From the harmony and light of Heaven, we are transported to the gloom and discontent of earthly life. An expression of the divine, this latter cannot exist as such apart from the limitations inherent in all things connected with the earth, which as the archangels said, is the scene of change and conflict. Darkness exists beside light, evil beside good, as part of the earth’s character. Darkness comes about, Mephistopheles opines later on, because bodies cast shadows; were it not for physical existence, it could never be. It is the reverse of light; and evil is the reverse of good, not outside man’s nature but belonging to it. As we shall see, Mephistopheles never stimulates Faust to do what it is not in his being to do.
In this sphere of limitation, Faust, the confused scholar, as we had
learnt in the Prologue in Heaven, is struggling to understand what transcends
the boundaries of human understanding, the secrets of the universe. Symbolically
it is night, the night before Easter, as we are told later. Faust sits
restlessly at his desk in his narrow Gothic study, surrounded by parchments,
instruments, and bones, striving to grasp with their lifeless aid what
the archangels could not grasp. A creature of cogitation, remote from human
experience, he is the prisoner of the only environment he knows, that of
the University. The most learned scholar alive has found all the University
faculties wanting; above all theology, the Queen of the sciences, has failed
to provide, as it claimed to do, the truth about this world and the next.
He is without religious scruples and preoccupations which might have impeded
his intellectual progress. Yet he is frustrated. Academic learning, to
which this titan for study has devoted himself, is not only vain, it has
withdrawn him from life, aged him prematurely, denied him honour and glory
and earthly gain, and has caused him to misinform his students. There is
a material side to Faust, and he has a nascent sense of social responsibility;
he is not purely and simply an intellectual. It is a satire upon human
learning that he has to ally himself with the devil in order to escape
the consequences of learning and to experience the life which it has denied
him; and of course it is the evil aspect of life that is accordingly presented
to him. He has to discover by protracted error the positive meaning in
human life that his trusting but misdirected efforts have hitherto hindered
him from grasping. Faust is not one of those who are devoted to learning
for its own sake; that is why he can turn to magic as a substitute for
it when he realizes its futility. He desires knowledge with a view to teaching
and improving his fellow men. This is an important feature of his character.
His social feeling breaks surface only rarely, but it is in the end decisive.
|Bilde mir nicht ein, was Rechts zu wissen,
Bilde mir nicht ein, ich könnte was lehren,
Die Menschen zu bessern und zu bekehren.
Auch hab’ ich weder Gut noch Geld,
Noch Ehr’ und Herrlichkeit der Welt;
Es möchte kein Hund so länger leben!
[[ Knowing that knowledge tricks us beyond measure,
That man’s conversion is beyond my reach,
Knowing the emptiness of what I teach.
Meanwhile I live in penury,
No worldly honour falls to me.
No dog would linger on like this! ]]
So runs the conclusion of the traditional review of learning with which the first earthly scene of the poem opens.
Magic, if it is fully to take the place of learning, must satisfy Faust
on all the points in which learning has failed. It must first of all teach
him the fundamental truths of life with a view to gaining him renown and
the power to benefit his fellow creatures. If it does not do this he will
reject it as remorselessly as he has discarded scholarship. But it must
do more. With its aid, he hopes, he will perceive the way in which the
universe operates. Theoretical understanding alone is insufficient; knowledge
must be based upon real experience,
|Daß ich erkenne, was die Welt
Im Innersten zusammenhält,
Schau’ alle Wirkenskraft und Samen,
Und tu’ nicht mehr in Worten kramen.
[[ And so I turn to the abyss
Of necromancy, try if art
Can voice or power of spirits start,
To do me service and reveal
The things of Nature’s secret seal,
And save me from the weary dance
Of holding forth in ignorance. ]]
These words really accord with the doctrine of the archangels. Experience can supply what the understanding cannot; faith and comfort can spring from perception, even though understanding is lacking. Scholastic learning by itself is thus a preposterous indulgence. Faust, dimly realizing that man is not a creature of intellect alone, requires convincing proof through the senses of the reality of the universe. Mephistopheles’ subsequent attempt to lull him with sensual joys will merely provide something which he hitherto lacked, and so long as the fundamental desire to understand the universe remains unimpaired the attempt will be of ultimate service to Faust. It does not, of course, follow that the defects of learning need always be made up for by sin.
However, in turning to magic, Faust is as much in error as he was in applying himself to knowledge. For whereas knowledge is unnatural through being abstract and lifeless, magic is equally so since it is an attempt to impose oneself upon nature. Short cuts to the truth, whether metaphysical or magic, are vain. Faust himself is really half-aware of this. The restrictions of his earthly life impede him even before he begins. He turns to magic because he is visited by the desire to escape with its aid from his narrow cell, to seek comfort in the realm of nature and to merge with her and learn from her lips. In his despair, he seeks regeneration from nature, as Werther, a kindred spirit, did. To understand the universe it is necessary to understand nature, its earthly manifestation, and to understand nature is to understand man, who is part of it, and his place in the universe. Nature, approached through magic, ought thus to be a hopeful substitute for learning. With Nostradamus’ manual to aid him, Faust feels he might speak on equal terms with nature; and nature in her turn will instruct him in the real meaning of the book’s magic symbols, replace abstract cogitation, and enable him to converse with her spirits. Indeed, this conviction causes him to feel the presence of spirits around him already. It is in fact the frame of mind of the seeker that matters in this, as in other things.
Faust turns the pages of the book, coming upon the sign of the macrocosm,
doubtless the two interlocking equilateral triangles of the Grand Architect
of the Universe, whose six points symbolize the six days of the Creation;
it may well be a delicate allusion by Goethe to the mystic hexagon in Herder’s
Älteste Urkunde des Menschengeschlechts, which that author
believed likewise to represent the Creation and to be the most primitive
of all hieroglyphics, the beginning of all writing, knowledge, science,
philosophy and theology, given directly by God to man. The mere sight of
this symbol fills Faust with joy, causes excitement to course through his
veins and light to enter his soul, as he reads in it the beauty and harmony
of the cosmos. His restless despondency is quietened and relieved when
he feels his kinship with the creative forces of the universe, as he, no
doubt, had never felt it before. We can apprehend nature and bathe ourselves
back to health in the regenerating power of the dawn, the ever-recurring
symbol of the Creation, if our hearts and senses are suitably attuned,
he declares, quoting the wisdom of Nostradamus, who represents, no doubt,
Herder or Swedenborg. As he realizes that all things are interdependent
in the living system which is the cosmos, Faust has momentarily the vision
and comprehension of a god, so filled is he with a sense of light and glory.
An earthly creature, he is, for an instant, given a glimpse of the wisdom
of the archangels, and this has been gained, not by knowledge, nor by magic,
but by a consciousness of his oneness with nature, ‘da Gott den Menschen
schuf hinein’ (l. 415).
|Ha! welche Wonne fließt in diesem Blick
Auf einmal mir durch alle meine Sinnen!
Ich fühle junges, heil’ges Lebensglück
Neuglühend mir durch Nerv’ und Adern rinnen.
War es ein Gott, der dies Zeichen schrieb,
Die mir das innre Toben stillen,
Das arme Herz mit Freude füllen
Und mit geheimnisvollem Trieb
Die Kräfte der Natur rings um mich her enthüllen?
Bin ich ein Gott? Mir wird so licht!
Ich schau’ in diesen reinen Zügen
Die wirkende Natur vor meiner Seele liegen.
Jetzt erst erkenn’ ich, was der Weise spricht:
‘Die Geisterwelt ist nicht verschlossen;
Dein Sinn ist zu, dein Herz ist tot!
Auf, bade, Schüler, unverdrossen
Die ird’sche Brust im Morgenrot!
[[ Ah, strangely comes an onset of delight,
Invading all my senses as I gaze:
Young, sacred bliss-of-life springs at the sight,
And fires my blood in all its branching ways.
Was it a god who made this mystic scroll,
To touch my spirit’s tumult with its healing,
And fill my wretched heart with joyous feeling,
And bring the secret world before my soul,
The hidden drive of Nature’s force revealing?
Myself a god? -- With lightened vision’s leap
I read the riddle of the symbols, hear
The looms of Nature’s might, that never sleep,
And know at last things spoken of the seer:
’Tis not the spirit world is sealed;
Thy heart is dead, thy senses’ curtain drawn.
But, scholar, bathe, rejoicing, healed,
Thy earthly breast in streams of roseate dawn.’ ]]
For a moment the divine aspect of his being is uppermost in Faust. But he cannot give himself over to it completely. He has an earthly side. What he sees is a vision, a spectacle; he cannot touch it or share actively in its workings. He longs to grasp it, to enter into physical contact with it, to draw real sustenance from the eternal sources of life. It satisfies only his contemplative side, not his active urge. And activity is a divinely ordained feature of all life.
There is a gulf between the limited life of earth and the infinite life of Heaven. To possess both at once is impracticable. Significantly, Faust does not conjure up the spirit of the macrocosm, whose sign he beholds; indeed, he could not do so, for the spirit can be really none other than God Himself. The vision which he sees is, as it were, a drama (‘ Schauspiel’), as on a stage, and he is a spectator, not, as he longs to be, an actor. He in fact desires to be both spectator, understanding all, and character, participating in what happens, at one and the same time (as, in fact, he attempts to be when he later on calls up the vision of Helen of Troy), and all the learning of all the faculties has not revealed to him the folly of this desire. His despondency is deepened at his being cut off from the substance, so that even the comfort of the shadow is vain.
Faust next observes the symbol of the Earth Spirit, and, believing himself
to be more akin to what it represents, proceeds to conjure up the attendant
spirit, which appears, as did the Lord to Moses, in a fire. This symbol,
too, fills him with strength, not the strength to understand the cosmos,
but the strength to face sorrow and danger as well as joy.
|Du, Geist der Erde, bist mir näher;
Schon fühl ich meine Kräfte höher,
Schon glüh’ ich wie von neuem Wein.
Ich fühle Mut, mich in die Welt zu wagen,
Der Erde Weh, der Erde Glück zu tragen,
Mit Stürmen mich herumzuschlagen
Und in des Schiffbruchs Knirschen nicht zu zagen.
[[ A curious change affects me in this sign:
You, kindred Sprite of Earth, come strangely nearer;
My spirits rise, my powers are stronger, clearer,
As from the glow of a refreshing wine.
I gather heart to risk the world’s encounter,
To bear my human fate as fate’s surmounter,
To front the storm, in joy or grief not palter,
Even in the gnash of shipwreck never falter. ]]
Faust needs this strength, for the result of his invocation is shattering. The Earth Spirit is an unendurable apparition. Faust, who had never identified himself with the reality of earthly life, shrinks in terror, because what he sees is symbolically so strangely out of accord with the ideas of the world which he had formed in his academic isolation and is therefore something with which he cannot cope. The Earth Spirit is not a perfect and satisfying vision. It stands for change and movement, disharmony and conflict, birth and death, exactly as the archangels had testified. Faust is crushed by the very thing he thought he wanted. His earthly side, which had prevented his enjoying the vision of the universe a few moments earlier, is itself now cast down. He is unable to join in the processes of the world, despite his desire to do so, because his addiction to academic learning has rendered him incapable of this. He is caught in the remorseless vortex of his unnatural existence. He is unfitted by scholarship for life, and scholarship, his refuge from life, is itself no substitute for it and is a failure as an approach to universal truth. He who has flattered himself that he can speak on equal terms with the spirits of nature and now tries to do so with the Earth Spirit, is annihilated.
Faust invites the famous self-definition of the Earth Spirit, in which
every word is chosen to express activity, development and growth and is
a biting reflection upon his withdrawal into barren contemplation:
|In Lebensfluten, im Tatensturm
Wall’ ich auf und ab,
Webe hin und her!
Geburt und Grab,
Ein ewiges Meer,
Ein wechselnd Weben,
Ein glühend Leben:
So schaff’ ich am sausenden Webstuhl der Zeit,
Und wirke der Gottheit lebendiges Kleid.
[[ In Flood of life, in action’s storm
I ply on my wave
With weaving motion
Birth and the grave,
A boundless ocean,
Weft of living,
Glowing and blending.
So work I on the whirring loom of time,
The life that clothes the deity sublime. ]]
Life on earth is a cyclical rise and fall. In spite of its disharmony and disparateness, it is one life, as the threefold Ein makes clear, manifesting at all times the same basic universal causality. It is the outward expression of God, His living garment. What Faust hears the Earth Spirit define is the very restlessness which he feels within himself; and he is terrified because he is powerless to fit his existence into the scheme of things as a whole. So he can say, ‘Wie nah fühlich mich dir!’ (l. 511) and yet collapse in terror. He has gained less from the Earth Spirit’s appearance than from the contemplation of the macrocosm sign, for the latter at least gave him a pleasing vision. The contemplative scholar has been proved incapable of practical self-adaptation to the world’s affairs. Faust shudders at the thought of his own helplessness, he, created in God’s own image! As his pupil Wagner knocks on his door, he surprisingly refers to this overwhelming experience as his ‘schönstes Glück’. Horrible though it has been, it is no doubt so regarded by him in comparison with the dessiccated emptiness of rationalism, embodied in Wagner, which can teach nothing, not even the consciousness of one’s own frailty. Magic has failed, as learning failed, even learning as pursued by Faust. How much more barren is the learning that is sought by those who do not possess Faust’s titanic urge to grasp the meaning of the cosmos, who are devoted to it for its own sake or for the social status it confers and who apply themselves to it without a sense of its limitations!
Wagner is such a person, and ironically enough he is Faust’s pupil,
one of those whom the great man has been misleading for the past ten years
or so. Symbolically, he appears in a dressing-gown, as Gottsched did when
Goethe visited him at Leipzig. (In the Urfaust it is noteworthy that Mephistopheles
likewise wears a dressing gown when conversing with the student. Goethe’s
hints were invariably pretty direct!) Wagner bears the lamp of Enlightenment
in his hand, a puny human substitute for the clear light of Heaven revealed
through nature. He needs artificial aid of this kind. He never goes out
into the world of daylight, scarcely even on holidays, and fondly believes,
as doubtless Faust did once, that midnight oil can replace real experience.
He collects all scraps of knowledge, without quite knowing why, for his
imagination cannot rise above his own level. Yet he is not without worth.
Confidence in learning, modest rectitude and loyal deference to his master,
combined with hard-headed imperturbability, are not to be condemned out
of hand, utterly maddening as they are to the tempestuously despairing
Faust. Hearing Faust’s voice and believing his master to be declaiming
a Greek tragedy, he enters with a view to picking up what he can about
the art of elocution. His entry enables Faust to define what contemporary
scholarship was which had brought him to such an abyss of depression. It
is a savage analysis. The academic atmosphere and hierarchy are indeed
well studied by Goethe, in Faust, the most learned man alive, Wagner his
assistant, and later on the matriculating student, as well as, in ‘Auerbachs
Keller’, the reverse side of the medal, the academicals off duty.
When Faust reflects upon pulpit eloquence:
|Ja, wenn der Pfarrer ein Komödiant ist;
Wie das denn wohl zu Zeiten kommen mag,
[[ Past question, if the parson is a mummer --
A thing you may discover, now and then. ]]
he is really continuing his invective against the defects of learning
which had started the scene, for there can be little doubt that the clergy
in his area were once his students, and it is his own fault in part if
they were open to such censure as he now administers. His contempt for
conventional scholarship shocks Wagner, as Faust turns his criticism upon
rhetoric, philology, history and the theory of knowledge and stresses the
value of subjective emotion instead of that of rationalism in which his
pupil so profoundly believes. Eloquence, as Herder said in his An Prediger.
Fünfzehn Provinzialblätter, comes from the heart, not from
any artificial aids; it is the communication of emotion, the outpouring
of the physical side of our being, which, as Faust is just discovering,
is a part of the glowing life of the world described by the Earth Spirit.
|Wenn Ihr’s nicht fühlt, Ihr werdet’s
Wenn es nicht aus der Seele dringt
Und mit urkräftigem Behagen
Die Herzen aller Hörer zwingt,
[[ If feeling fails you, vain will be your course,
And idle what you plan unless your art
Springs from the soul with elemental force
To hold its sway in every listening heart. ]]
eloquence is, Faust declares, useless. From such a standpoint, academic
learning, with its stress upon reason, is almost the equivalent of sacrilege,
the reverse of the divine order of things, a device for masking by artifice
what can express itself directly if allowed to do so. The cast-off tricks
of speech of others cannot take the place of sincerity of emotion. The
fundamental verities of life need no adventitious rhetorical aids to expression.
|Es trägt Verstand und rechter Sinn
Mit wenig Kunst sich selber vor;
Und wenn’s Euch ernst ist, was zu sagen,
Ist’s nötig, Worten nachzujagen?
Ja, Eure Reden, die so blinkend sind,
In denen Ihr der Menschheit Schnitzel kräuselt,
Sind unerquicklich wie der Nebelwind,
Der herbstlich durch die dürren Blätter säuselt!
[[ Good sense, Sir, and rightmindedness
Have little need to speak by rule.
And if your mind on urgent truth is set,
Need you go hunting for an epithet?
Nay, these your polished speeches that you make,
Serving mankind your snipped-out pie-frill papers,
They nourish us no more than winds that shake
The withered leaves, or shred the autumnal vapours. ]]
In respect of source-study, to which Wagner is especially addicted,
Faust’s remarks are upon similar lines. What matters is our attitude of
mind to the world in which we five, the experience within our soul, for
which philology can no more be a substitute than rhetoric.
|Das Pergament, ist das der heil’ge Bronnen,
Woraus ein Trunk den Durst auf ewig stillt?
Erquickung hast du nicht gewonnen,
Wenn sie dir nicht aus eigner Seele quillt.
[[ Is parchment, then, your well of living water,
Where whosoever drinks shall be made whole?
Look not to stem your craving in that quarter:
The spring is vain that flows not from the soul. ]]
The truths of religion are not revealed by the methods of history and archaeology; they are revealed through the human heart. ‘Qui suit son cœur, suit Dieu’, Faust might have said with Pascal.
In anguish, Wagner alludes to history, incautiously observing that it
at least enables us to see how far we have advanced. Faust answers that
history is interpreted subjectively; the facts are adjusted to one’s own
pattern; historical research is powerless as a means of approaching the
truth. What we see in history as it is presented to us is a shocking commentary
upon the state of mind of those who present it.
|Mein Freund, die Zeiten der Vergangenheit
Sind uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln;
Was Ihr den Geist der Zeiten heibt,
Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist,
In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln.
Da ist’s denn wahrlich oft ein Jammer!
Man läuft Euch bei dem ersten Blick davon.
Ein Kehrichtfab und eine Rumpelkammer
Und höchstens eine Haupt- und Staatsaktion
Mit trefflichen pragmatischen Maximen,
Wie sie den Puppen wohl im Munde ziemen!
[[ My friend, for us the alluring times of old
Are like a book that’s sealed-up sevenfold.
And what you call the Spirit of the Ages
Is but the spirit of your learned sages,
Whose mirror is a pitiful affair,
Shunned by mankind after a single stare,
A mouldy dustbin, or a lumber attic,
Or at the most a blood-and-thunder play
Stuffed full of wit sententious and pragmatic,
Fit for the sawdust puppetry to say. ]]
All knowledge is, indeed, a mockery by comparison with the sense of
that oneness with nature which Faust is discovering in human life and is
yearning to experience more fully. He accordingly angrily closes the conversation,
to the regret of his puzzled but pertinacious assistant, with the remark
that the acquisition of data is as nothing beside emotional experience,
the ‘volles Herz’, which does not indeed exclude the former, but which
alone, when joined with it, can turn it into understanding.
|Wer darf das Kind beim rechten Namen nennen?
Die wenigen, die was davon erkannt,
Die töricht g’nug ihr volles Herz nicht wahrten,
Dem Pöbel ihr Gefühl ihr Schauen offenbarten,
Hat man von je gekreuzigt und verbrannt.
[[ To understand -- and how is that defined?
Who dares to give that child its proper name?
The few of understanding, vision rare,
Who veiled not from the herd their hearts, but tried,
Poor generous fools, to lay their feelings bare,
Them have men always burnt and crucified. ]]
Wagner, who doubtless represents a phase through which Faust once passed,
retires without realizing that his master’s observations have quite shattered
him. The Enlightenment was nothing, however, if not cocksure.
|Zwar weib ich viel, doch möcht’ ich
[[ I’ve learnt a deal, made books my drink and meat,
But cannot rest till knowledge is complete. ]]
he remarks as he closes the door. How forcibly the difference between the two men is brought out, and how strikingly Faust’s initial condemnation of learning has been filled out in this conversation!
The remainder of the first scene, after the departure of Wagner, was written twenty years later than the material hitherto discussed, and the style and metre clearly display a difference in composition. None the less, Goethe did his best to preserve the unity of mood and did so with success.
The Wagner episode, a traditional feature of the Faust story, is a means
of exercising a sobering influence upon the scholar who has been crushed
by his encounter with the Earth Spirit. All the same, Faust cannot forget
the devastating words:
|Du gleichst dem Geist, den du begreifst,
[[ You match the spirit that you comprehend,
Not me. ]]
He is haunted by his feeling of smallness and impotence. He, the most
learned man alive, the titanic seeker after the secrets of the universe,
has been brought to a state of dithering collapse. He reflects how nearly
he approached the sight of eternal truth when contemplating the symbol
of the macrocosm, which had lifted him above the finite limitations of
his earthly existence, and how he had presumed to seek to add earthly experience
to the revelations vouchsafed to him. Heavenly truth was insufficient for
this titanic man of the earth; he desired both earthly and heavenly experience
together, being conscious of his earthly and heavenly nature and thus deeming
himself to be more greatly endowed than the cherubs and to possess more
understanding than the archangels themselves.
|Ich, Ebengild der Gottheit, das sich schon
Ganz nah gedünkt dem Spiegel ew’ger Wahrheit,
Sein selbst genob in Himmelsglanz und Klarheit,
Und abgestreift den Erdensohn;
Ich, mehr als Cherub, dessen freie Kraft
Schon durch die Adern der Natur zu flieben
Und, schaffend, Götterleben zu genieben
Sich ahnungsvoll vermab, wie mub ich’s büben!
Ein Donnerwort hat mich hinweggerafft.
[[ I, God’s own image, who have seemed, forsooth,
Near to the mirror of eternal truth,
Compassed the power to shed the mortal clay
And revel in the self’s celestial day,
I, who presumed in puissance to out-soar
The cherubim, to flow in Nature’s veins,
With god-like joy in my creative pains,
I rode too high, and deep must I deplore:
One thunder-word has robbed me of my reins. ]]
Finite man cannot transcend his earthly bounds, if he is to remain man and of the earth. Such is the inevitable logic to which he is quickly led forward, and which the University had seemingly failed to teach him. The mal du siècle, of which Faust came to be so outstanding a representative, is founded upon this concept of man’s nature. By a supreme stroke of irony, it is at this moment, when Faust begins to see the impossibility of taking Heaven by storm, that we learn -- Wagner mentions the fact just before leaving -- that it is Easter Eve.
The tragedy, we remind ourselves, rests upon a universal basis, as the
Prologue in Heaven had already indicated. It springs not merely from the
inadequacy of knowledge, or the insufficiency of magic, or Faust’s lack
of human experience, but from all these, indeed from the limitation of
earthly life itself. Beside the eternal forces of the universe, man is
a pygmy, despite the exaltation caused by the consciousness of his oneness
with its glories. What is left for Faust now? Can he continue on the same
lines as hitherto? Is he not limited by the consequences of living as he
has done, so that no other kind of life is possible, futile though he recognizes
it to be?
|Ach! unsre Taten selbst, so gut als unsre
Sie hemmen unsres Lebens Gang.
[[ Alas, not only woes, but actions done,
Walk by us still, to hedge us on our way. ]]
It is not feasible to separate our infinite contemplations from our
finite attributes. As long as we remain human beings, we are doomed to
frustration. We may be complacent, or we may allow ourselves to be paralysed
by Care in the shape of our daily domestic anxieties and responsibilities.
Care, who plays a significant role at a later crisis in the tragedy, causes
man’s endeavour to relax; she is undoubtedly an ally of Mephistopheles,
and Faust instinctively agrees with the Lord in revolting against her.
|Die Sorge nistet gleich im tiefen Herzen,
Dort wirket sie geheime Schmerzen,
Unruhig wiegt sie sich und störet Lust und Ruh’;
Sie deckt sich stets mit neuen Masken zu,
Sie mag als Haus und Hof, als Weib und Kind erscheinen,
Als Feuer, Wasser, Dolch und Gift;
Du bebst vor allem, was nicht trifft,
Und was du nie verherst, das mubt du stets beweinen.
[[ Full soon in deepest hearts care finds a nest,
And builds her bed of pain, in secret still,
There rocks herself, disturbing joy and rest,
And ever takes new shapes to work her will,
With fluttering fears for home or wife or child,
A thought of poison, flood or perils wild;
For man must quail at bridges never crossed,
Lamenting even things he never lost. ]]
Life, Faust feels, that is constantly concerned to protect itself against
common daily fears and preoccupations is worthless. His books and instruments,
which he has inherited and no longer uses, are as millstones round his
neck and limit his freedom, for inheritance too is a shackle. Only that
which is immediately useful is of value. And in any case mechanical contrivances
can never bring us nearer to the secrets of nature, which can only be revealed
to the heart that is humbly opened to receive her message.
|Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast,
Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen.
Was man nicht nützt, ist eine schwere Last;
Nur was der Augenblick erschafft, das kann er nützen.
[[ The things that men inherit come alone
To true possession by the spirit’s toil
What can’t be used is trash; what can, a prize
Begotten from the moment as it flies. ]]
These reflections add to Faust’s despondency concerning the emptiness
of his existence and his thoughts turn to death. Broken by the sense of
earthly bondage at the hands of Care, his impulse is to escape. His eye
lights upon poison. He has achieved a reductio ad absurdum of life;
its only value comes when it can be cast off. Suicide offers the sole remaining
approach to the central meaning of the universe from which earthly existence
excludes him. It is, moreover, the supreme proof that he can still satisfy
his god-given impulse to act. Death is to be a deed of heroism, not the
end of life but the gateway to something higher.
|Ins hohe Meer werd’ ich hinausgewiesen,
Die Spiegelflut erglänzt zu meinen Füben,
Zu neuen Ufern lockt ein neuer Tag.
Ein Feuerwagen schwebt, auf leichten Schwingen,
An mich heran! Ich fühle mich bereit,
Auf neuer Bahn den Ather zu durchdringen,
Zu neuen Sphären reiner Tätigkeit. (ll. 699-705)
His act will be one of resolute self-assertion.
Hier ist es Zeit, durch Taten zu beweisen,
Das Manneswürde nicht der Götterhöhe weicht.
[[ I hear a call towards the open main,
My tide of soul is ebbing more and more,
Lies at my feet the shining, glassy plain,
A new day beckons to another shore.
As if on wings, a chariot of fire
Draws near me. I am ready to be free.
Piercing the ether, new-born, I aspire
To rise to spheres of pure activity.
This soaring life, this bliss of godlike birth,
How shall we earn it, who from worms must rise?
Yet true the call: I spurn the sun of earth,
Leave, resolute, its loveliness. My eyes
I lift in daring to fling wide the gate
Whose threshold men have ever flinching trod.
The hour is come, as master of my fate
To prove in man the stature of a god... ]]
At this supreme moment, Faust’s dual nature saves him. His earthly side (which, after all, is divine) draws him subtly back into life. His reflections upon the history of the goblet from which he is about to drink represent a first unconscious undermining of his resolution. Faust may have rejected historical research in his remarks to Wagner, but historical consciousness, or memory, can play strange tricks. Choruses which chance at that moment to fall upon his ears from a midnight Easter service in a nearby church add their decisive aid to his growing mood of reminiscence. Memory, we observe, is an earthly fetter; at this time of crisis it destroys Faust’s freedom of action. The Easter bells and music call forth recollections of his boyhood. It is not the force of religion, not faith -- he has long since abandoned that -- that keeps him alive. It is the thought of rebirth, of springtime, of the reawakening of all life, of the freshness and purity of youth, of the indistinctly apprehended love-impulse that now recalls him. And the reminder that he has no faith makes it illogical to think that he should try to enter the world to come, to which he had given so little attention! Religion acts in a very mysterious manner.
Faust is deflected from his purpose -- the only time in the whole drama
in which he is. It is significant that after Mephistopheles’ arrival he
is never deflected again. He recaptures the lost yearnings of youth. His
attitude to life changes abruptly; he re-enters it with incipient positive
aspirations, with something of the naïveté which he had not
known for a long time. He is ready for life and its trials, and for Mephistopheles.
The chance hearing of the Easter hymn has caused the force of love -- ‘der
Liebe holde Schranken’ -- to enter his consciousness; he is reminded that
he is part of the eternal growth that is the universe in a manner that
magic had not really been able to effect; he feels a harmony and elevation
of soul, as we see in the next scene, that we have not observed in him
before. He is recalled from damnation, and the possibility of salvation
is placed before him.
|. . . An diesen Klang von Jugend auf gewöhnt,
Ruft er auch jetzt zurück mich in das Leben.
Sonst stürzte sich der Himmelsliebe Kuß
Auf mich herab, in ernster Sabbatstille;
Da klang so ahnungsvoll des Gloekentones Fülle,
Und ein Gebet war brünstiger Genuß;
Ein unbegreiflich holdes Sehnen
Trieb mich, durch Wald und Wiesen hinzugehn,
Und unter tausend heißen Tränen
Fühlt’ ich mir eine Welt entstehn.
Dies Lied verkündete der Jugend muntre Spiele,
Der Frühlingsfeier freies Glück;
Erinnrung hält mich nun, mit kindlichem Gefühle,
Vom letzten, ernsten Schritt zurück.
O tönet fort, ihr süßen Himmelslieder!
Die Träne quillt, die Erde hat mich wieder!
[[ And yet the sound brings back my soul’s indenture
Of early years, calls me to life again.
Time was, with sweetest touch dear heaven’s kiss
Would light upon me in the Sabbath stillness.
Then had the bells a sound of boding fulness
And every prayer was ecstasy of bliss.
A strangely lovely fervency, a yearning
Drove me to stray in fields and forests far,
And when my heart was loosed, and tears came burning,
I neared the threshold where no sorrows are.
This melody the bliss of childhood taught me,
The song of innocence, the joy of spring;
And thoughts of youth, this solemn hour, have brought me
In my last step a childlike wavering.
Begin once more, O sweet celestial strain.
Tears dim my eyes: earth’s child I am again. ]]
The Easter anthem, appropriately enough composed by Goethe on Easter
Monday, 1798, emphasizes the certainty of God’s covenant with man (Faust
uses the words ‘Gewißheit einem neuen Bunde’, l. 748). In Faust’s
own case the application is of a very special kind, in view of what has
happened concerning him in Heaven. Every word that is sung speaks of the
liberation of mankind by the supreme victory of the Resurrection; of the
joy and felicity that are to replace human chains and imperfections; of
the power of love, embodied particularly in woman, which culminates in
loyalty and self-sacrificing humility and gains salvation for those --
sinners even -- who display it; of grace pointing the way to Christ which
humans cannot find without help; of the earth as a testing-ground; of the
serene creativeness and growth of the universe as compared with the sorrows
and longings of this human life; of the supreme example that is to be followed
in Christ, if we will praise him by our deeds, love, charity, fellow-feeling
and witness. Goethe did not, of course, intend that this should be taken
as a statement of orthodox Christianity. It is, at the same time, a statement
of cardinal importance as foreshadowing the means by which Faust is in
the end to be redeemed. It is a repetition of the Lord’s cogent teaching
in the Prologue. Salvation is not to be found in the four faculties of
the University, or in magic, sensuality, ambition or power, but in self-sacrificial
devotion to the needs of mankind.
|Christ ist erstanden!
Selig der Liebende,
Der die betrübende,
Heilsam’ und übende
[[ Christ is risen!
Joy to mortality,
Men whom fatality
Doomed to a prison. ]]
Christ ist erstanden,
It is not necessary to assume that Faust actually hears the precise words that are sung, though he may well have known them in his youth and be able to recall them. There is no reason why the anthem should not be familiar to him, despite his loss of faith. Its moral content, in view of his glimmering social sense, must have been just as important as the moral content of the Christian doctrine was to Goethe, indifferent though he was to refinements of dogma.
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