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Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
translated by George Madison Priest
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A HIGH-VAULTED, NARROW, GOTHIC CHAMBER
FORMERLY FAUST'S, UNALTERED
Mephistopheles [appears from behind a curtain. As he raises the
curtain and looks back, FAUST is seen stretched out on an old-fashioned bed].
Lie there, poor wretch! seduced, unwise,
Scarce to be rescued from Love's chain!
Whom Helena doth paralyze,
His reason he'll not soon regain.
[Looking around him.]
I look around and through the glimmer
Unchanged, uninjured all appears;
Methinks the coloured window-panes are dimmer,
The cobwebs have increased with years.
The ink is dry, the paper brown and sere,
Yet all is in its place, in very fact;
Even the pen's still lying here
Which Faust used when he signed the pact.
Aye, deeper in the pen is lurking still
A trace of blood I lured him on to spill.
To find a relic so unique as this
Would be some great collector's highest bliss.
From its old hook the old fur coat's half falling,
Those merry jests of mine recalling
Which once I taught that lad as truth,
Which still may nourish his ingenuous youth.
Rough, fur-warm cloak, encased in you,
A great desire comes on me truly
To show off as a proud professor newly,
As men think they've a perfect right to do.
The learned know how to attain that level;
It is an art long since lost by the Devil.
[He shakes the fur coat which he has taken down. Crickets,
beetles, and moths fly out.]
Chorus of Insects.
Hail! welcome thy coming,
Thou patron of yore!
We're flying and humming
And know thee once more.
All singly, in quiet,
Didst plant us, and lo!
In thousands, O Father,
We dance to and fro.
The rogue in the bosom
Is deeply concealed;
The insects in fur coats
Are sooner revealed.
Mephistopheles. With what surprising joy this youthful brood I view!
Aye, only sow, you'll harvest when the time is due.
I'll give the old fur coat a second clout;
Still here and there another flutters out.
Up and about, ye darlings, helter-skelter,
And quickly in a thousand nooks seek shelter:
Where ancient pasteboard boxes stand,
In yellowed parchment here at hand,
Where dusty shards of old pots lie,
In yonder death's-head's hollow eye.
Amid such trash and mouldering life
Crickets and crotchets must be rife.
[He slips into the fur coat.]
Come, cloak my shoulders as of yore,
Head of the house as heretofore.
Yet boots it little so to name me;
Where are the people to acclaim me?
[He pulls the bell which gives out a shrill, penetrating sound,
making the halls tremble and the doors fly open.]
Famulus [tottering down the long, dark corridor].
What a clanging! What a quaking!
Stairs are rocking, walls are shaking!
Through the windows' motley quiver
I see summer lightning shiver.
Over me cracks the ancient flooring,
Down come lime and rubbish pouring;
And the door, securely bolted,
Magic power has open jolted.
There! How terrible! A giant
Stands in Faust's old fur, defiant!
At his look, his beck, his winking,
On my knees I'm near to sinking.
Shall I stay? or shall I flee?
Oh, what will become of me?
Come here, my friend! Your name is Nicodemus.
Famulus. Most worthy sir! That is my name - Oremus.
Mephistopheles. That we'll omit!
Famulus. You know me! What a thrill!
Mephistopheles. I know you well, old and a student still,
Moss-covered sir! Also a learned man
Still studies on since there's naught else he can.
A moderate house of cards one builds him so;
The greatest mind does not complete it, though.
And yet your master! Great his gifts and fame;
Who does not know good Doctor Wagner's name?
First in the learned world! 'Tis he alone, they say,
Who holds the world together; every day
He proves that he is wisdom's multiplier.
Hearers and listeners who eagerly aspire
To universal knowledge, round him flock.
None from the rostrum can shine meeter;
He handles keys as doth St. Peter;
Lower and Upper, both he can unlock.
Like his - as Wagner glows and sparkles-
No other's fame can hold its ground.
The very name of Faustus darkles;
Wagner alone has sought and found.
Famulus. Pardon, good sir, for asking your attention
The while I make an humble intervention:
With what you've said there can be no dissension,
But modesty is his allotted part.
Since that great man's mysterious disappearing
He knows not where to turn in his despairing;
For Faust's return he prays with all his heart,
And thence for weal and solace. None may enter
The room which Doctor Faustus left. Forlorn,
Untouched, it waits its lord's return.
To enter it I scarcely dare to venture.
What aspect of the stars must now appear?
It seemed to me as if the stout walls quivered,
The door-posts trembled, bolts were shivered,
Else you yourself could not have come in here.
Mephistopheles. Where has the man gone? Where is he?
Lead me to him! Bring him to me!
Famulus. Ah, sir! Too strict his orders are a bit,
I know not if I dare to venture it.
Month after month to great work he's been giving,
In stillest stillness he's been living.
The daintiest of men of learning
Looks now as if he had been charcoal-burning,
His face all black from ears to nose,
His eyes all red from flames he blows.
Each moment for the next he longs;
His music is the clang of tongs.
Mephistopheles. And shall he entrance now deny me?
I'll speed his luck - just let him try me!
[FAMULUS goes out, MEPHISTOPHELES Sits down gravely.]
Scarce am I settled here at rest,
When yonder stirs a well-known guest.
But now most up-to-date is he;
He'll brag and swagger boundlessly.
Bachelor of Arts [storming along the corridor].
Gate and door I find are opeing!
Well, at least one can be hoping
That no more in mould unfitting
Men alive, yet dead, are sitting,
Pining, rotting, mortifying,
And of living still be dying.
Here each wall and each partition
Bends down, sinking to perdition.
If we hence don't soon betake us,
Ruin dire will overtake us.
I am bold, no one can match me,
Yet no farther will one catch me.
But today what am I learning!
Many years ago, a yearning
Freshman, I came hither, fluttering,
Anxious and abashed and stuttering.
Here I trusted long-beards' tattle,
Edified me on their prattle.
Into heavy, dry tomes reaching,
What they knew they lied in teaching,
Taught without themselves believing,
Me, themselves, of life bereaving.
What! there in the cell off yonder,
Dimly-lit, one sits asunder!
Stranger still, as I draw nearer,
Sits he there, the brown fur-wearer,
As I left him, piece for piece,
Still in that old shaggy fleece!
Subtle then he seemed to be,
Not yet understood by me,
But today 'twill not avail him.
Up and on now to assail him!
If, ancient sir, your bald head, sidewards bending,
Has into Lethe's dreary waters not been drawn,
Acknowledge now your pupil hither wending
Who academic rods has quite outgrown.
I find you still as then when I began;
But I am here again, another man!
Mephistopheles. I'm glad brought you with my tinkling.
The other time I valued you quite high;
Even in the worm, the chrysalis, an inkling
Is of the future, gaily-coloured butterfly.
Curls and a fine lace-collar wearing,
You showed a child-like pleasure in your bearing.
I guess you never wore a queue?
I see, today cropped like a Swede are you.
You look quite brave and resolute,
But pray don't go home absolute.
Bachelor of Arts.
Old sir! there on the same old desk you're leaning,
But think how time runs on today
And spare your words of double meaning;
We watch now in a very different way.
Then with an honest stripling you were toying,
Succeeded too, but little art employing.
Today no one will venture that, in sooth.
Mephistopheles. If, unadulterate, one says to youth
What does not please the callow brood - the truth!
And later after many a tide
They learn it painfully on their own hide,
Each fancies then it came from his own head;
"The Master was a fool!" is what is said.
Bachelor of Arts.
Or rogue perhaps! What teacher has the grace
To tell the truth directly to our face?
To simple children each knows what to say,
Add or subtract, now grave, now wise and gay.
Mephistopheles. There is, indeed, a time to learn;
You're ready now to teach, as I discern.
For many a moon and now and then a sun
A rich experience you have doubtless won.
Bachelor of Arts. Experience! Mere foam and fluff!
A peer of mind? No trace of that is showing.
Confess: what men have ever known is stuff
And absolutely not worth knowing...
Mephistopheles [after a pause].
I long have thought so, but I was a fool;
Now to myself I seem right flat and dull.
Bachelor of Arts. Good! That has a reasonable sound;
A greybeard talking sense at last is found!
Mephistopheles. I sought a hidden treasure, one of gold;
'Twas hideous coals when all my search was done.
Bachelor of Arts. Confess it then! Your skull, now bald and old,
Is worth no more than yonder hollow one.
You're ruder, friend, perhaps than you mean quite.
Bachelor of Arts. In German people lie when they're polite.
Mephistopheles [moving nearer and nearer toward the proscenium in
his wheeled-chair, to the spectators].
Here I'm deprived of light and air. I wonder
Could I find refuge with you people yonder?
Bachelor of Arts. It is presumption that men old and hoar
Seek to be something when they are no more.
Man's life lives in his blood and where, forsooth,
Does blood so stir as in the veins of youth?
Ah, that is living blood, with vigour rife,
Creating newer life from its own life.
There all is stirring, there is something done,
The weak fall out, the capable press on.
While half the world we've brought beneath our sway,
What have you done? Thought, nodded, dreamed away,
Considered plan on plan - and nothing won.
It's certain! Age is but an ague cold,
Chill with its fancies of distress and dread.
Once a man's thirty, he's already old,
He is indeed as good as dead.
'Twere best to kill him right away.
Mephistopheles. The Devil, here, has nothing more to say.
Bachelor of Arts. Unless I will it, no devil can there be.
Mephistopheles [aside]. The Devil, though, will trip you presently.
Bachelor of Arts. This is youth's noblest message and most fit!
The world was not till I created it.
'Twas I that led the sun up from the sea;
The moon began its changeful course with me.
The day put on rich garments, me to meet;
The earth grew green and blossomed, me to greet.
At my behest in that primeval night
The stars unveiled their splendour to my sight.
Who, if not I, your own deliverance wrought
From fetters of Philistine, cramping thought?
I, as my spirit bids me, with delight
I follow onward mine own inner light.
Swift I proceed with mine own raptured mind,
Glory before me, darkness far behind.
Mephistopheles. Original, in all your glory take your way!
How would true insight make you grieve!
What wise or stupid thing can man conceive
That was not thought in ages passed away?
Danger from him will cause us little bother,
He will be changed when a few years have passed;
Though must within the cask may raise a pother,
It turns to wine no less at last.
[To the younger portion of the audience who do not applaud.]
I see my words have left you cold;
Good children, I'll not take it evil.
Remember that the Devil's old;
Grow old, to understand the Devil.
If you have problems understanding these alchemical texts, Adam McLean now provides a study course entitled How to read alchemical texts : a guide for the perplexed.
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