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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Act II

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!

(They depart.)

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.

Proteus (Unnoticed.)

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.)

Proteus (Astonished.)

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!

Thales (Whispering.)

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.

(To Nereus.)

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!