Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Faust; a Tragedy, Translated from the German of Goethe online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryJohann Wolfgang von GoetheFaust; a Tragedy, Translated from the German of Goethe → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Bidwell and the PG Online
Distributed Proofreading Team












Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1856,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court
of the District of Rhode Island.



Perhaps some apology ought to be given to English scholars, that is, those
who do not know German, (to those, at least, who do not know what sort of
a thing Faust is in the original,) for offering another translation to the
public, of a poem which has been already translated, not only in a literal
prose form, but also, twenty or thirty times, in metre, and sometimes with
great spirit, beauty, and power.

The author of the present version, then, has no knowledge that a rendering
of this wonderful poem into the exact and ever-changing metre of the
original has, until now, been so much as attempted. To name only one
defect, the very best versions which he has seen neglect to follow the
exquisite artist in the evidently planned and orderly intermixing of
_male_ and _female_ rhymes, _i.e._ rhymes which fall on the last syllable
and those which fall on the last but one. Now, every careful student of
the versification of Faust must feel and see that Goethe did not
intersperse the one kind of rhyme with the other, at random, as those
translators do; who, also, give the female rhyme (on which the vivacity of
dialogue and description often so much depends,) in so small a proportion.

A similar criticism might be made of their liberty in neglecting Goethe's
method of alternating different measures with each other.

It seems as if, in respect to metre, at least, they had asked themselves,
how would Goethe have written or shaped this in English, had that been his
native language, instead of seeking _con amore_ (and _con fidelità_) as
they should have done, to reproduce, both in spirit and in form, the
movement, so free and yet orderly, of the singularly endowed and
accomplished poet whom they undertook to represent.

As to the objections which Hayward and some of his reviewers have
instituted in advance against the possibility of a good and faithful
metrical translation of a poem like Faust, they seem to the present
translator full of paradox and sophistry. For instance, take this
assertion of one of the reviewers: "The sacred and mysterious union of
thought with verse, twin-born and immortally wedded from the moment of
their common birth, can never be understood by those who desire verse
translations of good poetry." If the last part of this statement had read
"by those who can be contented with _prose_ translations of good poetry,"
the position would have been nearer the truth. This much we might well
admit, that, if the alternative were either to have a poem like Faust in a
metre different and glaringly different from the original, or to have it
in simple and strong prose, then the latter alternative would be the one
every tasteful and feeling scholar would prefer; but surely to every one
who can read the original or wants to know how this great song _sung
itself_ (as Carlyle says) out of Goethe's soul, a mere prose rendering
must be, comparatively, a _corpus mortuum._

The translator most heartily dissents from Hayward's assertion that a
translator of Faust "must sacrifice either metre or meaning." At least he
flatters himself that he has made, in the main, (not a compromise between
meaning and melody, though in certain instances he may have fallen into
that, but) a combination of the meaning with the melody, which latter is
so important, so vital a part of the lyric poem's meaning, in any worthy
sense. "No poetic translation," says Hayward's reviewer, already quoted,
"can give the rhythm and rhyme of the original; it can only substitute the
rhythm and rhyme of the translator." One might just as well say "no
_prose_ translation can give the _sense and spirit_ of the original; it
can only substitute the _sense and spirit of the words and phrases of the
translator's language_;" and then, these two assertions balancing each
other, there will remain in the metrical translator's favor, that he may
come as near to giving both the letter and the spirit, as the effects of
the Babel dispersion will allow.

As to the original creation, which he has attempted here to reproduce, the
translator might say something, but prefers leaving his readers to the
poet himself, as revealed in the poem, and to the various commentaries of
which we have some accounts, at least, in English. A French translator of
the poem speaks in his introduction as follows: "This Faust, conceived by
him in his youth, completed in ripe age, the idea of which he carried with
him through all the commotions of his life, as Camoens bore his poem with
him through the waves, this Faust contains him entire. The thirst for
knowledge and the martyrdom of doubt, had they not tormented his early
years? Whence came to him the thought of taking refuge in a supernatural
realm, of appealing to invisible powers, which plunged him, for a
considerable time, into the dreams of Illuminati and made him even invent
a religion? This irony of Mephistopheles, who carries on so audacious a
game with the weakness and the desires of man, is it not the mocking,
scornful side of the poet's spirit, a leaning to sullenness, which can be
traced even into the earliest years of his life, a bitter leaven thrown
into a strong soul forever by early satiety? The character of Faust
especially, the man whose burning, untiring heart can neither enjoy
fortune nor do without it, who gives himself unconditionally and watches
himself with mistrust, who unites the enthusiasm of passion and the
dejectedness of despair, is not this an eloquent opening up of the most
secret and tumultuous part of the poet's soul? And now, to complete the
image of his inner life, he has added the transcendingly sweet person of
Margaret, an exalted reminiscence of a young girl, by whom, at the age of
fourteen, he thought himself beloved, whose image ever floated round him,
and has contributed some traits to each of his heroines. This heavenly
surrender of a simple, good, and tender heart contrasts wonderfully with
the sensual and gloomy passion of the lover, who, in the midst of his
love-dreams, is persecuted by the phantoms of his imagination and by the
nightmares of thought, with those sorrows of a soul, which is crushed, but
not extinguished, which is tormented by the invincible want of happiness
and the bitter feeling, how hard a thing it is to receive or to bestow."


Once more ye waver dreamily before me,
Forms that so early cheered my troubled eyes!
To hold you fast doth still my heart implore me?
Still bid me clutch the charm that lures and flies?
Ye crowd around! come, then, hold empire o'er me,
As from the mist and haze of thought ye rise;
The magic atmosphere, your train enwreathing,
Through my thrilled bosom youthful bliss is breathing.

Ye bring with you the forms of hours Elysian,
And shades of dear ones rise to meet my gaze;
First Love and Friendship steal upon my vision
Like an old tale of legendary days;
Sorrow renewed, in mournful repetition,
Runs through life's devious, labyrinthine ways;
And, sighing, names the good (by Fortune cheated
Of blissful hours!) who have before me fleeted.

These later songs of mine, alas! will never
Sound in their ears to whom the first were sung!
Scattered like dust, the friendly throng forever!
Mute the first echo that so grateful rung!
To the strange crowd I sing, whose very favor
Like chilling sadness on my heart is flung;
And all that kindled at those earlier numbers
Roams the wide earth or in its bosom slumbers.

And now I feel a long-unwonted yearning
For that calm, pensive spirit-realm, to-day;
Like an Aeolian lyre, (the breeze returning,)
Floats in uncertain tones my lisping lay;
Strange awe comes o'er me, tear on tear falls burning,
The rigid heart to milder mood gives way!
What I possess I see afar off lying,
And what I lost is real and undying.



_Manager. Dramatic Poet. Merry Person._

_Manager_. You who in trouble and distress
Have both held fast your old allegiance,
What think ye? here in German regions
Our enterprise may hope success?
To please the crowd my purpose has been steady,
Because they live and let one live at least.
The posts are set, the boards are laid already,
And every one is looking for a feast.
They sit, with lifted brows, composed looks wearing,
Expecting something that shall set them staring.
I know the public palate, that's confest;
Yet never pined so for a sound suggestion;
True, they are not accustomed to the best,
But they have read a dreadful deal, past question.
How shall we work to make all fresh and new,
Acceptable and profitable, too?
For sure I love to see the torrent boiling,
When towards our booth they crowd to find a place,
Now rolling on a space and then recoiling,
Then squeezing through the narrow door of grace:
Long before dark each one his hard-fought station
In sight of the box-office window takes,
And as, round bakers' doors men crowd to escape starvation,
For tickets here they almost break their necks.
This wonder, on so mixed a mass, the Poet
Alone can work; to-day, my friend, O, show it!

_Poet_. Oh speak not to me of that motley ocean,
Whose roar and greed the shuddering spirit chill!
Hide from my sight that billowy commotion
That draws us down the whirlpool 'gainst our will.
No, lead me to that nook of calm devotion,
Where blooms pure joy upon the Muses' hill;
Where love and friendship aye create and cherish,
With hand divine, heart-joys that never perish.
Ah! what, from feeling's deepest fountain springing,
Scarce from the stammering lips had faintly passed,
Now, hopeful, venturing forth, now shyly clinging,
To the wild moment's cry a prey is cast.
Oft when for years the brain had heard it ringing
It comes in full and rounded shape at last.
What shines, is born but for the moment's pleasure;
The genuine leaves posterity a treasure.

_Merry Person_. Posterity! I'm sick of hearing of it;
Supposing I the future age would profit,
Who then would furnish ours with fun?
For it must have it, ripe and mellow;
The presence of a fine young fellow,
Is cheering, too, methinks, to any one.
Whoso can pleasantly communicate,
Will not make war with popular caprices,
For, as the circle waxes great,
The power his word shall wield increases.
Come, then, and let us now a model see,
Let Phantasy with all her various choir,
Sense, reason, passion, sensibility,
But, mark me, folly too! the scene inspire.

_Manager_. But the great point is action! Every one
Comes as spectator, and the show's the fun.
Let but the plot be spun off fast and thickly,
So that the crowd shall gape in broad surprise,
Then have you made a wide impression quickly,
You are the man they'll idolize.
The mass can only be impressed by masses;
Then each at last picks out his proper part.
Give much, and then to each one something passes,
And each one leaves the house with happy heart.
Have you a piece, give it at once in pieces!
Such a ragout your fame increases;
It costs as little pains to play as to invent.
But what is gained, if you a whole present?
Your public picks it presently to pieces.

_Poet_. You do not feel how mean a trade like that must be!
In the true Artist's eyes how false and hollow!
Our genteel botchers, well I see,
Have given the maxims that you follow.

_Manager_. Such charges pass me like the idle wind;
A man who has right work in mind
Must choose the instruments most fitting.
Consider what soft wood you have for splitting,
And keep in view for whom you write!
If this one from _ennui_ seeks flight,
That other comes full from the groaning table,
Or, the worst case of all to cite,
From reading journals is for thought unable.
Vacant and giddy, all agog for wonder,
As to a masquerade they wing their way;
The ladies give themselves and all their precious plunder
And without wages help us play.
On your poetic heights what dream comes o'er you?
What glads a crowded house? Behold
Your patrons in array before you!
One half are raw, the other cold.
One, after this play, hopes to play at cards,
One a wild night to spend beside his doxy chooses,
Poor fools, why court ye the regards,
For such a set, of the chaste muses?
I tell you, give them more and ever more and more,
And then your mark you'll hardly stray from ever;
To mystify be your endeavor,
To satisfy is labor sore....
What ails you? Are you pleased or pained? What notion - -

_Poet_. Go to, and find thyself another slave!
What! and the lofty birthright Nature gave,
The noblest talent Heaven to man has lent,
Thou bid'st the Poet fling to folly's ocean!
How does he stir each deep emotion?
How does he conquer every element?
But by the tide of song that from his bosom springs,
And draws into his heart all living things?
When Nature's hand, in endless iteration,
The thread across the whizzing spindle flings,
When the complex, monotonous creation
Jangles with all its million strings:
Who, then, the long, dull series animating,
Breaks into rhythmic march the soulless round?
And, to the law of All each member consecrating,
Bids one majestic harmony resound?
Who bids the tempest rage with passion's power?
The earnest soul with evening-redness glow?
Who scatters vernal bud and summer flower
Along the path where loved ones go?
Who weaves each green leaf in the wind that trembles
To form the wreath that merit's brow shall crown?
Who makes Olympus fast? the gods assembles?
The power of manhood in the Poet shown.

_Merry Person_. Come, then, put forth these noble powers,
And, Poet, let thy path of flowers
Follow a love-adventure's winding ways.
One comes and sees by chance, one burns, one stays,
And feels the gradual, sweet entangling!
The pleasure grows, then comes a sudden jangling,
Then rapture, then distress an arrow plants,
And ere one dreams of it, lo! _there_ is a romance.
Give us a drama in this fashion!
Plunge into human life's full sea of passion!
Each lives it, few its meaning ever guessed,
Touch where you will, 'tis full of interest.
Bright shadows fleeting o'er a mirror,
A spark of truth and clouds of error,
By means like these a drink is brewed
To cheer and edify the multitude.
The fairest flower of the youth sit listening
Before your play, and wait the revelation;
Each melancholy heart, with soft eyes glistening,
Draws sad, sweet nourishment from your creation;
This passion now, now that is stirred, by turns,
And each one sees what in his bosom burns.
Open alike, as yet, to weeping and to laughter,
They still admire the flights, they still enjoy the show;
Him who is formed, can nothing suit thereafter;
The yet unformed with thanks will ever glow.

_Poet_. Ay, give me back the joyous hours,
When I myself was ripening, too,
When song, the fount, flung up its showers
Of beauty ever fresh and new.
When a soft haze the world was veiling,
Each bud a miracle bespoke,
And from their stems a thousand flowers I broke,
Their fragrance through the vales exhaling.
I nothing and yet all possessed,
Yearning for truth and in illusion blest.
Give me the freedom of that hour,
The tear of joy, the pleasing pain,
Of hate and love the thrilling power,
Oh, give me back my youth again!

_Merry Person_. Youth, my good friend, thou needest certainly
When ambushed foes are on thee springing,
When loveliest maidens witchingly
Their white arms round thy neck are flinging,
When the far garland meets thy glance,
High on the race-ground's goal suspended,
When after many a mazy dance
In drink and song the night is ended.
But with a free and graceful soul
To strike the old familiar lyre,
And to a self-appointed goal
Sweep lightly o'er the trembling wire,
There lies, old gentlemen, to-day
Your task; fear not, no vulgar error blinds us.
Age does not make us childish, as they say,
But we are still true children when it finds us.

_Manager_. Come, words enough you two have bandied,
Now let us see some deeds at last;
While you toss compliments full-handed,
The time for useful work flies fast.
Why talk of being in the humor?
Who hesitates will never be.
If you are poets (so says rumor)
Now then command your poetry.
You know full well our need and pleasure,
We want strong drink in brimming measure;
Brew at it now without delay!
To-morrow will not do what is not done to-day.
Let not a day be lost in dallying,
But seize the possibility
Right by the forelock, courage rallying,
And forth with fearless spirit sallying, -
Once in the yoke and you are free.
Upon our German boards, you know it,
What any one would try, he may;
Then stint me not, I beg, to-day,
In scenery or machinery, Poet.
With great and lesser heavenly lights make free,
Spend starlight just as you desire;
No want of water, rocks or fire
Or birds or beasts to you shall be.
So, in this narrow wooden house's bound,
Stride through the whole creation's round,
And with considerate swiftness wander
From heaven, through this world, to the world down yonder.



_The three archangels_, RAPHAEL, GABRIEL, _and_ MICHAEL, _come forward_.]

_Raphael_. The sun, in ancient wise, is sounding,
With brother-spheres, in rival song;
And, his appointed journey rounding,
With thunderous movement rolls along.
His look, new strength to angels lending,
No creature fathom can for aye;
The lofty works, past comprehending,
Stand lordly, as on time's first day.

_Gabriel_. And swift, with wondrous swiftness fleeting,
The pomp of earth turns round and round,
The glow of Eden alternating
With shuddering midnight's gloom profound;
Up o'er the rocks the foaming ocean
Heaves from its old, primeval bed,
And rocks and seas, with endless motion,
On in the spheral sweep are sped.

_Michael_. And tempests roar, glad warfare waging,
From sea to land, from land to sea,
And bind round all, amidst their raging,
A chain of giant energy.
There, lurid desolation, blazing,
Foreruns the volleyed thunder's way:
Yet, Lord, thy messengers[2] are praising
The mild procession of thy day.

_All Three_. The sight new strength to angels lendeth,
For none thy being fathom may,
The works, no angel comprehendeth,
Stand lordly as on time's first day.

_Mephistopheles_. Since, Lord, thou drawest near us once again,
And how we do, dost graciously inquire,
And to be pleased to see me once didst deign,
I too among thy household venture nigher.
Pardon, high words I cannot labor after,
Though the whole court should look on me with scorn;
My pathos certainly would stir thy laughter,
Hadst thou not laughter long since quite forsworn.
Of sun and worlds I've nought to tell worth mention,
How men torment themselves takes my attention.
The little God o' the world jogs on the same old way
And is as singular as on the world's first day.
A pity 'tis thou shouldst have given
The fool, to make him worse, a gleam of light from heaven;
He calls it reason, using it
To be more beast than ever beast was yet.
He seems to me, (your grace the word will pardon,)
Like a long-legg'd grasshopper in the garden,
Forever on the wing, and hops and sings
The same old song, as in the grass he springs;
Would he but stay there! no; he needs must muddle
His prying nose in every puddle.

_The Lord_. Hast nothing for our edification?
Still thy old work of accusation?
Will things on earth be never right for thee?

_Mephistopheles_. No, Lord! I find them still as bad as bad can be.
Poor souls! their miseries seem so much to please 'em,
I scarce can find it in my heart to tease 'em.

_The Lord_. Knowest thou Faust?

_Mephistopheles_. The Doctor?

_The Lord_. Ay, my servant!

_Mephistopheles_. He!
Forsooth! he serves you in a famous fashion;
No earthly meat or drink can feed his passion;
Its grasping greed no space can measure;
Half-conscious and half-crazed, he finds no rest;
The fairest stars of heaven must swell his treasure.
Each highest joy of earth must yield its zest,
Not all the world - the boundless azure -
Can fill the void within his craving breast.

_The Lord_. He serves me somewhat darkly, now, I grant,
Yet will he soon attain the light of reason.
Sees not the gardener, in the green young plant,
That bloom and fruit shall deck its coming season?

_Mephistopheles_. What will you bet? You'll surely lose your wager!
If you will give me leave henceforth,
To lead him softly on, like an old stager.

_The Lord_. So long as he shall live on earth,
Do with him all that you desire.
Man errs and staggers from his birth.

_Mephistopheles_. Thank you; I never did aspire
To have with dead folk much transaction.
In full fresh cheeks I take the greatest satisfaction.
A corpse will never find me in the house;
I love to play as puss does with the mouse.

_The Lord_. All right, I give thee full permission!
Draw down this spirit from its source,
And, canst thou catch him, to perdition
Carry him with thee in thy course,
But stand abashed, if thou must needs confess,
That a good man, though passion blur his vision,
Has of the right way still a consciousness.

_Mephistopheles_. Good! but I'll make it a short story.
About my wager I'm by no means sorry.
And if I gain my end with glory
Allow me to exult from a full breast.
Dust shall he eat and that with zest,
Like my old aunt, the snake, whose fame is hoary.

_The Lord_. Well, go and come, and make thy trial;
The like of thee I never yet did hate.
Of all the spirits of denial
The scamp is he I best can tolerate.
Man is too prone, at best, to seek the way that's easy,
He soon grows fond of unconditioned rest;
And therefore such a comrade suits him best,
Who spurs and works, true devil, always busy.
But you, true sons of God, in growing measure,
Enjoy rich beauty's living stores of pleasure!
The Word[3] divine that lives and works for aye,
Fold you in boundless love's embrace alluring,
And what in floating vision glides away,
That seize ye and make fast with thoughts enduring.

[_Heaven closes, the archangels disperse._]

_Mephistopheles. [Alone.]_ I like at times to exchange with him a word,
And take care not to break with him. 'Tis civil
In the old fellow[4] and so great a Lord
To talk so kindly with the very devil.


_Night. In a narrow high-arched Gothic room_,
FAUST _sitting uneasy at his desk_.

_Faust_. Have now, alas! quite studied through
Philosophy and Medicine,
And Law, and ah! Theology, too,
With hot desire the truth to win!
And here, at last, I stand, poor fool!
As wise as when I entered school;
Am called Magister, Doctor, indeed, -
Ten livelong years cease not to lead
Backward and forward, to and fro,
My scholars by the nose - and lo!
Just nothing, I see, is the sum of our learning,
To the very core of my heart 'tis burning.
'Tis true I'm more clever than all the foplings,
Doctors, Magisters, Authors, and Popelings;
Am plagued by no scruple, nor doubt, nor cavil,
Nor lingering fear of hell or devil -
What then? all pleasure is fled forever;
To know one thing I vainly endeavor,
There's nothing wherein one fellow-creature
Could be mended or bettered with me for a teacher.
And then, too, nor goods nor gold have I,
Nor fame nor worldly dignity, -
A condition no dog could longer live in!
And so to magic my soul I've given,
If, haply, by spirits' mouth and might,
Some mysteries may not be brought to light;
That to teach, no longer may be my lot,
With bitter sweat, what I need to be taught;
That I may know what the world contains
In its innermost heart and finer veins,
See all its energies and seeds
And deal no more in words but in deeds.
O full, round Moon, didst thou but thine
For the last time on this woe of mine!
Thou whom so many a midnight I
Have watched, at this desk, come up the sky:
O'er books and papers, a dreary pile,
Then, mournful friend! uprose thy smile!
Oh that I might on the mountain-height,
Walk in the noon of thy blessed light,
Round mountain-caverns with spirits hover,
Float in thy gleamings the meadows over,
And freed from the fumes of a lore-crammed brain,
Bathe in thy dew and be well again!
Woe! and these walls still prison me?
Dull, dismal hole! my curse on thee!

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryJohann Wolfgang von GoetheFaust; a Tragedy, Translated from the German of Goethe → online text (page 1 of 10)