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Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

translated by George Madison Priest
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Mephistopheles. Why draw me into this dark gallery?
Is not in there enough of sport,
Enough of fun and fraud and raillery
Amid the crowded motley of the court?
Faust. Don't speak of tricks! Your jests are old and hoary;
Down to the very soles you've worn that story;
But now you're going to and fro to flee
From having any talk with me.
I am tormented further things to do;
The Chamberlain is urging and the Steward too.
The Emperor orders - straightway must it be-
Both Helena and Paris will he see,
Of man and woman in their true ideal
Demands to see the forms distinct and real.
To work! I gave my word - I must not break it.
Mephistopheles. A foolish promise - fool you were to make it.
Faust. Whither your powers lead us, friend,
You have not well reflected;
We first have made him rich - no end!
Now to amuse him we're expected.
Mephistopheles. You fancy these things easy to arrange.
Here where we stand, the steps are steeper.
You grapple with a realm most strange,
And wantonly will plunge in debt still deeper.
You think that Helena is summoned here
As quickly as the paper spectres were.
With witches' witchery and ghostly ghost,
With changeling dwarfs I'm ready at my post;
But devils' darlings, though one may not flout them,
As heroines no one goes mad about them.
Faust. There you go harping on the same old chord!
Into uncertainty you always lead us,
Sire of all hindrances that can impede us;
For each new help you want a new reward.
Mutter a little and the deed is done;
She will be here ere I can turn me.
Mephistopheles. The heathen-folk do not concern me.
They occupy a hell that's all their own.
But help there is.
Faust. Quick! Tell its history!
Mephistopheles. Not glad do I reveal a loftier mystery-
Enthroned sublime in solitude are goddesses;
Around them is no place, a time still less;
To speak of them embarrasses.
They are the Mothers!
Faust [terrified]. Mothers!
Mephistopheles. Do you fear?
Faust. The Mothers! Mothers! Strange the word I hear.
Mephistopheles. Strange is it. Goddesses, to men unknown,
Whom we are loath to name or own.
Deep must you dig to reach their dwelling ever;
You are to blame that now we need their favour.
Faust. Whither the way?
Mephistopheles. No way! To the Unexplorable,
Never to be explored; to the Unimplorable,
Never to be implored. Are in the mood?
There are no locks, no bars are to be riven;
Through solitudes you will be whirled and driven.
Can you imagine wastes and solitude?
Faust. I think that you might save yourself such chatter;
It savours of the witch's-kitchen patter
After a long, long interlude.
Was I not forced to live with men?
Learn the inane teach the inane?
If I spoke wisely, true to my conviction,
Then doubly loud resounded contradiction.
Indeed, from mankind, so perversely given,
To solitude and deserts I was driven;
Till not to be too lone and all-forsaken,
At last to devil's company I've taken.
Mephistopheles. And had you swum to ocean's farthest verge
And utter boundlessness beheld,
Still yonder you'd have seen surge upon surge;
Although impending doom your fear compelled,
You'd have seen something. Dolphins you'd have seen
Cleaving the hushed ocean's emerald-green,
Have seen the moving clouds, sun, moon, and star.
Naught will you see in that vast Void afar,
Nor hear your footstep when it's pressed,
Nor find firm ground where you can rest.
Faust. You speak as of all mystagogues the chief,
Whoever brought trustful neophytes to grief;
Only reversed. Into the Void I'm sent,
That art and power I may there augment.
You treat me like the cat's-paw you desire
To snatch the chestnuts for you from the fire,
Come, let us fathom it, whatever may befall,
In this your Naught I hope to find my All.
Mephistopheles. I praise you, truly, ere you part from me,
Since that you understand the Devil I can see.
Here, take this key.
Faust. That tiny, little thing!
Mephistopheles. Seize and esteem it, see what it may bring!
Faust. It's growing in my hand! it flashes, glows!
Mephistopheles. Will you see now what blessing it bestows?
The key will scent the right place from all others;
Follow it down, 'twill lead you to the Mothers.
Faust [shuddering]. The Mothers! Like a blow it strikes my ear!
What is that word that I don't like to hear?
Mephistopheles. So narrow-minded, scared by each new word?
Will you but hear what you've already heard?
Let naught disturb you, though it strangely rings,
You! long since wonted to most wondrous things.
Faust. And yet in torpor there's no gain for me;
The thrill of awe is man's best quality.
Although the world may stifle every sense,
Enthralled, man deeply senses the Immense.
Mephistopheles. Descend, then! I might also tell you: Soar!
It's all the same. Escape from the Existent
To phantoms' unbound realms far distant!
Delight in what long since exists no more!
Like filmy clouds the phantoms glide along.
Brandish the key, hold off the shadowy throng.
Faust [inspired]. Good! Gripping it, I feel new strength arise,
My breast expands. On, to the great emprise!
Mephistopheles. When you at last a glowing tripod see,
Then in the deepest of all realms you'll be.
You'll see the Mothers in the tripod's glow,
Some of them sitting, others stand and go,
As it may chance. Formation, transformation,
Eternal Mind's eternal re-creation.
Images of all creatures hover free,
They will not see you, only wraiths they see.
So, then, take courage, for the danger's great.
Go to that tripod, do not hesitate,
And touch it with the key!

[Faust assumes a decidedly commanding attitude with the key.]

Mephistopheles [observing him]. So - it is well
'Twill come and like a slave obey your spell.
Calmly you'll rise, upborne by fortune rare,
And have the tripod here ere they're aware.
And when you've brought it hither, you can cite
Hero and heroine from the realms of night,
The first to face that deed and venture on it.
It's done and you're the one who will have done it.
Then must the incense-cloud, by magic hand,
Turn into gods, as gods before you stand.
Faust. And now what?
Mephistopheles. Downward let your being strain!
Stamping, sink hence and, stamping, rise again!

[Faust stamps and sinks out of sight.]

Mephistopheles. I only hope he'll profit from the key!
Will he come back? I'm curious to see.

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