Faust’s soul has put on immortality. Yet Mephistopheles believes the contrary. He has involved Faust in such enormities of crime that he is able to persuade himself of his own victory and looks forward to the final obliteration of all Faust’s achievements. But he deludes himself. He is incapable of comprehending Faust’s changed spiritual outlook, just as he was incapable in the Prologue of appreciating Faust’s potentialities. Faust is laden with guilt but is not broken by guilt. But being laden with guilt, his soul cannot be received into Heaven until it is cleansed from all contact with the devil.
The remaining scenes deal with this final process. They take us into the realm of imagery and symbolism. Without them the drama would be incomplete. Goethe makes it crystal clear that association with evil does not fit a man to enter Paradise unless it is abjured.
In 1791 at a meeting at which Goethe read a paper on the prism, his friend Herder delivered a lecture Über die menschliche Unsterblichkeit, which contains much that elucidates the question of Faust’s salvation. Herder’s Ideen had already stressed such things as man’s dual nature, his learning through error which springs from human frailty, his rejection of indolence, his guidance at the hands of Eros, the tireless effort that is embodied in all the universe, the inherent goodness of man, the need for balance and restraint, all of them themes of prime importance as far as Faust is concerned. Herder had also stated his belief in a progressive life of the soul after death, seeking but never reaching divine perfection, a life into which we may be helped by the loving hands of those already enjoying it, once we have proved ourselves in this world, learned to understand the purpose of the universe and thus have merited continued personal existence. There are many other writings by Herder which emphasize these same things. The lecture already mentioned points out that we are all links in the chain of human growth, whether we like it or not. Our duty is to contribute that which will call forth further effort and activity in others. And this is only achieved if we put aside our ego and its desires.
Je reiner und edler etwas in unsrer Natur ist, desto mehr gehets aus sich heraus, entsaget seinen engen Schranken, wird mittheilend, unendlich, ewig. Eine Form, die uns zusammendrückt, drückt, wenn wir sie andern auflegen, diese um so mehr zusammen, eben weft es nicht ihre Form ist; dahingegen was andern Luft und Lust macht, was ihnen freien Atem und ein Elysium gibt, in welchem freiwillige Blumen blühn, dies ist reiner unsterblicher Äther. Dahin gehören z. B. helle, wahre Gedanken, jede Erweiterung der Wissenschaft, bei welcher wir uns selbst vergessen und nur in den Gesetzen des Gegenstandes denken; Regeln der Vernunft, Sitten und Rechte, in denen jeder, auch wider Willen, das Allgemeingeltende, Würdige anerkennt und in ihnen gleichsam Formeln der Ewigkeit lieset. Wo Saiten dieser Art erklingen, tönen alle reine menschliche Gemüter mit; wir freuen uns ihrer, bis unvermerkt sie das Saitenspiel unseres innern Sinnes werden. So haben alle Wohlthäiter des Menschengeschlechts herabgewirket: so wirken Eltern, Lehrer, Gesetzgeber, Freunde auf uns, und wer sonst den Gang unsrer Gedanken, den Plan unsres Lebens zur reinsten edelsten Humanität fördert. Und o wie glücklich sind vor allen andern die Heroen und Genien der Menschheit, wenn ihnen bei ihrer Macht auch Weisheit, und bei ihrer Weisheit und Macht auch Güte zu Theil ward; welche tausend Mittel haben sie in ihrer Hand, auf die schönste und gewiBßeste Art unsterblich zu werden.
This is what Faust has finally achieved. He has thrust aside his preoccupation
with self and experiences ‘was der ganzen Menschheit zugeteilt ist‘
in a -- to him -- unexpected manner, namely, by becoming a part of it and
adding to its manifestations. He had for too long prevented himself from
doing so. He had stood outside the limits of mankind and rebelled against
them. At last, however, he has come to behave in a manner that will generate
positive activity in others. Humanitarian feelings had not been absent
in Faust in his early years, but he had allowed them to wither as his despair
had deepened and led to his diabolical association. Now at the end the
current of social responsibility flows strongly. He gains immortality by
bequeathing his authentic soul to his fellow men. In spite of his sins,
he has established his claim to eternal life. Panthalis had succinctly
observed that those who do not make their mark or manifest high ideals
are lost as individuals and vanish into the elements at death, but that
meritorious achievement and love can each earn perpetual existence. In
the scenes that deal with Faust’s salvation her words are proved to be
There are two stages in this process. The first one is the liberation of Faust’s soul from Mephistopheles, who, as we have seen, confidently steps forward to claim it. The second is its elevation towards Heaven. The Lemurs lay Faust in his grave with a song filled with mockery.
Mephistopheles produces the compact which Faust signed with his blood and calls up a host of devils to protect his rights. Fat ones and thin ones, they all appear at his bidding, and the fiery jaws of Hell are opened in anticipation. Mephistopheles needs such aid in order to counteract modern theories concerning the departure of the soul from the body and to combat disbelief in hell fire. In stationing his minions at strategic points, even he seems to admit tacitly that the soul possesses a natural inclination towards good rather than evil.
As Mephistopheles takes his precautions, a bright light appears and
heavenly hosts are heard addressing each other and announcing their purpose
of bringing forgiveness, resurrection and love. It is springtime, the season
of rebirth. The angelic choir scatters roses, symbols of florescence and
comfort; their efforts turn even the tomb into a bed of flowers.
Purpur und Grün
Dem Ruhenden hin!
[[ Burst, Spring, into green,
In amethyst glow,
Let Paradise be seen
By him who sleeps below. ]]
as they say. They have received the roses, as we hear later on, from
famous women sinners now in Heaven. Mephistopheles is angry at the interference
of these harp-playing eunuch-like beings. He reproves his devils for trying
to avoid the descending blossoms and bids them blow and shrivel them with
their hot breath. They blow too hard and the roses turn into flames, which
roll the devils backwards into Hell, leaving their master alone. The light
of Heaven is brought to the earth by this initial victory of love’s redeeming
|Blüten, die seligen,|
Flammen, die fröhlichen,
Liebe verbreiten sie,
Wonne bereiten sie,
Herz wie es mag:
Worte, die wahren,
Äther im klaren,
[[ Blest blossoms acclaiming,
And joy’s purest flaming,
With love they have sought us,
Bliss have they brought us,
Heart’s sacred right.
Words of deep verity,
Ether’s true clarity,
To throngs of light. ]]
announce the angels.
The angels define their duty further. It is to lead towards God souls which have rooted out what is foreign and hostile to their growth and, filled with love of God and of their fellow creatures, have become one with the loving process operative in the universe.
Such souls are qualified to receive grace, and to them the angels’ words
are addressed in the following terms:
|Was euch nicht angehört,|
Müsset ihr meiden,
Was euch das Innre stört,
Dürft ihr nicht leiden.
Dringt es gewaltig ein,
Müssen wit tüchtig sein.
Liebe nur Liebende
[[ Things ill-fitting cease,
Yours to forswear them;
Things that rob inward peace,
Think not to bear them.
Comes the assault too nigh,
Must we our duty ply.
Love leads but loving-ones
To homes on high. ]]
Faust had experienced such love at the hands of Gretchen. And it was she who presided ultimately over the conception of his land reclamation project, from which he had ultimately learned the value of love in the shape of active membership of the human community.
Love plays strange tricks. As the burning flowers cling to his neck,
Mephistopheles ‘falls in love’ with the half-naked angels. The fire that
consumes him comes out in sores on his skin. His lascivious desires divert
his attention from the primary task of watching out for Faust’s soul. Meanwhile,
the angels occupy the whole stage and press him into the proscenium. They
affirm that truth liberates the soul from evil and that love joins it with
|Wendet zur Klarheit|
Euch, liebende Flammen!
Die sich verdammen,
Heile die Wahrheit;
Daß sie vom Bösen
Froh sich erlösen,
Um in dem Allverein
Selig zu sein.
[[ Turn, flames of love, once more
Pure light reveal.
Those who their lives deplore
Truth yet shall heal;
Rescued, no more the thrall
Of evil cares,
Soon with the All-in-All
Bliss shall be theirs. ]]
Wen sie umschweben,
Fühlt sich im Leben
Selig mit Guten.
[[ Over whom, most holy fire,
You have swayed and stood,
Henceforth will his life aspire
In bliss with the good. ]]
The angels now gain possession of Faust’s soul and bear it heavenwards.
Mephistopheles discovers too late that he has been outmatched:
|Doch wie? -- wo sind sie hingezogen?|
Unmündiges Volk, du hast mich überrascht,
Sind mit der Beute himmelwärts entflogen;
Drum haben sie an dieser Gruft genascht !
Mir ist ein großer, einziger Schatz entwendet,
Die hohe Seele, die sich mir verpfädet,
Die haben sie mir pfiffig weggepascht.
(ll. 1 1825-1 1831)
[[ What may this be? And whither are they gone?
You innocents now fool me and outbrave,
And with your booty heavenwards are flown;
For this you picked and nibbled at the grave!
Filched from me is this lofty prize unmatched,
A soul pledged mine, by written scroll it gave,
This have they robbed from me, adroitly snatched. ]]
He has relaxed at a critical moment and allowed himself to be deflected from his purpose, as he had formerly wished to deflect Faust from his. There is no help for him. His final effort has been wasted, because he failed to take account of that eternal power of love which the Lord praised at the beginning, and which manifests itself in the most curious ways. He does not meet Faust in the hereafter: the contract has lapsed; and he has lost the bet he so rashly offered to the Lord in the Prologue.
The concluding scene of the drama takes place in desolate mountain gorges, where waving pine trees cling to precipitous cliffs. No doubt the mountains are those behind the coastal strip, among whose peaks Faust had once stood, with the phantom shapes of Helen and Gretchen on either hand, and conceived his final plan. Stationed among the rocky clefts at various levels are holy anchorites, men who have forsaken the world and have their dwelling on the way to Heaven. Goethe seems to have had in mind something like the hermit cells at Montserrat or Mount Athos, and his imagination seems also to have been stirred by frescoes and engravings of similar scenes which had come to his attention from Italian sources. With the anchorites mingle the angels, for this is a sphere where earth and Heaven meet.
Much has been written about the Catholic elements in this scene. They were made use of by Goethe, not, however, to demonstrate his adhesion to Catholic or even necessarily Christian ideas concerning salvation and the hereafter, but because he saw in them a set of symbols which he could adapt as he wished in order to give plastic expression to his unorthodox beliefs.
A chorus, caught up and echoed, its words being doubtless those of the
hermits, defines the character of the scene. The trees sway; the cliffs
stand firm; the roots cling to their anchorage as the trunks crowd together;
the torrent sends forth spray and caverns offer shelter. It is a place
where constant movement and life are associated with timelessness and repose.
Above all, it is a place where holy love reigns supreme and tames by its
power even the wild beasts.
|Waldung, sie schwankt heran,|
Felsen, sie lasten dran,
Wurzeln, sie klammern an,
Stamm dicht an Stamm hinan.
Woge nach Woge spritzt.
Höhle, die tiefste, schützt;
Löwen, sie schleichen stumm --
Freundlich um uns herum,
Ehren geweihten Ort,
(ll. 11844- 11853)
[[ Forest branches swaying,
Mass of rock down-weighing,
Wreathing roots immense,
Boles in forest dense.
Lashes wave on wave,
Shelter gives deep cave.
Lions around us stray,
Silent and tame they rove,
And sacred honours pay
To the holy shrine of love. ]]
Various members of the hermit brotherhood speak their thoughts. The
Pater Ecstaticus, who recalls, it seems, St. Philip Neri, has been made
insensitive to the law of gravity by his cult of the mortification of the
flesh. He hovers restlessly up and down, burning with desire for union
with eternal love and longs for martyrdom in order to attain it:
Siedender Schmerz der Brust,
Pfeile, durchdringet mich,
Lanzen, bezwinget mich,
Keulen, zerschmettert mich,
Blitze, durchwettert mich;
Daß ja das Nichtige
Glänze der Dauerstern,
Ewiger Liebe Kern.
[[ Evermore blissful fire,
Glow of love’s pure empire,
Through the breast’s seething pain
God-loving ecstasies reign.
Come, darts, and pierce me through,
Lances my flesh subdue.
Maces, come batter me,
Lightnings, now shatter me:
Worthlessness drive afar,
Shine forth, enduring star,
Immortal love’s core. ]]
The same emphasis upon the almighty power of love is expressed by the
inhabitant of the level nearest the earth, the Pater Profundus. This name
was given to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The abyss at his feet, the converging
rivulets, the towering trees, even the thunder, rain and lightning, proclaim
for him the power of all-sustaining divine love which he hopes will bring
appeasing illumination to his own flesh-fettered spirit:
|Sind Liebesboten, sie verkünden,|
Was ewig schaffend uns umwallt.
Mein Innres mög’ es auch entzünden,
Wo sich der Geist, verworren, kalt,
Verquält in stumpfer Sinne Schranken,
O Gott! beschwichtige die Gedanken,
Erleuchte mein bedürftig Herz!
[[ Heralds of love are these proclaiming
What powers eternal us enfold.
Come, holy fire, with inward flaming,
Where the poor soul, bewildered, cold,
Writhes, in the toils of sense repining,
Feeling the harsh chains’ deadly smart.
O God, send peace and heavenly shining
On the dark desert of my heart. ]]
The Faustian longing for oneness with the universe is manifested, it is seen, in these holy men. It will not be inappropriate for Faust’s soul to be brought into their company.
A third anchorite is called Pater Seraphicus, the name given to St.
Francis of Assisi. He dwells in the middle levels among the clouds and
is approached by a collection of the souls of Blessed Boys who died at
birth and were therefore uncontaminated by the world. They ask for enlightenment
about themselves and their whereabouts, and the holy father shows them
the earth they had never known, the trees, the cliffs and the torrent.
They are terrified, and he directs them to the higher realms of love. As
soon as they become aware of where they are, they feel themselves urged
|Steigt hinan zu höherm Kreise,|
Wachset immer unvermerkt,
Wie, nach ewig reiner Weise,
Gottes Gegenwart verstärkt.
Denn das ist der Geister Nahrung,
Die im freisten Äther waltet,
Ewigen Liebens Offenbarung,
Die zur Seligkeit entfaltet.
[[ Rise then higher: as you rise, shall
Growth unnoticed bless your throng.
As in pure eternal wise shall
God’s own presence make you strong.
Thus sustained in spheres supernal,
Spirits find their heavenly food:
Love revealed, the love eternal,
Flowering in beatitude. ]]
Striving for something higher and clearer is thus not something peculiar to Faust alone. It is part of the character of all life, and the essential foundation from which immortality develops. It is independent of the earth, for the Blessed Boys embody it after only an instant’s existence. It is something also that impels one soul to help another forward in the search for the divine, so that all, if free from earthly shackles, co-operate selflessly in the never-ending process. The heavenly love which they seek comes out towards them so that their very search is an expression of its power.
At this point the angelic hosts which defeated Mephistopheles move upwards
bearing Faust’s immortal soul. Their words give, as Eckermann tells us
that Goethe observed (6th June, 1831), the key to Faust’s salvation, and
sum up what the scene has so far demonstrated:
|Gerettet ist das edle Glied|
Der Geisterwelt vom Bösen:
‘Wer immer strebend sich bemüht,
Den können wir erlösen.’
Und hat an ihm die Liebe gar
Von oben teilgenommen,
Begegnet ihm die selige Schar
Mit herzlichem Willkommen.
[[ Saved is our spirit-peer, in peace,
Preserved from evil scheming:
‘For he whose strivings never cease
Is ours for his redeeming.’
If, touched by the celestial love,
His soul has sacred leaven,
There comes to greet him, from above,
The company of heaven. ]]
The angels do not say that they must necessarily, only that they can deliver the soul that strives. Nor do they say that they can save the soul that strives. Such a final glorification comes afterwards and is not in their hands at all. It is for them merely to deliver, liberate or redeem the soul, and make it ready for its final hallowing. They do not suggest that striving is the one and only way to salvation; the sinful women of antiquity, not to speak of Gretchen, imply that there are others. They do imply, however, that if ever Faust had abandoned his striving he would have been lost. Equally, their lines make it clear that no effort can be successful without the aid of God’s love to help it forward. Human endeavour needs to manifest itself in the manner which God intended for it. It will thereby partake of some quality that is higher than earthly. Heavenly love can then come to the aid of the soul that has proved itself.
Viscount Samuel once wrote (Belief and Action, Pan Books, 1953, p. 172): ‘All depends upon man’s own action. It is right, therefore, to glorify action; but not any action, regardless of aim or method. Action for action’s sake -- like art for art’s sake or speed for speed’s sake -- is a creed that reduces life to the level of a game. To move for the sake of moving, without asking whither; to move faster and faster without asking why; to hold that it is important to be vigorous and victorious, but not important to be right -- this is a gospel that leads some men to futilities, others to ambition, violence and war, with disaster as the outcome.’ All this is made evident in the case of Faust. Action must be accompanied by direction, and striving by illumination if immortality is to be merited. Each without the other does not suffice. Faust had striven for long without a clearly conceived aim. He had also recognized that earthly life is a reflection of heavenly life, but had failed until the end to act accordingly. Purpose and existence needed to be matched; neither separately was enough. Faust’s desire to pass beyond the boundaries of his individual life was fulfilled not because he stepped outside them and used superhuman aid, but because he re-entered them and discarded it, and in so doing transcended human limitations in a manner of which he had not dreamed. Faust’s real character, confused though it was, existed before Mephistopheles approached him. The latter had failed to break it down. Evil accompanies our steps on earth, but we need not give ourselves over to it deliberately in order to gain admission to Paradise. We learn through contact with it, but we need not wilfully court its society. To assume that is to assume that the greater the sinner the more certain will be salvation.
The processes involved in the granting of immortality are not sudden.
They emerge gradually just as earthly processes do. Salvation is not something
that comes in a moment when evil is thrust aside. The younger and therefore
inexperienced angels are wrong when they think that the defeat of Mephistopheles
is the end. It is not. It is merely a new beginning. As their more perfect
companions point out, the soul that is delivered none the less enters the
hereafter still trammelled with shreds of its earthly existence, and these
cannot be removed all at once. Angels cannot scale off what would still
cling even if the soul had passed through fire. Eternal love alone can
separate the earthly from the heavenly, just as it had joined them together
in the first instance:
|Uns bleibt ein Erdenrest|
Zu tragen peinlich,
Und wär’ er von Asbest,
Er ist nicht reinlich.
Wenn starke Geisteskraft
An sich herangerafft,
Kein Engel trennte
Der innigen beiden,
Die ewige Liebe nur
Vermag’s zu scheiden.
[[ Bear we in cumbered flight
Were they of byssolite,
Still they have stains.
Has the high Spirit-force
Not angels can divorce
Two closely blended;
Two natures single grown,
We must abide them,
Eternal love alone
Has power to divide them. ]]
The purification of Faust’s soul may commence now that its liberation
has been achieved. It is reborn into its new guiltless sphere by being
given over to the company of those Blessed Boys who are free from all earthliness.
It is, as it were, in the chrysalis stage. The angels chant:
|Ich seh’ bewegte Schar|
Los von der Erde Druck,
Im Kreis gesellt,
Die sich erlaben
Am neuen Lenz und Schmuck
Der obern Welt.
Sei er zum Anbeginn,
[[ Eager the throngs we see
Of the blest boys.
Freed from duress of earth,
Ranging in poise,
Hail they the spring’s new birth,
Bathed in the joys
Of this, the higher sphere.
Here let him then begin
Fullness of life to win,
Joined as their peer. ]]
To enter Paradise, Faust becomes as a little child. The Boys prove to
be part of the manifestation of the love which has given them birth, and
they advance themselves towards the central seat of Heaven by aiding their
new companion to cast off his earthly case and emerge in all his strength
and fullness. Faust’s soul may then precede them and in turn help them
forward in their progress. They say:
|Freudig empfangen wir|
Diesen im Puppenstand;
Also erlangen wir
Löset die Flocken los,
Die ihn umgeben!
Schon ist er schön und groß
Von heiligem Leben.
[[ Him as soul’s chrysalis
Joyful receive we;
For thus achieve we
Angels’ true pledge of bliss.
Shake off the earthly flakes
That yet enfold him;
Strong in heaven’s life he wakes,
Beauteous behold him. ]]
While they are busily circling around him, a final representative of
the anchorite community named the Doctor Marianus appears. His abode is
the highest cell of all, nearest to Heaven and to Heaven’s Queen whom he
serves. He sees enraptured the Holy Virgin encompassed by a halo of stars.
She is moving upwards and is surrounded by a company of penitent women.
The whole of celestial life is in motion as Faust’s soul is brought aloft.
Heavenly birth takes place, as does terrestrial birth, as the result of
woman’s love, the Eternal Womanly, represented at the very highest level
by the Madonna herself. We are drawn irresistibly towards the love that
is incarnate in her. It alone can satisfy; it alone can obliterate weakness
and sin and bring redemption.
|Unbezwinglich unser Mut,|
Wenn du hehr gebietest,
Plötzlich mildert sich die Glut,
Wie du uns befriedest.
Jungfrau, rein im schönsten Sinn,
Mutter, Ehren würdig,
Uns erwählte Königin,
[[ Souls unconquerable rise
If, sublime, thou will it;
Sinks that storm in peaceful wise
If thy pity still it.
Virgin, pure in heavenly sheen,
Mother, throned supernal,
Highest birth, our chosen Queen,
Godhead’s peer eternal. ]]
The Penitents gather round her knees in search of grace. St. Mary Magdalene,
the Woman of Samaria and St. Mary of Egypt, all of whom sinned and yet
loved, intercede on behalf of yet another penitent who was once called
Gretchen, and pray that she shall convey Heaven’s forgiveness to Faust:
|Die du großen Sünderinnen|
Deine Nähe nicht verweigerst
Und ein büßendes Gewinnen
In die Ewigkeiten steigerst,
Gönn’ auch dieser guten Seele,
Die sich einmal nur vergessen,
Die nicht ahnte, daß sie fehle,
Dein Verzeihen angemessen!
[[ Thou that from the greatly sinning
Turnest not thy face away,
And contrition’s humble winning
Liftest to eternal day,
To this soul, that for a space
Fell, scarce knowing its transgression,
Grant, in merciful concession,
Thy divine forgiving grace. ]]
Heaven, it is clear, is gained by seeking it, not for oneself but for others. What the Boys are doing for Faust, the Penitents do for Gretchen, and that is what Gretchen does in her turn for her lover. All move forward in harmonious collaboration towards the central glory. But Heaven is infinite. The centre is never reached. It is only approached, just as the hyperbola comes near to but does not touch the asymptote. To become merged in God would be to lose individuality, and individuality continues after death in the same way that it existed in life. In the words of Herder:
Und was endlich den Genuß des höchsten Wesens anbetrift; o da bleibts immer ‘Hyperbel mit ihrer Asymptote’, wie unser Autor [Hemsterhuis] sagt, und muß es bleiben. Die Hyperbel nähert sich der Asymptote, aber sie erreicht sie nie: zu unsrer Seligkeit können wir nie den Begrif unsers Daseins verlieren, und den unendlichen Begrif, daß wir Gott sind, erlangen. Wir bleiben immer Geschöpfe, wenn wir auch die Schöpfer grosser Welten würden. Wir nahen uns der Vollkommenheit, unendlich vollkommen aber werden wit nie.
Gretchen, then, is on her way towards the ultimate glory. She has advanced to this point in the time which has elapsed -- if we can speak of time in so timeless a connection -- since her earthly death. Faust, who has only just begun his heavenly pilgrimage, may be presumed to take longer, since he will start behind her. Gretchen could not get further without the aid of love, which in her case is represented by Faust. Likewise Faust’s activity in his new sphere does not become fully effective until he joins her. His arrival thus sets into motion a whole chain of action which involves not only Gretchen but the Blessed Boys and the Penitents as well.
Transported with felicity, Gretchen nestles at the knees of the Virgin
and speaks words that recall her petition when she prayed before the shrine
in the town ramparts. Faust has come to her again. He is no longer darkened
in his mind. He has attained clarity. With him beside her her love can
now reach its highest fulfilment:
Dein Antlitz gnädig meinem Glück.
Der früh Geliebte,
Nicht mehr Getrübte,
Er kommt zurück.
[[ Ah, look down,
Thou rich in heaven’s renown,
Turn thou the grace of thy dear face
On the fullness of my bliss;
For now my lover,
Earth’s sadness over,
Comes from that world to me in this. ]]
As at the end of her earthly life, so now again in Heaven, Gretchen intervenes decisively in Faust’s destiny. By refusing to leave her prison and thereby, though on unthinkable terms, to save her life, she had prevented his absolute subjection to the devil’s authority; now her sacrifice is crowned by the joy of guiding him forward to Heaven’s central glory.
In the meantime Faust has risen above the level of the inexperienced
Boys. He, too, can now take part in the selfless collaboration of spiritual
life, by aiding them to learn greater understanding of where they are:
|Er überwächst uns schon|
An mächtigen Gliedern;
Wird treuer Pflege Lohn
Wir wurden früh entfernt
Doch dieser hat gelernt,
Er wird uns lehren.
[[ Transcending us he towers,
Great-limbed and vital,
Will for this care of ours
Make rich requital.
Too soon from life removed,
Its song could not reach us;
Much he has learnt and proved,
Now he will teach us. ]]
He has become part of Heaven’s ceaseless effort. His activity, his striving,
has not diminished. It is continued in another sphere and in another form.
Purified and cleansed of all preoccupation with self, he now resembles
the angelic hosts. Gretchen begs to be allowed to guide him in the same
way that the Boys have suggested that he should guide them:
|Vom edlen Geisterchor umgeben,|
Wird sich der Neue kaum gewahr;
Er abnet kaum das frische Leben,
So gleicht er schon der heiligen Schar.
Sieh! wie er jedem Erdenbande
Der alten Hülle sich entrafft
Und aus ätherischem Gewande
Hervortritt erste Jugendkraft.
Vergönne mir, ihn zu belehren,
Noch blendet ihn der neue Tag.
[[ Engirt by heaven’s noble choirs,
With self new-born he scarcely knows
The life to which his soul aspires,
As like the angels’ host he grows.
See how he breaks from bonds of earth,
With every shackle shed at length,
And ether’s raiment of new birth
Reveals his prime of youthful strength.
Grant me to teach and guide him here,
Him dazzled by new shining day. ]]
The final phase is reached with the words of the Madonna:
|Komm! hebe dich zu höhern Sphären,|
Wenn er dich ahnet, folgt er nach.
[[ Come, rise to seek the higher sphere,
And he, of thee aware, will take that way. ]]
Gretchen is to lead him forward. She will always be a little in advance of him. She will help by her example. She has become part of the sublime activity of Paradise because of her beloved’s presence, and Faust, too, is now to be enrolled in Heaven’s service. As Herder put it:
Unsre Brüder der höhern Stufe lieben uns daher gewiß mehr und reiner, als wir sie suchen und lieben können: dann sie übersehen unsern Zustand klärer; der Augenblick der Zeit ist ihnen vorüber, alle Disharmonien sind aufgelöset und sie erziehen an uns vielleicht unsichtbar ihres Glückes Theilnehmer, ihres Geschäfts Brüder. Nur Einen Schritt weiter; und der gedrückte Geist kann freier athmen, das verwundete Herz ist genesen: sie sehen den Schritt herannahn und helfen dem Gleitenden mächtig hinüber.
Faust is guided forward by the Eternal Womanly. The Doctor Marianus prostrates himself in adoration, recognizing that all penitents may be redeemed and given a new life of beatitude at the hands of the Virgin, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven.
As the final Mystic Chorus puts it, all transitory things are symbols
of the eternal. The earthly merely reflects the heavenly. In Paradise the
unattainable becomes reality, the ineffable is accomplished. Heavenly endeavour
is an extension of earthly endeavour and may not be claimed unless the
latter is indefatigable and pure. And earthly endeavour must go forward
in the glorious name of heavenly love, which is manifested in the Eternal
Womanly, sustaining, comforting, guiding and drawing men ever forward.
This is embodied as well in Gretchen as in the Mater Gloriosa.
All this is a highly symbolical way of expressing Goethe’s views on immortality. It is not intended to be understood in terms of orthodox religion. The concepts of intercession, grace and redemption are there, but they are reinterpreted by the poet in the context of his own beliefs. Immortality is an extension of earthly life. The conditions under which it may be won have been described as well as -- at much greater length -- those by which it may not be. When it is gained it is shown for what it is, namely a constant selfless co-operation of human spirits, each advancing its fellows, and all therefore marching forward individually and corporately towards the central truth. This does not need to be comprehended in any merely supernatural sense. It also has a terrestrial meaning. It is, after all, what Herder understood by his League of Humanity, in which the transitory and the accidental are sloughed off and only permanent values remain. All who contribute to human development in a positive sense are united in its brotherhood.
Das Göttliche in unserm Geschlecht ist also Bildung zur Humanität; alle großen und guten Menschen, Gesetzgeber, Erfinder, Philosophen, Dichter, Künstler, jeder edle Mensch in seinem Stande, bei der Erziehung seiner Kinder, bei der Beobachtung seiner Pflichten, durch Beispiel, Werk, Institut und Lehre hat dazu mitgeholfen. Humanität ist der Schatz und die Ausbeute aller menschlichen Bemühungen, gleichsam die Kunst unsres Geschlechtes. Die Bildung zu ihr ist ein Werk, das unabläßig fortgesetzt werden muß; oder wir sinken, höhere und niedere Stände, zur rohen Thierheit, zur Brutalität zurück.
There can be little doubt that Goethe intended his work to be understood in this way. If it is so understood, the awkward question does not arise as to why Faust, a tremendous sinner, should none the less be saved, and, coupled with this question, the extent to which his career, because it ended in salvation, may therefore be taken as exemplary in spite of its criminal nature. Goethe merely demonstrates what it is that gains prolongation of existence and what does not. This is something beyond mere adhesion to traditional norms or religious dogmas. It is fruitful activity in the cause of mankind and therefore in the cause of God. Such activity cannot perish. It seeks new spheres in which it may manifest itself, new tasks to discharge, new problems to overcome, and lives on as an undying spiritual force among men. As Goethe put it to Zelter ( 19th March, 1827):
Wirken wir fort, bis wir . . . vom Weltgeist berufen, in den Äther zurückkehren! Möge dann der ewig Lebendige uns neue Tätigkeiten, denen analog, in welchen wir uns schon erprobt, nicht versagen!
And to Eckermann (4th February, 1829):
Die Überzeugung unserer Fortdauer entspringt mir aus dem Begriff der Tätigkeit; denn wenn ich bis an mein Ende rastlos wirke, so ist die Natur verpflichtet, mir eine andere Form des Daseins anzuweisen, wenn die jetzige meinen Geist nicht ferner auszuhalten vermag.
This has little to do with ethics as generally accepted. Faust’s behaviour to the end leaves doubts on the moral score. What is decisive is his positive spiritual attitude and endeavour which will achieve permanent things and live on in others after his death. Goethe demonstrates, with all the emphasis at his command, the illusion and tragedy which come about from association with all that is contrary to this; that is to say, with evil, with negation, frustration, destruction. The purpose of life is to live. Only in its fullness and development is there the guarantee of continued life. Faust’s victory is that, in spite of his failures, he does not turn away from life. He measures himself against the spirit of denial and defeats it. The soul that Mephistopheles cannot destroy cannot perish. As Goethe elsewhere put it:
Denn es ist ja, bei einem fortschreitenden Tun und Handeln nicht die Frage, was einzeln lobens- oder tadelnswert, bedeutend oder unbedeutend sei; sondern was im ganzen für eine Richtung genommen worden und was daraus zuletzt für das Individuum selbst, für seine nächsten Zeitgenossen, irgend für ein Resultat sich ergeben, und was daher für die Zukunft zu hoffen sei. (To H. G. Hotho, 19th April, 1830.)
We do not need to seek far for parallels in Goethe’s work that bring out this same doctrine. Many passages could be alluded to in his lyrical poetry alone. The Marienbader Elegie springs to mind at once, the more forcibly in so far as it emphasizes love of woman as being that which vouchsafes to the human soul the strength and self-abnegation that are needed to participate fully in the eternal effort towards higher and purer things. There are other poems, such as: Eins und Alles, Die Geheimnisse, Urworte Orphisch, in which the same theme occurs. But none is more explicit than Vermächtnis, written when the urge to complete the final message of Faust was pressing hard upon the poet:
Kein Wesen kann zu Nichts zerfallen!
Das Ew’ge regt sich fort in allen,
Am Sein erhalte dich beglückt!
Das Sein ist ewig: denn Gesetze
Bewahren die lebend’gen Schätze,
Aus welchen sich das All geschmückt.
Genieße mäßig Füll’ und Segen;
Vernunft sei überall zugegen,
Wo Leben sich des Lebens freut.
Dann ist Vergangenheit beständig,
Das Künftige voraus lebendig --
Der Augenblick ist Ewigkeit.
Und wie von alters her, im Stillen,
Ein Liebewerk nach eignem Willen
Der Philosoph, der Dichter schuf,
So wirst du schönste Gunst erzielen:
Denn edlen Seelen vorzufühlen
Ist wünschenswertester Beruf.
[[ My attempted rhyming translation of Vermächtnis (Legacy), of which Gillies has quoted three stanzas. This poem contains two of Goethe's immortal lines—Der Augenblick ist Ewigkeit (The Moment is Eternity) and Was fruchtbar ist, allein ist wahr (Only that which is fruitful is true). ]]
[[ What exists cannot into nothingness fall!
The eternal ever reigns strong in all,
In pure existence be content!
Being is eternal: and law's measures
Preserve the living treasures
That adorn the universe's raiment.
The truth was very long ago found;
Noble spirits has it bound;
This old truth, grip it with force!
Son of Earth, thank that wise one
Who showed Earth her path round the sun
And her sisters too, their daily course.
Now turn yourself towards the inner:
The centre you'll find there for sure,
And this truth no wise soul will refute.
All your rules are present there,
Your self-knowing conscience clear
To which your moral acts you impute.
Go, then, by your five senses true,
Nothing that's false will they show you,
If your reason doth keep you sound.
With fresh eyes look round happily
And wander sure and gaily
Where earth's rich fields abound.
Enjoy your bounties in moderation,
Keep above all things reason,
Where life delights alive to be.
Then the past will be steady,
The future alive already.
The moment is eternity.
And when at last to success you rise,
And to this feeling are made wise,
That only that which is fruitful is true -
You'll experience the general motivating forces
And see that they'll gravitate to their own courses.
Take company amongst the select few.
Just as since antiquity, in solitude still,
Works of love shaped by their will
Did create the poet and the philosopher,
Even so you'll reach to favour's highest goals;
For to apprehend noble souls
Is task most worthy of your desire. ]]
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