flame, ye blow it bare!
Take children’s, monkeys’ gaze admiring,
If such your taste, and be content;
But ne’er from heart to heart you’ll speak inspiring,
Save your own heart is eloquent!

Wagner

Yet through delivery orators succeed;
I feel that I am far behind, indeed.

Faust

Seek thou the honest recompense!
Beware, a tinkling fool to be!
With little art, clear wit and sense
Suggest their own delivery;
And if thou’rt moved to speak in earnest,
What need, that after words thou yearnest?
Yes, your discourses, with their glittering show,
Where ye for men twist shredded thought like paper,
Are unrefreshing as the winds that blow
The rustling leaves through chill autumnal vapor!

Wagner

Ah, God! but Art is long,
And Life, alas! is fleeting.
And oft, with zeal my critic-duties meeting,
In head and breast there’s something wrong.

How hard it is to compass the assistance
Whereby one rises to the source!
And, haply, ere one travels half the course
Must the poor devil quit existence.

Faust

Is parchment, then, the holy fount before thee,
A draught wherefrom thy thirst forever slakes?
No true refreshment can restore thee,
Save what from thine own soul spontaneous breaks.

Wagner

Pardon! a great delight is granted
When, in the spirit of the ages planted,
We mark how, ere our times, a sage has thought,
And then, how far his work, and grandly, we have brought.

Faust

O yes, up to the stars at last!
Listen, my friend: the ages that are past
Are now a book with seven seals protected:
What you the Spirit of the Ages call
Is nothing but the spirit of you all,
Wherein the Ages are reflected.
So, oftentimes, you miserably mar it!
At the first glance who sees it runs away.
An offal-barrel and a lumber-garret,
Or, at the best, a Punch-and-Judy play,
With maxims most pragmatical and hitting,
As in the mouths of puppets are befitting!

Wagner

But then, the world — the human heart and brain!
Of these one covets some slight apprehension.

Faust

Yes, of the kind which men attain!
Who dares the child’s true name in public mention?
The few, who thereof something really learned,
Unwisely frank, with hearts that spurned concealing,
And to the mob laid bare each thought and feeling,
Have evermore been crucified and burned.
I pray you, Friend, ’tis now the dead of night;
Our converse here must be suspended.

Wagner

I would have shared your watches with delight,
That so our learned talk might be extended.
To-morrow, though, I’ll ask, in Easter leisure,
This and the other question, at your pleasure.
Most zealously I seek for erudition:
Much do I know — but to know all is my ambition.

[Exit.

Faust (solus)

That brain, alone, not loses hope, whose choice is
To stick in shallow trash forevermore —
Which digs with eager hand for buried ore,
And, when it finds an angle-worm, rejoices!

Dare such a human voice disturb the flow,
Around me here, of spirit-presence fullest?
And yet, this once my thanks I owe
To thee, of all earth’s sons the poorest, dullest!
For thou hast torn me from that desperate state
Which threatened soon to overwhelm my senses:
The apparition was so giant-great,
It dwarfed and withered all my soul’s pretences!

I, image of the Godhead, who began —
Deeming Eternal Truth secure in nearness —
Ye choirs, have ye begun the sweet, consoling chant,
Which, through the night of Death, the angels ministrant
Sang, God’s new Covenant repeating?

Chorus of Women

With spices and precious

Balm, we arrayed him;

Faithful and gracious,

We tenderly laid him:

Linen to bind him

Cleanlily wound we:

Ah! when we would find him,

Christ no more found we!

Chorus of Angels

Christ is ascended!

Bliss hath invested him —

Woes that molested him,

Trials that tested him,

Gloriously ended!

Faust

Why, here in dust, entice me with your spell,
Ye gentle, powerful sounds of Heaven?
Peal rather there, where tender natures dwell.
Your messages I hear, but faith has not been given;
The dearest child of Faith is Miracle.
I venture not to soar to yonder regions
Whence the glad tidings hither float;
And yet, from childhood up familiar with the note,
To Life it now renews the old allegiance.
Once Heavenly Love sent down a burning kiss
Upon my brow, in Sabbath silence holy;
And, filled with mystic presage, chimed the church-bell slowly,
And prayer dissolved me in a fervent bliss.
A sweet, uncomprehended yearning
Drove forth my feet through woods and meadows free,
And while a thousand tears were burning,
I felt a world arise for me.
These chants, to youth and all its sports appealing,
Proclaimed the Spring’s rejoicing holiday;
And Memory holds me now, with childish feeling,
Back from the last, the solemn way.
Sound on, ye hymns of Heaven, so sweet and mild!
My tears gush forth: the Earth takes back her child!

Chorus of Disciples

Has He, victoriously,

Burst from the vaulted

Grave, and all-gloriously

Now sits exalted?

Is He, in glow of birth,

Rapture creative near?

Ah! to the woe of earth

Still are we native here.

We, his aspiring

Followers, Him we miss;

Weeping, desiring,

Master, Thy bliss!

Chorus of Angels

Christ is arisen,

Out of Corruption’s womb:

Burst ye the prison,

Break from your gloom!

Praising and pleading him,

Lovingly needing him,

Brotherly feeding him,

Preaching and speeding him,

Blessing, succeeding Him,

Thus is the Master near —

Thus is He here!

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14