Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Faust Part II
Act II: Scenes V-VI
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved
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Scene V: Rocky Coves in the Aegean Sea
(The Moon, lingering, at the zenith.)
The Sirens (Lying on the cliffs round about, playing flutes and singing.)
Though the Thessalian witch-women
Wickedly, dragged you down to them, 8035
With their horrors, long ago, in the dark,
Look quietly down, now, from the arc
Of night, on waves of glittering sparks:
Mildly flashing, bright crowds, these:
Shine now upon the swelling seas, 8040
Which raise themselves from the deep!
We’re sworn to serve you, thus,
Sweet Luna, show grace to us.
The Nereids and Tritons (As marvels of the deep.)
Sound out loud, with clearer tones,
Ringing through the sea’s wide zones: 8045
Call the peoples of the deep!
Before the storm’s ravening face,
We sank to the stillest place,
Now we’re drawn, by singing, sweet.
See, how we’ve adorned ourselves, 8050
In our great delight, as well,
With our crowns, so nobly gemmed,
And our belts with spangles hemmed!
These spoils, now, before you, we lay,
Treasures, shipwrecked here, and swallowed, 8055
Your enticing songs they followed,
You the daemons of our bay.
The Sirens We know well, in ocean freshness,
Fishes play in slippery smoothness,
Flickering lives, devoid of pain: 8060
Yet you festive crowds that stray
We would rather find today,
That you’re more than fish, again.
The Nereids and Tritons Before we came to meet you,
We were thinking of that too: 8065
Speed away now, sisters: brothers!
It only needs the slightest journey,
For most effective proof that we,
Certainly, are more than fishes.
(They swim off.)
The Sirens They’ve vanished in a moment! 8070
To Samothrace they’re bent,
Gone, with a favourable breeze.
What is it they think they’ll see,
In the realm of the noble Cabiri?
They’re gods! But wondrously strange, 8075
Always causing their forms to change,
Never knowing what they might be.
Stay at your clear height,
Sweet Luna, graceful light,
So we’ll remain nocturnal, 8080
Not chased by the diurnal!
Thales (On the shore, to Homunculus.)
I’d gladly lead you to old Nereus:
His home’s not far away and cavernous,
But his head, it’s of the very stubbornest,
He’s a sour-top, and quite the nastiest. 8085
The whole human race can’t satisfy
Him, the grumbler, and needn’t try.
Yet to him the future is revealed,
And so all show respect, and yield
Him honour in his high position: 8090
He’s done quite well by many a one.
Homunculus Then let’s try him, and hurry on!
My glass and flame won’t fail our mission.
Nereus (The sea-god.)
Are those human voices, in my ear?
How quickly my deepest anger stirs! 8095
Forms, reaching for the gods, in their endeavour,
Yet condemned to be themselves, forever.
In ancient times I had heavenly rest,
Yet drove myself to act well to the best:
And then, when I’d finished what I’d done, 8100
It was quite clear that nothing had been won.
Thales And yet, Old Man of the Sea, we trust you:
You’re the Wise: so don’t drive us from you!
See this flame, he’s almost human, really,
He yields himself to your advice, completely. 8105
Nereus What advice! Has Mankind valued my advice?
A wise word’s frozen in a stubborn ear.
No matter how often some harsh action strikes,
People remain as self-willed as before.
I warned Paris himself, in a fatherly way, 8110
Before the foreign girl tempted him to stray.
He stood bravely on the shore of Greece,
And I told him what my Spirit could see:
The smoke-filled air, the streaming blood,
Glowing timbers, slaughter’s flood, 8115
Troy’s day of judgement, caught in verse,
Its horrors known for ten thousand years.
The old man’s words seemed idle to the young,
He followed his need, and Ilium was gone –
A bloody corpse, frozen with ancient pain, 8120
For Pindus’ eagles, a literary gain.
Ulysses too! Didn’t I tell him about
Circe’s wiles, that Cyclopean lout?
The indecision in his own shallow mind,
And all of it! What benefit did he find? 8125
Till, late indeed, the ocean favoured him more,
And brought him, wave-tossed, to a friendly shore.
Thales Such behaviour brings the wise man pain,
Yet the good will chance it all again.
An ounce of thanks will still please them deeply, 8130
Outweighing tons of ingratitude completely.
And it’s nothing slight we ask of you:
The boy here wants to exist, and wisely too.
Nereus Don’t ruin such a rare mood as this!
Greater needs await me, today, than his: 8135
I’ve summoned all my daughters here to me,
The Dorides, the Graces of the Sea.
Neither Olympus, nor your lands can show
Such lovely forms, with such delicate flow,
They fling themselves, with graceful actions, 8140
From sea-horses to Neptune’s stallions,
Blending so sensitively with the element,
That they seem made of foam, to all intent.
In a play of colours, on Venus’ chariot shell,
Galatea, the loveliest, comes to me, as well, 8145
Who, since Cypris turned away from us,
Rules as the new divinity of Paphos.
And so, heiress, for ages now, the sweet one,
Holds town, and temple, chariot and throne.
Away! It’s time for a father’s enjoyments, 8150
Hearts without hate, lips without judgements.
Away, to Proteus! Ask that wondrous man:
How man exists, and changes, if he can.
(He vanishes into the sea.)
Thales We’ll achieve nothing by that game,
Meet Proteus: he’ll vanish, just the same: 8155
And if he stays, he’ll only tell you,
What will amaze you, and confuse you.
But you’ve need of such advice,
Well, make tracks, then, and we’ll try!
The Sirens (On the rocks above.)
What is it we see whitening 8160
The realms of ocean, brightening?
As when the wind prevails,
And shows the snowy sails,
So the Ocean’s daughters,
Transfigured, light the waters. 8165
Let us clamber shore-wards,
So we can hear their voices.
The Nereids and Tritons What in our hands we treasure,
Will give you all great pleasure.
Chelone’s turtle shield 8170
The shining form we wield:
On it gods we’re bringing:
Your noblest songs, be singing.
The Sirens Little in form,
Great in the storm, 8175
Saving the shipwrecked,
Gods always respected.
The Nereid and Tritons We bring the peaceful Cabiri
To lead in your festivity,
Since in their holy presence, 8180
Neptune’s always pleasant.
The Sirens We’re attendant on you:
When a ship broke in two,
Their sovereign power too,
Protected the crew. 8185
The Nereids and Tritons We’ve brought three of them along,
The fourth said he wouldn’t come:
He said he was the real one,
The only thinker of the squadron.
The Sirens One god will always mock 8190
At some other god.
Honour all their courtesy,
Be fearful of their injury.
The Nereids and Tritons Actually, there are seven.
The Sirens Where are the other three, then? 8195
The Nereids and Tritons We really can’t tell you that,
On Olympus one might ask:
There the eighth pines away,
No one thinks of him today!
Granted us in mercy, 8200
But not yet completely.
These, the incomparable,
Ever wider yearning,
Hungering, are longing
For the unattainable. 8205
The Sirens We’re ones who know
Where it’s enthroned,
To moon and to sun,
We pray: and it’s done.
The Nereids and Tritons See how our great glory grows, 8210
We lead them to the feast!
The Sirens The heroes of ancient story,
Are deficient now in glory,
Whatever we might be told:
Though they won the fleece of gold, 8215
You’re the Cabiri.
(Repeated as a full chorus.)
‘Though they won the fleece of gold,
We’re the Cabiri’.
(The Nereids and Tritons move past.)
Homunculus I see these unformed ones,
Like pots of shoddy clay, 8220
Against them wise men run,
And break their heads today.
Thales That’s what men ask of the dust:
The coin gains value from its rust.
It pleases me, an old connoisseur of fable! 8225
The odder it is, the more respectable.
Thales Where are you, Proteus?
Proteus (Like a ventriloquist, apparently far, and close to.)
Here! Here, too!
Thales An old joke, which I’ll forgive you:
No idle words for a friend, please!
I know you’re trying to deceive. 8230
Proteus (As if from the distance.)
Thales (Quietly to Homunculus.)
He’s quite near. So, light, afresh!
He’s just as curious as any fish:
And whatever form he hides in,
A flame will easily entice him.
Homunculus I’ll pour out a whole flood of light, 8235
But soft, so the glass is still all right.
Proteus (In the form of a giant turtle.)
What shines with such grace and beauty?
Thales (Covering up Homunculus.)
Good! If you wish, come close to see.
It’s worth a little trouble, if you can:
Show yourself two-footed like a man. 8240
At our discretion, and by our favour.
We’ll show you what we’re hiding here.
Proteus (In a noble form.)
You still know all the worldly tricks.
Thales Changing shape is what you still like best.
(He reveals Homunculus.)
A shining dwarf! That, I’ve never seen! 8245
Thales He seeks advice, and would gladly ‘be’.
He is, as I’ve heard him say before,
Quite miraculously, only half born.
He’s not lacking in mental qualities,
But short of physical capabilities: 8250
Only the glass has given him weight at all,
He’d gladly be embodied, first of all.
Proteus You are a true virgin’s son,
Before you should be, you’re already one!
From another point of view, it’s critical: 8255
I think it makes him hermaphroditical.
Proteus All the easier to achieve success:
Whatever he gets will suit him best.
No need to think about it here:
In the ocean deep you must appear! 8260
There, first, in miniature, one snatches,
Enjoying the smallest things to swallow,
Bigger and bigger, with what one catches,
Forming the higher being to follow.
Homunculus Here quite gentle breezes blow, 8265
It’s open: the fragrance delights me so!
Proteus I think so too, loveliest of youths!
And, further on, it’s more enjoyable:
On that shoreline’s slender tooth,
The watery halo’s indescribable. 8270
There we’ll see the crowds near to,
Drifting smoothly, to our view,
Come with me!
Thales I’ll keep you company.
Homunculus A triply odd spirit-journey!
Act II Scene VI: The Telchines of Rhodes
(The Telchines, on sea-horses and dragons, wielding Neptune’s trident.)
Chorus of Telchines (The nine dog-headed Children of the Sea)
Oh, we are the ones who once forged Neptune’s trident, 8275
With which he controls the tumultuous torrent.
When the thunder erupts from the heavens, and rumbles,
Neptune will reply to those terrible grumbles:
And however the lightning zig-zags above us,
Breaker upon breaker beneath will splash upwards: 8280
And whatever struggles between them in terror,
Long hurled all about, the deep seas will devour:
And that’s why he’s loaned us his sceptre today –
Now we float, calm and light, in our festive display.
The Sirens You, to Helios consecrated, 8285
You, with bright day’s blessing freighted,
Greetings to this hour when
Luna’s high worship rules again!
The Telchines Loveliest goddess of all in your sphere above!
To hear your brother praised, is something you love. 8290
To blessed Rhodes lend an ear, now, from the sky,
Where an endless Paean, to him, rises on high.
He begins the day’s course: he ends it again,
He eyes us all with his radiant fiery eye, then.
The mountains, the city, the sea and the strand, 8295
Please the great god, lovely and bright is the land.
No mist drifts above us, and if one appears,
A ray, and a breeze: and the island shows clear!
There the high god’s in hundreds of statues displayed,
As a youth, and a giant, the mild and the grave. 8300
We were the first to carve forms: we began
The depiction of gods in the image of Man.
Proteus Let them sing on then, and let them boast!
To the sun’s sacred rays, a living host,
All their works are an empty jest. 8305
They melt and shape untiringly:
And once, in bronze, it’s plain to see,
They think they’ve caught the very best.
What happens at last to these proud ones?
The god’s statues standing high – 8310
An earthquake tosses to the sky:
Long since, they’re all melted down.
Earth’s toil, whatever else it may be,
Is nothing still, but drudgery:
The waves grant a life that’s better: 8315
I’ll bear you to eternal waters,
As Proteus-Dolphin (Transforming himself.)
That’s soon done!
Now you’ll find your fairest luck:
I’m carrying you across my back,
To wed you with the ocean. 8320
Thales Yield to your praiseworthy wish,
Start at the beginning, with the fish!
Be ready for the swiftest working!
Be ruled by the eternal norms,
Move through a thousand, thousand forms, 8325
And you’ll ascend in time to Man.
Proteus With spirit, join the watery plan,
Equal in size, where all began,
And move here as you wish to do:
Don’t wrestle with the higher orders: 8330
Once man, inside mankind’s borders,
Then all will be over with you.
Thales That’s as may be: it’s still fine,
To be a real man, in your own time.
Proteus (To Thales.)
As long as it’s someone of your kind! 8335
You don’t just live for some brief time:
With your pale and ghostly peers,
I’ve watched you already for hundreds of years.
The Sirens (On the rocky cliffs.)
What’s that ring of little clouds, set
In a circle round the moon? 8340
They are doves, by love ignited,
Winged, white as winter noon.
All her ardent flocks of birds:
Paphos, now, has sent to us,
So our festival’s completed, 8345
Sweet and clear our happy bliss!
Nereus (Approaching Thales.)
Though some nocturnal wanderer
Might call it only airy moonshine:
We spirits think it something other,
It’s one true meaning we can find: 8350
They are doves that accompany
My daughter in her moving shell.
Wondrous flights of artistry,
Learnt in ancient times, as well.
Thales I too think that thing is best, 8355
That can please the real man,
And in warm and silent nest,
Keep living Sacredness to hand.
Psylli and Marsi (Peoples of Italy and North Africa. On sea-bulls, sea-heifers and sea-rams.)
In the hollow caves of Cyprus
Not yet rocked, by the sea-god, 8360
Not yet shaken, by old Seismos,
Breathed on, by eternal breezes,
And, as in the ancient days,
Delighting in peaceful ways,
With us Venus’ chariot stays, 8365
And through nocturnal murmurs,
Through the sweet entwining waters,
We lead the loveliest of daughters,
Unseen by newer generation.
Travelling on our gentle journey 8370
No winged lion, or eagle fear we,
Neither cross nor crescent,
Though it’s throned in heaven,
Though it moves and sways,
Though it drives and slays, 8375
Crops, towns, in ruin lays.
We, swiftly bring on
The loveliest of women.
The Sirens Lightly now, and gently go,
Round the chariot, ring on ring, 8380
Often weaving, row by row,
All in order, round it, snaking,
Approach you active Nereids
Sturdy women, sweetly wild,
Tender Dorides bring, amidst, 8385
Galatea, Mother’s child:
Most, so goddess-like her calm,
Worthy of immortality,
Yet enticing, with her charm,
As human femininity. 8390
The Dorides (In Chorus, mounted on dolphins, passing Nereus.)
Lend us, Luna, light and shadow,
Clarity for flowering youth!
Charming husbands here we show:
Plead for them with our father, too.
They are boys, whom we rescued 8395
From the breaker’s teeth, and then,
In the reeds and mosses bedded,
Warmed them back to life again,
Now with glowing kisses they
Must thank us truly here today: 8400
Look with favour now on them!
Nereus Here there’s a dual prize, I find, to treasure:
You show compassion, and it brings you pleasure.
The Dorides Father, praise our mission, all,
And sanction our fond request, 8405
Let us hold them fast, immortal,
On each young eternal breast.
Nereus Be happy with your handsome catch,
Accept the youngsters here, as men:
I can’t myself grant what you ask, 8410
Since Zeus alone can make it happen.
The waves that heave and rock you
Leave no place for love to stand,
So when this inclination leaves you,
Send them quietly back to land. 8415
The Dorides Sweet boys, you are so dear to us,
But sadly we must separate:
We asked eternal faithfulness,
But the gods forbid that fate.
The Young Men We’re the valiant sailor lads, 8420
If you’d refresh us further,
We’ve never had it quite so good
And we’ll never have it better.
(Galatea approaches on her shell-chariot.)
Nereus It’s you, my darling!
Galatea O father! Delight!
Linger, you dolphins, I’m gripped by the sight. 8425
Nereus Past already, they’re moving past,
Wheeling in circular motion:
What care they for the heart’s deep emotion!
Ah, if they’d just take me with them, at last!
And yet, a single glance gives here, 8430
Something that will last all year.
Thales Hail! Hail! Anew!
How happy I feel, too,
Pierced by the Beautiful and True….
All things came from the watery view! 8435
All things are sustained by water!
Ocean, grant us your realm forever.
If you didn’t produce the clouds,
No flowing streams would be allowed,
The rivers wouldn’t roar and shout, 8440
The streams would never bubble out,
Where would hill, plain, and world be then?
The freshness of life’s what you maintain.
An Echo (A chorus from the collective circles.)
The freshness of life flows back from you, again.
Nereus Floating, turning, they change place, 8445
Far off, no longer face to face:
In extended linking circles,
Appropriate to the festival,
The countless company’s weaving.
But Galatea’s throne of shell, 8450
I see it clearly: see it still.
It gleams like a star,
Through the throng,
A crowd, the Beloved shines among!
Though just as far, 8455
It shimmers bright and clear,
Always true, and near.
Homunculus In this delightful ocean
Whatever I may shine on,
Is all sweet and fair. 8460
Proteus In this living ocean,
You light’s shining motion,
First rings in splendour there.
Nereus At the heart of the throng, what mystery
Offers itself for our eyes to see? 8465
What shines round the shell, at Galatea’s feet?
Now waxing powerful, now gentle and sweet,
As if it were fed by the pulses of Love.
Thales Homunculus, drawn there by Proteus….
Those are the symptoms of imperious yearning, 8470
I’d expect now the sound of an anguished ringing:
He’ll shatter himself on the glittering throne:
He glitters, he flashes, already, it’s done.
The Sirens What fiery wonder transfigures the waves, there,
As one on another sparkles and breaks, there? 8475
It flashes and flickers and brightens towards us:
The nocturnal tracks of the bodies shine round us,
And everything near is surrounded with flame:
So let Eros rule, now: who started the game!
Hail to the sea! Hail to the waves! 8480
Circled, now, by the sacred blaze!
Hail to water! Hail to fire!
Hail to the rarest sweet desire!
All In Chorus Hail, the gently flowing breeze!
Hail, hidden caverns of the seas! 8485
Be honoured now, for evermore,
You, the Elemental four!