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The World's Love Tragedy

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Faust. Part I.
Vol. 19, pp. 158-167 of The Harvard Classics

"Almighty God, I am undone." With this cry of despair, Mar­garet witnessed the fiendish work of Faust, her lover, who bartered his immortal soul for worldly pleasure. A thrilling drama, based on a famous medieval legend.
(Johann Wolfgang Goethe born Aug. 28, 1749.)


[…]

NIGHT. STREET BEFORE MARGARET’S DOOR

VALENTINE  (a soldier, MARGARET’S brother)

When seated ’mong the jovial crowd,
Where merry comrades boasting loud
Each named with pride his favourite lass,
And in her honour drain’d his glass;
Upon my elbows I would lean,
With easy quiet view the scene,
Nor give my tongue the rein until
Each swaggering blade had talked his fill.
Then smiling I my beard would stroke,
The while, with brimming glass, I spoke;
“Each to his taste!—but to my mind,
Where in the country will you find,
A maid, as my dear Gretchen fair,
Who with my sister can compare?”
Cling! Clang! so rang the jovial sound!
Shouts of assent went circling round;
Pride of her sex is she!—cried some;
Then were the noisy boasters dumb.

And now!—I could tear out my hair,
Or dash my brains out in despair!—
Me every scurvy knave may twit,
With stinging jest and taunting sneer!
Like skulking debtor I must sit,
And sweat each casual word to hear!
And though I smash’d them one and all,—
Yet them I could not liars call.

    Who comes this way? who’s sneaking here?
    If I mistake not, two draw near.
    If he be one, have at him;—well I wot
    Alive he shall not leave this spot!

FAUST. MEPHISTOPHELES

FAUST

How from yon sacristy, athwart the night,
Its beams the ever-burning taper throws,
While ever waning, fades the glimmering light,
As gathering darkness doth around it close!
So night-like gloom doth in my bosom reign.

MEPHISTOPHELES

I’m like a tom-cat in a thievish vein,
That up fire-ladders tall and steep,
And round the walls doth slyly creep;
Virtuous withal, I feel, with, I confess,
A touch of thievish joy and wantonness.
Thus through my limbs already burns
The glorious Walpurgis night!
After to-morrow it returns,
Then why one wakes, one knows aright!

FAUST

Meanwhile, the treasure I see glimmering there,
Will it ascend into the open air?

MEPHISTOPHELES

Ere long thou wilt proceed with pleasure,
To raise the casket with its treasure;
I took a peep, therein are stored,
Of lion-dollars a rich hoard.

FAUST

And not a trinket? not a ring?
Wherewith my lovely girl to deck?

MEPHISTOPHELES

I saw among them some such thing,
A string of pearls to grace her neck.

FAUST

’Tis well! I’m always loath to go,
Without some gift my love to show.

MEPHISTOPHELES

Some pleasures gratis to enjoy,
Should surely cause you no annoy.
While bright with stars the heavens appear,
I’ll sing a masterpiece of art:
A moral song shall charm her ear,
More surely to beguile her heart.  (Sings to the guitar.)
Kathrina say,
Why lingering stay
At dawn of day
Before your lover’s door?
Maiden, beware,
Nor enter there,
Lest forth you fare,
A maiden never more.

Maiden take heed!
Reck well my rede!
Is’t done, the deed?
Good night, you poor, poor thing!
The spoiler’s lies,
His arts despise,
Nor yield your prize,
Without the marriage ring!

VALENTINE  (steps forward)

Whom are you luring here? I’ll give it you!
Accursed rat-catchers, your strains I’ll end!
First, to the devil the guitar I’ll send!
Then to the devil with the singer too!

MEPHISTOPHELES

The poor guitar! ’tis done for now.

VALENTINE

Your skull shall follow next, I trow!

MEPHISTOPHELES  (to FAUST)

Doctor, stand fast! your strength collect!
Be prompt, and do as I direct.
Out with your whisk, keep close, I pray,
I’ll parry! do you thrust away!

VALENTINE

Then parry that!

MEPHISTOPHELES

                Why not?

VALENTINE

                That too!

MEPHISTOPHELES

With ease!

VALENTINE

            The devil fights for you!
Why how is this? my hand’s already lamed!

MEPHISTOPHELES  (to FAUST)

Thrust home!

VALENTINE  (falls)

              Alas!

MEPHISTOPHELES

                There! Now the lubber’s tamed!
But quick, away! We must at once take wing;
A cry of murder strikes upon the ear;
With the police I know my course to steer,
But with the blood-ban ’tis another thing.

MARTHA  (at the window)

Without! Without!

MARGARET  (at the window)

                Quick, bring a light!

MARTHA  (as above)

They rail and scuffle, scream and fight!

PEOPLE

One lieth here already dead!

MARTHA  (coming out)

Where are the murderers? are they fled?

MARGARET  (coming out)

Who lieth here?

PEOPLE

                Thy mother’s son.

MARGARET

Almighty God! I am undone!

VALENTINE

I’m dying—’tis a soon-told tale,
And sooner done the deed.
Why, women, do ye howl and wail?
To my last words give heed!  (All gather round him.)
My Gretchen see! still young art thou,
Art not discreet enough, I trow,
Thou dost thy matters ill;
Let this in confidence be said:
Since thou the path of shame dost tread,
Tread it with right good will!

MARGARET

My brother! God! what can this mean?

VALENTINE

                Abstain,
Nor dare God’s holy name profane!
What’s done, alas, is done and past!
Matters will take their course at last;
By stealth thou dost begin with one,
Others will follow him anon;
And when a dozen thee have known,
Thou’lt common be to all the town.
When infamy is newly born,
In secret she is brought to light,
And the mysterious veil of night
O’er head and ears is drawn;
The loathsome birth men fain would slay;
But soon, full grown, she waxes bold,
And though not fairer to behold,
With brazen front insults the day:
The more abhorrent to the sight,
The more she courts the day’s pure light.

The time already I discern,
When thee all honest folk will spurn,
And shun thy hated form to meet,
As when a corpse infects the street.
Thy heart will sink in blank despair,
When they shall look thee in the face!
A golden chain no more thou’lt wear!
Nor near the altar take in church thy place!
In fair lace collar simply dight
Thou’lt dance no more with spirits light!
In darksome corners thou wilt bide,
Where beggars vile and cripples hide,
And e’en though God thy crime forgive,
On earth, a thing accursed, thou’lt live!

MARTHA

Your parting soul to God commend!
Your dying breath in slander will you spend?

VALENTINE

Could I but reach thy wither’d frame,
Thou wretched beldame, void of shame!
Full measure I might hope to win
Of pardon then for every sin.

MARGARET

Brother! what agonizing pain!

VALENTINE

I tell thee, from vain tears abstain!
’Twas thy dishonour pierced my heart,
Thy fall the fatal death-stab gave.
Through the death-sleep I now depart
To God, a soldier true and brave.  (dies.)

CATHEDRAL

Service, Organ, and Anthem
MARGARET amongst a number of people
EVIL-SPIRIT behind MARGARET
EVIL-SPIRIT

How different, Gretchen, was it once with thee,
When thou, still full of innocence,
Here to the altar camest,
And from the small and well-conn’d book
Didst lisp thy prayer,
Half childish sport,
Half God in thy young heart!
Gretchen!
What thoughts are thine?
What deed of shame
Lurks in thy sinful heart?
Is thy prayer utter’d for thy mother’s soul,
Who into long, long torment slept through thee?
Whose blood is on thy threshold?
—And stirs there not already ’neath thy heart
Another quick’ning pulse, that even now
Tortures itself and thee
With its foreboding presence?

MARGARET

Woe! Woe!
Oh could I free me from the thoughts
That hither, thither, crowd upon my brain,
Against my will!

CHORUS

    Dies iræ, dies illa,
    Solvet sæclum in favilla.  (The organ sounds.)

EVIL-SPIRIT

Grim horror seizes thee!
The trumpet sounds!
The graves are shaken!
And thy heart
From ashy rest
For torturing flames
A new created,
Trembles into life!

MARGARET

Would I were hence!
It is as if the organ
Choked my breath,
As if the choir
Melted my inmost heart!

CHORUS

    Judex ergo cum sedebit,
    Quidquid latet adparebit,
    Nil inultum remanebit.

MARGARET

I feel oppressed!
The pillars of the wall
Imprison me!
The vaulted roof
Weighs down upon me!—air!

EVIL-SPIRIT

Wouldst hide thee? sin and shame
Remain not hidden!
Air! light!
Woe’s thee!

CHORUS

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus!
Cum vix justus sit securus.

EVIL-SPIRIT

The glorified their faces turn
Away from thee!
Shudder the pure to reach
Their hands to thee!
Woe!

[…]


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