Danger in Being Young and Fair

Friday, 11 April 2014

Faust etching by Rembrandt

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Faust. Part I.
Vol. 19, pp. 115-131 of The Harvard Classics

The virgin beauty of Margaret enchanted Faust, who dazzled her with the brilliance of many gems. Margaret innocently took his gifts, believing that beauty should not "blush unseen" - but unmindful of consequences to follow.


MEPHISTOPHELES

That I my anxious zeal may prove,
Your pangs to sooth and aid your love,
A single moment will we not delay,
Will lead you to her room this very day.

FAUST

And shall I see her?—Have her?

MEPHISTOPHELES

                No!
She to a neighbour’s house will go;
But in her atmosphere alone,
The tedious hours meanwhile you may employ,
In blissful dreams of future joy.

FAUST

Can we go now?

MEPHISTOPHELES

                ’Tis yet too soon.

FAUST

Some present for my love procure!  (Exit.)

MEPHISTOPHELES

Presents so soon! ’tis well! success is sure!
Full many a goodly place I know,
And treasures buried long ago;
I must a bit o’erlook them now.  (Exit.)

EVENING. A SMALL AND NEAT ROOM
MARGARET
(braiding and binding up her hair)

I would give something now to know,
Who yonder gentleman could be!
He had a gallant air, I trow,
And doubtless was of high degree:
That written on his brow was seen—
Nor else would he so bold have been.  (Exit.)

MEPHISTOPHELES

Come in! tread softly! be discreet!

FAUST  (after a pause)

Begone and leave me, I entreat!

MEPHISTOPHELES  (looking round)

Not every maiden is so neat  (Exit.)

FAUST  (gazing round)

Welcome sweet twilight, calm and blest,
That in this hallow’d precinct reigns!
Fond yearning love, inspire my breast,
Feeding on hope’s sweet dew thy blissful pains!
What stillness here environs me!
Content and order brood around.
What fulness in this poverty!
In this small cell what bliss profound!  (He throws himself on the leather arm-chair beside the bed)
Receive me thou, who hast in thine embrace,
Welcom’d in joy and grief the ages flown!
How oft the children of a by-gone race
Have cluster’d round this patriarchal throne!
Haply she, also, whom I hold so dear,
For Christmas gift, with grateful joy possess’d,
Hath with the full round cheek of childhood, here,
Her grandsire’s wither’d hand devoutly press’d.
Maiden! I feel thy spirit haunt the place,
Breathing of order and abounding grace.
As with a mother’s voice it prompteth thee,
The pure white cover o’er the board to spread,
To strew the crisping sand beneath thy tread.
Dear hand! so godlike in its ministry!
The hut becomes a paradise through thee!
And here—  (He raises the bed-curtain.)
How thrills my pulse with strange delight!
Here could I linger hours untold;
Thou, Nature, didst in vision bright,
The embryo angel here unfold.
Here lay the child, her bosom warm
With life; while steeped in slumber’s dew,
To perfect grace, her godlike form,
With pure and hallow’d weavings grew!

And thou! ah here what seekest thou?
How quails mine inmost being now!
What wouldst thou here? what makes thy heart so sore?
Unhappy Faust! I know thee now no more.

Do I a magic atmosphere inhale?
Erewhile, my passion would not brook delay!
Now in a pure love-dream I melt away.
Are we the sport of every passing gale?

Should she return and enter now,
How wouldst thou rue thy guilty flame!
Proud vaunter—thou wouldst hide thy brow,—
And at her feet sink down with shame.

MEPHISTOPHELES

    Quick! quick! below I see her there.

FAUST

    Away! I will return no more!

MEPHISTOPHELES

    Here is a casket, with a store
    Of jewels, which I got elsewhere
    Just lay it in the press; make haste!
    I swear to you, ’twill turn her brain;
    Therein some trifles I have placed,
    Wherewith another to obtain.
    But child is child, and play is play.

FAUST

    I know not—shall I?

MEPHISTOPHELES

                Do you ask?
Perchance you would retain the treasure?
If such your wish, why then, I say,
Henceforth absolve me from my task,
Nor longer waste your hours of leisure.
I trust you’re not by avarice led!
I rub my hands, I scratch my head,—  (He places the casket in the press and closes the lock.)
Now quick! Away!
That soon the sweet young creature may
The wish and purpose of your heart obey;
Yet stand you there
As would you to the lecture-room repair,
As if before you stood,
Arrayed in flesh and blood,
Physics and metaphysics weird and grey!—
Away!  (Exeunt.)

MARGARET  (with a lamp)

        Here ’tis so close, so sultry now,  (She opens the window.)
Yet out of doors ’tis not so warm.
I feel so strange, I know not how—
I wish my mother would come home.
Through me there runs a shuddering—
I’m but a foolish timid thing!  (While undressing herself she begins to sing.)
    There was a king in Thule,
    True even to the grave;
    To whom his dying mistress
    A golden beaker gave.

    At every feast he drained it,
    Naught was to him so dear,
    And often as he drained it,
    Gush’d from his eyes the tear.

    When death came, unrepining
    His cities o’er he told;
    All to his heir resigning,
    Except his cup of gold.

    With many a knightly vassal
    At a royal feast sat he,
    In yon proud hall ancestral,
    In his castle o’er the sea.

    Up stood the jovial monarch,
    And quaff’d his last life’s glow,
    Then hurled the hallow’d goblet
    Into the flood below.

    He saw it splashing, drinking,
    And plunging in the sea;
    His eyes meanwhile were sinking,
    And never again drank he.  (She opens the press to put away her clothes, and perceives the casket.)
How comes this lovely casket here? The press
I locked, of that I’m confident.
’Tis very wonderful! What’s in it I can’t guess;
Perhaps ’twas brought by some one in distress,
And left in pledge for loan my mother lent.
Here by a ribbon hangs a little key!
I have a mind to open it and see!
Heavens! only look! what have we here!
In all my days ne’er saw I such a sight!
Jewels! which any noble dame might wear,
For some high pageant richly dight!
This chain—how would it look on me!
These splendid gems, whose may they be?  (She puts them on and steps before the glass.)
Were but the ear-rings only mine!
Thus one has quite another air.
What boots it to be young and fair?
It doubtless may be very fine;
But then, alas, none cares for you,
And praise sounds half like pity too.
Gold all doth lure,
Gold doth secure
All things. Alas, we poor!

PROMENADE
FAUST walking thoughtfully up and down. To him MEPHISTOPHELES

MEPHISTOPHELES

By all rejected love! By hellish fire I curse,
Would I knew aught to make my imprecation worse!

FAUST

What aileth thee? what chafes thee now so sore?
A face like that I never saw before!

MEPHISTOPHELES

I’d yield me to the devil instantly,
Did it not happen that myself am he!

FAUST

There must be some disorder in thy wit!
To rave thus like a madman, is it fit?

MEPHISTOPHELES

Think! only think! The gems for Gretchen brought,
Them hath a priest now made his own!—
A glimpse of them the mother caught,
And ’gan with secret fear to groan.
The woman’s scent is keen enough;
Doth ever in the prayer-book snuff;
Smells every article to ascertain
Whether the thing is holy or profane,
And scented in the jewels rare,
That there was not much blessing there.
“My child,” she cries, “ill-gotten good
Ensnares the soul, consumes the blood;
With them we’ll deck our Lady’s shrine,
She’ll cheer our souls with bread divine!”
At this poor Gretchen ’gan to pout;
’Tis a gift-horse, at least, she thought,
And sure, he godless cannot be,
Who brought them here so cleverly.
Straight for a priest the mother sent,
Who, when he understood the jest,
With what he saw was well content.
“This shows a pious mind!” Quoth he:
“Self-conquest is true victory.
The Church hath a good stomach, she, with zest,
Whole countries hath swallow’d down,
And never yet a surfeit known.
The Church alone, be it confessed,
Daughters, can ill-got wealth digest.”

FAUST

It is a general custom, too.
Practised alike by king and jew.

MEPHISTOPHELES

With that, clasp, chain, and ring, he swept
As they were mushrooms; and the casket,
Without one word of thanks, he kept,
As if of nuts it were a basket.
Promised reward in heaven, then forth he hied—
And greatly they were edified.

FAUST

And Gretchen!

MEPHISTOPHELES

              In unquiet mood
Knows neither what she would or should;
The trinkets night and day thinks o’er,
On him who brought them, dwells still more.

FAUST

The darling’s sorrow grieves me, bring
Another set without delay!
The first, methinks, was no great thing.

MEPHISTOPHELES

All’s to my gentleman child’s play!

FAUST

Plan all things to achieve my end!
Engage the attention of her friend!
No milk-and-water devil be,
And bring fresh jewels instantly!

MEPHISTOPHELES

Ay, sir! Most gladly I’ll obey. (FAUST exit.)

MEPHISTOPHELES

Your doting love-sick fool, with ease,
Merely his lady-love to please,
Sun, moon, and stars in sport would puff away.  (Exit.)

THE NEIGHBOUR’S HOUSE
MARTHA  (alone)

God pardon my dear husband, he
Doth not in truth act well by me!
Forth in the world abroad to roam,
And leave me on the straw at home.
And yet his will I ne’er did thwart,
God knows, I lov’d him from my heart.  (She weeps.)
Perchance he’s dead!—oh wretched state!—
Had I but a certificate!  (MARGARET comes)

MARGARET
Dame Martha!

MARTHA

              Gretchen?

MARGARET

                Only think!
My knees beneath me well-nigh sink!
Within my press I’ve found to-day,
Another case, of ebony.
And things—magnificent they are,
More costly than the first, by far.

MARTHA

You must not name it to your mother!
It would to shrift, just like the other.

MARGARET

Nay look at them! now only see!

MARTHA  (dresses her up)

Thou happy creature!

MARGARET

                Woe is me!
Them in the street I cannot wear,
Or in the church, or any where.

MARTHA

Come often over here to me,
The gems put on quite privately;
And then before the mirror walk an hour or so,
Thus we shall have our pleasure too.
Then suitable occasions we must seize,
As at a feast, to show them by degrees:
A chain at first, pearl ear-drops then,—your mother
Won’t see them, or we’ll coin some tale or other.

MARGARET

But, who, I wonder, could the caskets bring?
I fear there’s something wrong about the thing!  (A knock.)
Good heavens! can that my mother be?

MARTHA  (peering through the blind)

’Tis a strange gentleman, I see.
Come in!  (MEPHISTOPHELES enters)

MEPHISTOPHELES

          I’ve ventur’d to intrude to-day.
Ladies, excuse the liberty, I pray.  (He steps back respectfully before MARGARET.)
After dame Martha Schwerdtlein I inquire!

MARTHA

’Tis I. Pray what have you to say to me?

MEPHISTOPHELES  (aside to her)

I know you now,—and therefore will retire;
At present you’ve distinguished company.
Pardon the freedom, Madam, with your leave,
I will make free to call again at eve.

MARTHA  (aloud)

Why, child, of all strange notions, he
For some grand lady taketh thee!

MARGARET

I am, in truth, of humble blood—
The gentleman is far too good—
Nor gems nor trinkets are my own.

MEPHISTOPHELES

Oh ’tis not the mere ornaments alone;
Her glance and mien far more betray.
Rejoiced I am that I may stay.

MARTHA

Your business, Sir? I long to know—

MEPHISTOPHELES

Would I could happier tidings show!
I trust mine errand you’ll not let me rue;
Your husband’s dead, and greeteth you.

MARTHA

Is dead? True heart! Oh misery!
My husband dead! Oh, I shall die!

MARGARET

Alas! good Martha! don’t despair!

MEPHISTOPHELES

Now listen to the sad affair!

MARGARET

I for this cause should fear to love.
The loss my certain death would prove.

MEPHISTOPHELES

Joy still must sorrow, sorrow joy attend.

MARTHA

Proceed, and tell the story of his end!

MEPHISTOPHELES

At Padua, in St. Anthony’s,
In holy ground his body lies;
Quiet and cool his place of rest,
With pious ceremonials blest.

MARTHA

And had you naught besides to bring?

MEPHISTOPHELES

Oh yes! one grave and solemn prayer;
Let them for him three hundred masses sing!
But in my pockets, I have nothing there.

MARTHA

No trinket! no love-token did he send!
What every journeyman safe in his pouch will hoard
There for remembrance fondly stored,
And rather hungers, rather begs than spend!

MEPHISTOPHELES

Madam, in truth, it grieves me sore,
But he his gold not lavishly hath spent.
His failings too he deeply did repent,
Ay! and his evil plight bewail’d still more.

MARGARET

Alas! That men should thus be doomed to woe!
I for his soul will many a requiem pray.

MEPHISTOPHELES

A husband you deserve this very day;
A child so worthy to be loved.

MARGARET

                Ah no,
That time hath not yet come for me.

MEPHISTOPHELES

If not a spouse, a gallant let it be.
Among heaven’s choicest gifts, I place,
So sweet a darling to embrace.

MARGARET

Our land doth no such usage know.

MEPHISTOPHELES

Usage or not, it happens so.

MARTHA

Go on, I pray!

MEPHISTOPHELES

                I stood by his bedside.
Something less foul it was than dung;
’Twas straw half rotten; yet, he as a Christian died.
And sorely hath remorse his conscience wrung.
“Wretch that I was,” quoth he, with parting breath,
“So to forsake my business and my wife!
Ah! the remembrance is my death,
Could I but have her pardon in this life!”—

MARTHA  (weeping)

Dear soul! I’ve long forgiven him, indeed!

MEPHISTOPHELES

“Though she, God knows, was more to blame than I.”

MARTHA

He lied! What, on the brink of death to lie!

MEPHISTOPHELES

If I am skill’d the countenance to read,
He doubtless fabled as he parted hence.—
“No time had I to gape, or take my ease,” he said,
“First to get children, and then get them bread;
And bread, too, in the very widest sense;
Nor could I eat in peace even my proper share.”

MARTHA

What, all my truth, my love forgotten quite?
My weary drudgery by day and night!

MEPHISTOPHELES

Not so! He thought of you with tender care.
Quoth he: “Heaven knows how fervently I prayed,
For wife and children when from Malta bound;—
The prayer hath heaven with favour crowned;
We took a Turkish vessel which conveyed
Rich store of treasure for the Sultan’s court;
It’s own reward our gallant action brought;
The captur’d prize was shared among the crew
And of the treasure I received my due.”

MARTHA

How? Where? The treasure hath he buried, pray?

MEPHISTOPHELES

Where the four winds have blown it, who can say?
In Naples as he stroll’d, a stranger there,—
A comely maid took pity on my friend;
And gave such tokens of her love and care,
That he retained them to his blessed end.

MARTHA

Scoundrel! to rob his children of their bread!
And all this misery, this bitter need,
Could not his course of recklessness impede!

MEPHISTOPHELES

Well, he hath paid the forfeit, and is dead.
Now were I in your place, my counsel hear;
My weeds I’d wear for one chaste year,
And for another lover meanwhile would look out.

MARTHA

Alas, I might search far and near,
Not quickly should I find another like my first!
There could not be a fonder fool than mine,
Only he loved too well abroad to roam;
Loved foreign women too, and foreign wine,
And loved besides the dice accurs’d.

MEPHISTOPHELES

All had gone swimmingly, no doubt,
Had he but given you at home,
On his side, just as wide a range.
Upon such terms, to you I swear,
Myself with you would gladly rings exchange!

MARTHA

The gentleman is surely pleas’d to jest!

MEPHISTOPHELES  (aside)

Now to be off in time, were best!
She’d make the very devil marry her.  (To MARGARET.)
How fares it with your heart?

MARGARET

                How mean you, Sir?

MEPHISTOPHELES  (aside)

The sweet young innocent!  (aloud)
                Ladies, farewell!

MARGARET

Farewell!

MARTHA

          But ere you leave us, quickly tell!
I from a witness fain had heard,
Where, how, and when my husband died and was interr’d.
To forms I’ve always been attached indeed,
His death I fain would in the journals read.

MEPHISTOPHELES

Ay, madam, what two witnesses declare
Is held as valid everywhere;
A gallant friend I have, not far from here,
Who will for you before the judge appear.
I’ll bring him straight.

MARTHA

                I pray you do!

MEPHISTOPHELES

And this young lady, we shall find her too?
A noble youth, far travelled, he
Shows to the sex all courtesy.

MARGARET

I in his presence needs must blush for shame.

MEPHISTOPHELES

Not in the presence of a crowned king!

MARTHA

The garden, then, behind my house, we’ll name,

There we’ll await you both this evening.
 

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