Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Faust Part I: Dedication, Prelude, Prologue
‘Faust in His Studio’ - Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606 - 1669), Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
Again you show yourselves, you wavering Forms,
Revealed, as you once were, to clouded vision.
Shall I attempt to hold you fast once more?
Heart’s willing still to suffer that illusion?
You crowd so near! Well then, you shall endure, 5
And rouse me, from your mist and cloud’s confusion:
My spirit feels so young again: it’s shaken
By magic breezes that your breathings waken.
You bring with you the sight of joyful days,
And many a loved shade rises to the eye: 10
And like some other half-forgotten phrase,
First Love returns, and Friendship too is nigh:
Pain is renewed, and sorrow: all the ways,
Life wanders in its labyrinthine flight,
Naming the good, those that Fate has robbed 15
Of lovely hours, those slipped from me and lost.
They can no longer hear this latest song,
Spirits, to whom I gave my early singing:
That kindly crowd itself is now long gone,
Alas, it dies away, that first loud ringing! 20
I bring my verses to the unknown throng,
My heart’s made anxious even by their clapping,
And those besides delighted by my verse,
If they still live, are scattered through the Earth.
I feel a long and unresolved desire 25
For that serene and solemn land of ghosts,
It quivers now, like an Aeolian lyre,
My stuttering verse, with its uncertain notes,
A shudder takes me: tear on tear, entire,
The firm heart feels weakened and remote: 30
What I possess seems far away from me,
And what is gone becomes reality.
Prelude On Stage
(Director, Dramatist, Comedian)
Director You two, who’ve often stood by me,
In times of need, when trouble’s breaking,
Say what success our undertaking 35
Will meet with, then, in Germany?
I’d rather like the crowd to enjoy it,
Since they live and let live, truly.
The stage is set, the boards complete,
And they await our festivity. 40
They’re seated already, eyebrows raised,
Calmly hoping they’ll be amazed.
I know how to make the people happy:
But I’ve never been so embarrassed: not
That they’ve been used to the best, you see, 45
Yet they’ve all read such a dreadful lot.
How can we make it all seem fresh and new,
Weighty, but entertaining too?
I’d love to see a joyful crowd, that’s certain,
When the waves drive them to our place, 50
And with tremendous and repeated surging,
Squeeze them through the narrow gate of grace:
In the light of day they’re there already,
Pushing, till they’ve reached the window,
As if they’re at the baker’s, starving, nearly 55
Breaking their necks: just for a ticket. Oh!
Only poets can work this miracle on men
So various: the day is yours, my friend!
Dramatist O, don’t speak to me of that varied crew,
The sight of whom makes inspiration fade. 60
Veil, from me, the surging multitude,
Whose whirling will drives us everyway.
No, some heavenly silence lead me to,
Where for the poet alone pure joy’s at play:
Where Love and Friendship too grace our hearts, 65
Created and inspired by heavenly arts.
Ah! What springs here from our deepest being,
What the shy trembling lips in speaking meant,
Now falling awry, and now perhaps succeeding,
Is swallowed in the fierce Moment’s violence. 70
Often, when the first years are done, unseeing,
It appears at last, complete, in deepest sense.
What dazzles is a Momentary act:
What’s true is left for posterity, intact.
Comedian Don’t speak about posterity to me! 75
If I went on about posterity,
Where would you get your worldly fun?
Folk want it, and they’ll still have some.
The presence of a fine young man
Is nice, I think, for everyone. 80
Who, comfortably, shares his wit,
And to their moods takes no exception:
He’ll make himself a greater hit,
And win a more secure reception.
Be brave, and show them what you’ve got, 85
Have Fantasy with all her chorus, yes,
Mind, Reason, Passion, Tears, the lot,
But don’t you leave out Foolishness.
Director Make sure, above all, plenty’s happening there!
They come to look, and then they want to stare. 90
Spin endlessly before their faces,
So the people gape amazed,
You’ve won them by your many paces,
You’ll be the man most praised.
The mass are only moved by things en masse, 95
Each one, himself, will choose the bit he needs:
Who brings a lot, brings something that will pass:
And everyone goes home contentedly.
You’ll give a piece, why then give it them in pieces!
With such a stew you’re destined for success. 100
Easy to serve, it’s as easy to invent.
What use to bring them your complete intent?
The Public will soon pick at what you’ve dressed.
Dramatist You don’t see how badly such work will do!
How little it suits the genuine creator! 105
Already, I see, it’s a principle with you.
The finest master is a sloppy worker.
Director Such a reproach leaves me unmoved:
The man who seeks to be approved,
Must stick to the best tools for it, 110
Think, soft wood’s the best to split,
and have a look for whom you write!
See, this is one that boredom drives,
Another’s from some overloaded table,
Or, worst of all, he’s one arrives, 115
Like most, fresh from the daily paper.
They rush here mindlessly, as to a Masque,
And curiosity inspires their hurry:
The ladies bring themselves, and in their best,
Come and play their parts and ask no fee. 120
What dream of yours is this, exalted verse?
Doesn’t a full house make you happy?
Have a good look at your patrons first!
One half are coarse, the rest are chilly.
After the show he hopes for card-play: 125
He hopes for a wild night, and a woman’s kiss.
Why then do so many poor fools plague,
The sweet Muse, for such a goal as this?
I tell you, just give them more and more,
So you’ll never stray far from the mark, 130
Just seek to confuse them, in the dark:
To keep them happy, that’s hard - for sure.
And now what’s wrong? Delight or Pain?
Dramatist Go, look for another scribbler by night!
Shall the poet throw away the highest right, 135
The right of humanity, that Nature gave,
Carelessly, so that you might gain!
How will he move all hearts again?
How will each element be his slave?
Is that harmony nothing, from his breast unfurled, 140
That draws back into his own heart, the world?
When Nature winds the lengthened filaments,
Indifferently, on her eternal spindle,
When all the tuneless mass of elements,
In their sullen discord, jar and jangle – 145
Who parts the ever-flowing ranks of creation,
Stirs them, so rhythmic measure is assured?
Who calls the One to general ordination,
Where it may ring in marvellous accord?
Who lets the storm wind rage with passion, 150
The sunset glow the senses move?
Who scatters every lovely springtime blossom
Beneath the footsteps of the one we love?
Who weaves the slight green wreath of leaves,
To honour work well done in every art? 155
What makes Olympus sure, joins deities?
The power of Man, revealed by the bard.
Comedian So use it then, all this fine energy,
And drive along the work of poetry,
To show how we are driven in Love’s play. 160
By chance we meet, we feel, we stay,
And bit by bit we’re tightly bound:
Happiness grows, and then it’s fenced around:
We’re all inflamed then comes the sorrowing:
Before you know it, there’s a novel brewing! 165
Why don’t we give such a piece!
Grasp the life of man complete!
Everyone lives, though it’s seldom confessed,
And wherever you grasp, there’s interest.
In varied pictures there’s little light, 170
A lot of error, and a gleam of right,
So the best of drinks is brewed,
So the world’s cheered and renewed.
Then see the flower of lovely youth collect,
To hear your words, and view the offering, 175
And every tender nature will extract
A melancholy food from what you bring,
They’ll gain now this and that from your art,
So each sees what is present in their heart.
They’re readily moved to weeping or to laughter, 180
They’ll admire your verve, and enjoy the show:
What’s finished you can never alter after:
Minds still in growth will be grateful though.
Dramatist So give me back that time again,
When I was still ‘becoming’, 185
When words gushed like a fountain
In new, and endless flowing,
Then for me mists veiled the world,
In every bud the wonder glowed,
A thousand flowers I unfurled, 190
That every valley, richly, showed.
I had nothing, yet enough:
Joy in illusion, thirst for truth.
Give every passion, free to move,
The deepest bliss, filled with pain, 195
The force of hate, the power of love,
Oh, give me back my youth again!
Comedian Youth is what you need, dear friend,
When enemies jostle you, of course,
And girls, filled with desire, bend 200
Their arms around your neck, with force,
When the swift-run race’s garland
Beckons from the hard-won goal,
When from the swirling dance, a man
Drinks until the night is old. 205
But to play that well-known lyre
With courage and with grace,
Moved by self-imposed desire,
At a sweet wandering pace,
That is your function, Age, 210
And our respect won’t lessen.
Age doesn’t make us childish, as they say,
It finds that we’re still children.
Director That’s enough words for the moment,
Now let me see some action! 215
While you’re handing out the compliments,
You should also make things happen.
Why talk so much of inspiration?
Delay won’t make it flow, you see.
Since Poetry gave the gift of creation, 220
Take your orders then from Poetry.
You know what’s wanted here,
We need strong ale to appear:
So brew me a barrel right away!
Tomorrow won’t do what’s undone today, 225
We shouldn’t waste a minute, so
Decide what’s possible, and just
Grasp it firmly like a hoe,
Make sure that you let nothing go,
And work it about, because you must. 230
On the German stage, you see,
Everyone tries out what he can:
Don’t fail to show me, I’m your man,
Your trap-doors, and your scenery.
Use heavenly lights, the big and small, 235
Squander stars in any number,
Rocky cliffs, and fire, and water,
Birds and creatures, use them all.
So in our narrow playhouse waken
The whole wide circle of creation, 240
And stride, deliberately, as well,
From Heaven, through the world, to Hell.
Prologue In Heaven
(God, the Heavenly Hosts, and then Mephistopheles.)
(The Three Archangels step forward.)
Raphael The Sun sings out, in ancient mode,
His note among his brother-spheres,
And ends his pre-determined road, 245
With peals of thunder for our ears.
The sight of him gives Angels power,
Though none can understand the way:
The inconceivable work is ours,
As bright as on the primal day. 250
Gabriel And swift, and swift, beyond conceiving,
The splendour of the Earth turns round,
A Paradisial light is interleaving,
With night’s awesome profound.
The ocean breaks with shining foam, 255
Against the rocky cliffs deep base,
And rock and ocean whirl and go,
In the spheres’ swift eternal race.
Michael And storms are roaring in their race
From sea to land, and land to sea, 260
Their raging forms a fierce embrace,
All round, of deepest energy.
The lightning’s devastations blaze
Along the thunder-crashes’ way:
Yet, Lord, your messengers, shall praise 265
The gentle passage of your day.
All Three The sight of it gives Angels power
Though none can understand the way,
And all your noble work is ours,
As bright as on the primal day. 270
Mephistopheles Since, O Lord, you near me once again,
To ask how all below is doing now,
And usually receive me without pain,
You see me too among the vile crowd.
Forgive me: I can’t speak in noble style, 275
And since I’m still reviled by this whole crew,
My pathos would be sure to make you smile,
If you had not renounced all laughter too.
You’ll get no word of suns and worlds from me.
How men torment themselves is all I see. 280
The little god of Earth sticks to the same old way,
And is as strange as on that very first day.
He might appreciate life a little more: he might,
If you hadn’t lent him a gleam of Heavenly light:
He calls it Reason, but only uses it 285
To be more a beast than any beast as yet.
He seems to me, saving Your Grace,
Like a long-legged grasshopper: through space
He’s always flying: he flies and then he springs,
And in the grass the same old song he sings. 290
If he’d just lie there in the grass it wouldn’t hurt!
But he buries his nose in every piece of dirt.
God Have you nothing else to name?
Do you always come here to complain?
Does nothing ever go right on the Earth? 295
Mephistopheles No, Lord! I find, as always, it couldn’t be worse.
I’m so involved with Man’s wretched ways,
I’ve even stopped plaguing them, myself, these days.
God Do you know, Faust?
Mephistopheles The Doctor?
God My servant, first!
Mephistopheles In truth! He serves you in a peculiar manner. 300
There’s no earthly food or drink at that fool’s dinner.
He drives his spirit outwards, far,
Half-conscious of its maddened dart:
From Heaven demands the brightest star,
And from the Earth, Joy’s highest art, 305
And all the near and all the far,
Fails to release his throbbing heart.
God Though he’s still confused at how to serve me,
I’ll soon lead him to a clearer dawning,
In the green sapling, can’t the gardener see 310
The flowers and fruit the coming years will bring.
Mephistopheles What do you wager? I might win him yet!
If you give me your permission first,
I’ll lead him gently on the road I set.
God As long as he’s alive on Earth, 315
So long as that I won’t forbid it,
For while man strives he errs.
Mephistopheles My thanks: I’ve never willingly seen fit
To spend my time amongst the dead,
I much prefer fresh cheeks instead. 320
To corpses, I close up my house:
Or it’s too like a cat with a mouse.
God Well and good, you’ve said what’s needed!
Divert this spirit from his source,
You know how to trap him, lead him,
On your downward course, 325
And when you must, then stand, amazed:
A good man, in his darkest yearning,
Is still aware of virtue’s ways.
Mephistopheles That’s fine! There’s hardly any waiting. 330
My wager’s more than safe I’m thinking.
When I achieve my goal, in winning,
You’ll let me triumph with a swelling heart.
He’ll eat the dust, and with an art,
Like the snake my mother, known for sinning. 335
God You can appear freely too:
Those like you I’ve never hated.
Of all the spirits who deny, it’s you,
The joker, who’s most lightly weighted.
Man’s energies all too soon seek the level, 340
He quickly desires unbroken slumber,
So I gave him you to join the number,
To move, and work, and pass for the devil.
But you the genuine sons of light,
Enjoy the living beauty bright! 345
Becoming, that works and lives forever,
Embrace you in love’s limits dear,
And all that may as Appearance waver,
Fix firmly with everlasting Idea!
(Heaven closes, and the Archangels separate.)
I like to hear the Old Man’s words, from time to time, 350
And take care, when I’m with him, not to spew.
It’s very nice when such a great Gentleman,
Chats with the devil, in ways so human, too!
‘Mephistopheles in the Skies’