Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker


Week 7.  Growth

Faust:  The Tragedy (completed in 1832)
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

As the epic poem begins, the learned Dr. Faust bemoans his fate:  his genius is being wasted on mundane activities in the company of ordinary and unimaginative colleagues.  He longs for something more....


(In a high-vaulted, narrow, gothic chamber, Faust is discovered restless at his desk.)

FAUST.  Philosophy have I digested,
The whole of Law and Medicine,
From each its secrets I have wrested,
Theology, alas, thrown in.
Poor fool, with all this sweated lore,
I stand no wiser than I was before.
Master and Doctor are my titles;
For ten years now, without repose,
I've held my erudite recitals
And led my pupils by the nose.
And round we go, on crooked ways or straight,
And well I know that ignorance is our fate,
And this I hate.
I have, I grant, outdistanced all the others,
Doctors, pedants, clergy and lay-brothers;
All plague of doubts and scruples I can quell,
And have no fear of devil or of hell,
And in return am destitute of pleasure,
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,
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.
Then shall I see, with vision clear,
How secret elements cohere,
And what the universe engirds,
And give up huckstering with words.
O silver majesty of night,
Moon, look no more upon my plight,
You whom my eyes at midnight oft
Have gazed upon, when slow and soft
You crossed my papers and my books
With friendly, melancholy looks.
Would that my soul could tranquil stray
On many a moonlit mountain way,
By cavernous haunts with ghostly shadows,
Or thread the silver of the meadows,
Released from learning's smoky stew
To lave me in the moonlit dew.
But, ah, this prison has my soul,
Damnable, bricked-in, cabined hole,
Where even the heaven's dear light must pass
Saddened through the painted glass.
Hemmed in with stacks of books am I,
Where works the worm with dusty mange,
While to the vaulted roof on high
The smoky ranks of papers range;
Retorts and jars my crib encumber,
And crowded instruments and, worse,
Loads of hereditary lumber--
And this, ay this, is called my universe.
And shall I wonder why my heart
Is lamed and frightened in my breast,
Why all the springs of life that start
Are strangely smothered and oppressed?
Instead of all that life can hold
Of Nature's free, god-given breath,
I take to me the smoke and mould
Of skeletons and dust and death....

Years later, Faust's former student, Wagner, now a professor himself, has created a homunculus--a tiny living man--in his laboratory, and is thrilled to share his success with Mephistopheles....


(After the style of the Middle Ages: extensive, unwieldy apparatus, for fantastical purposes.)

WAGNER (at the furnace).
The solemn bell shakes with its boom
The sooty walls in dread vibration.
Soon must uncertainty assume
Some form, to greet long expectation.
And now a glimmer lifts the gloom;
The depths within the phial show
A glint, a living ember's glow.
Ay, as a burning jewel, the spark
Flashes a ray to pierce the dark.
A light emerges, white and still:
This time an answer I implore.--
Ah, God!  Who rattles at my door?

Welcome, with the best goodwill.

WAGNER (in anxiety).
Bid welcome to the ruling star on high!
With bated breath refrain from word or cry.
This hour will crown a wondrous undertaking.

What, pray?

WAGNER. A human being in the making.

A human being?  Have you a loving pair
Locked in your chimney, in their tender passion?

WAGNER.  Now God forbid!  That old style we declare
A poor begetting in a foolish fashion.
The tender core from which life used to surge,
The gracious force that came from inward urge,
Which took and gave, for self-delineation,
Blending near traits with far in new mutation,
To this we now deny its lordly height;
What if the beasts still find it their delight,
In future man, as fits his lofty mind,
Must have a source more noble and refined.

(He turns to his hearth.)

Look!  There's a gleam!--Now hope may be fulfilled,
That hundreds of ingredients, mixed, distilled--
And mixing is the secret--give us power
The stuff of human nature to compound;
If in a limbeck we now seal it round
And cohobate with final care profound,
The finished work may crown this silent hour.

(Turning again to the hearth.)

It works!  The substance stirs, is turning clearer!
The truth of my conviction presses nearer:
The thing in Nature as high mystery prized,
This has our science probed beyond a doubt;
What Nature by slow process organized,
That have we grasped, and crystallized it out.

He who lives long a host of things will know,
The world affords him nothing new to see.
Much have I seen, in wandering to and fro,
Including crystallized humanity.

Nun Väterchen! wie steht's?
WAGNER (who has not relaxed in watching the phial).
A flash, a mantling, and the ferment rises,
Thus, in this moment, hope materializes.
A mighty project may at first seem mad,
But now we laugh, the ways of chance foreseeing:
A thinker then, in mind's deep wonder clad,
May give at last a thinking brain its being.

(He looks at the phial enraptured.)

Now chimes the glass, a note of sweetest strength,
It clouds, it clears, my utmost hope it proves,
For there my longing eyes behold at length
A dapper form, that lives and breathes and moves.
My mannikin!  What can the world ask more?
The mystery is brought to light of day.
Now comes the whisper we are waiting for:
He forms his speech, has clear-cut words to say.

HOMUNCULUS (speaking to Wagner from the phial).
Well, Father, what's to do?  No joke, I see.
Come, take me to your heart, and tenderly!
But not too tight, for fear the glass should break.
That is the way that things are apt to take:
The cosmos scarce will compass Nature's kind,
But man's creations need to be confined....

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