Fiction > Harvard Classics > J. W. von Goethe > Faust. Part I
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).  Faust. Part I.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Prologue for the Theatre


Ye twain, in trouble and distress
True friends whom I so oft have found,
Say, for our scheme on German ground,
What prospect have we of success?
Fain would I please the public, win their thanks;        5
They live and let live, hence it is but meet.
The posts are now erected, and the planks,
And all look forward to a festal treat.
Their places taken, they, with eyebrows rais’d,
Sit patiently, and fain would be amaz’d.        10
I know the art to hit the public taste,
Yet ne’er of failure felt so keen a dread;
True, they are not accustomed to the best,
But then appalling the amount they’ve read.
How make our entertainment striking, new,        15
And yet significant and pleasing too?
For to be plain, I love to see the throng,
As to our booth the living tide progresses;
As wave on wave successive rolls along,
And through heaven’s narrow portal forceful presses;        20
Still in broad daylight, ere the clock strikes four,
With blows their way towards the box they take;
And, as for bread in famine, at the baker’s door,
For tickets are content their necks to break.
Such various minds the bard alone can sway,        25
My friend, oh work this miracle to-day!

Oh of the motley throng speak not before me,
At whose aspect the Spirit wings its flight!
Conceal the surging concourse, I implore thee,
Whose vortex draws us with resistless might.        30
No, to some peaceful heavenly nook restore me,
Where only for the bard blooms pure delight,
Where love and friendship yield their choicest blessing,
Our heart’s true bliss, with god-like hand caressing.
What in the spirit’s depths was there created,        35
What shyly there the lip shaped forth in sound;
A failure now, with words now fitly mated,
In the wild tumult of the hour is drown’d;
Full oft the poet’s thought for years hath waited
Until at length with perfect form ’tis crowned;        40
What dazzles, for the moment born, must perish;
What genuine is posterity will cherish.

This cant about posterity I hate;
About posterity were I to prate,
Who then the living would amuse? For they        45
Will have diversion, ay, and ’tis their due.
A sprightly fellow’s presence at your play,
Methinks should also count for something too;
Whose genial wit the audience still inspires,
Knows from their changeful mood no angry feeling;        50
A wider circle he desires,
To their heart’s depths more surely thus appealing.
To work, then! Give a master-piece, my friend;
Bring Fancy with her choral trains before us,
Sense, reason, feeling, passion, but attend!        55
Let folly also swell the tragic chorus.

In chief, of incident enough prepare!
A show they want, they come to gape and stare.
Spin for their eyes abundant occupation,
So that the multitude may wondering gaze,        60
You by sheer bulk have won your reputation,
The man you are all love to praise.
By mass alone can you subdue the masses,
Each then selects in time what suits his bent.
Bring much, you something bring for various classes,        65
And from the house goes every one content.
You give a piece, abroad in pieces send it!
’Tis a ragout—success must needs attend it;
’Tis easy to serve up, as easy to invent.
A finish’d whole what boots it to present!        70
Full soon the public will in pieces rend it.

How mean such handicraft as this you cannot feel!
How it revolts the genuine artist’s mind!
The sorry trash in which these coxcombs deal,
Is here approved on principle, I find.        75

Such a reproof disturbs me not a whit!
Who on efficient work is bent,
Must choose the fittest instrument.
Consider! ’tis soft wood you have to split;
Think too for whom you write, I pray!        80
One comes to while an hour away;
One from the festive board, a sated guest;
Others, more dreaded than the rest,
From journal-reading hurry to the play.
As to a masquerade, with absent minds, they press,        85
Sheer curiosity their footsteps winging;
Ladies display their persons and their dress,
Actors unpaid their service bringing.
What dreams beguile you on your poet’s height?
What puts a full house in a merry mood?        90
More closely view your patrons of the night!
The half are cold, the half are rude.
One, the play over, craves a game of cards;
Another a wild night in wanton joy would spend.
Poor fools the muses’ fair regards.        95
Why court for such a paltry end?
I tell you, give them more, still more ’tis all I ask,
Thus you will ne’er stray widely from the goal;
Your audience seek to mystify cajole;—
To satisfy them—that’s a harder task.        100
What ails thee? art enraptured or distressed?

Depart! elsewhere another servant choose
What! shall the bard his godlike power abuse?
Man’s loftiest right, kind nature’s high bequest,
For your mean purpose basely sport away?        105
Whence comes his mastery o’er the human breast,
Whence o’er the elements his sway,
But from the harmony that, gushing from his soul,
Draws back into his heart the wondrous whole?
With careless hand when round her spindle, Nature        110
Winds the interminable thread of life;
When ’mid the clash of Being every creature
Mingles in harsh inextricable strife;
Who deals their course unvaried till it falleth,
In rhythmic flow to music’s measur’d tone?        115
Each solitary note whose genius calleth,
To swell the mighty choir in unison?
Who in the raging storm sees passion low’ring?
Or flush of earnest thought in evening’s glow?
Who every blossom in sweet spring-time flowering        120
Along the loved one’s path would strow?
Who, Nature’s green familiar leaves entwining,
Wreathe’s glory’s garland, won on every field?
Makes sure Olympus, heavenly powers combining?
Man’s mighty spirit, in the bard reveal’d!        125

Come then, employ your lofty inspiration,
And carry on the poet’s avocation,
Just as we carry on a love affair.
Two meet by chance, are pleased, they linger there,
Insensibly are link’d, they scarce know how;        130
Fortune seems now propitious, adverse now,
Then come alternate rapture and despair;
And ’tis a true romance ere one’s aware.
Just such a drama let us now compose.
Plunge boldly into life—its depths disclose!        135
Each lives it, not to many is it known,
’Twill interest wheresoever seiz’d and shown;
Bright pictures, but obscure their meaning:
A ray of truth through error gleaming,
Thus you the best elixir brew,        140
To charm mankind, and edify them too.
Then youth’s fair blossoms crowd to view your play,
And wait as on an oracle; while they,
The tender souls, who love the melting mood,
Suck from your work their melancholy food;        145
Now this one, and now that, you deeply stir,
Each sees the working of his heart laid bare.
Their tears, their laughter, you command with ease,
The lofty still they honour, the illusive love.
Your finish’d gentlemen you ne’er can please;        150
A growing mind alone will grateful prove.

Then give me back youth’s golden prime,
When my own spirit too was growing,
When from my heart th’ unbidden rhyme
Gush’d forth, a fount for ever flowing;        155
Then shadowy mist the world conceal’d,
And every bud sweet promise made,
Of wonders yet to be reveal’d,
As through the vales, with blooms inlaid,
Culling a thousand flowers I stray’d.        160
Naught had I, yet a rich profusion!
The thirst for truth, joy in each fond illusion.
Give me unquell’d those impulses to prove;—
Rapture so deep, its ecstasy was pain,
The power of hate, the energy of love,        165
Give me, oh give me back my youth again!

Youth, my good friend, you certainly require
When foes in battle round are pressing,
When a fair maid, her heart on fire,
Hangs on your neck with fond caressing,        170
When from afar, the victor’s crown,
To reach the hard-won goal inciteth;
When from the whirling dance, to drown
Your sense, the night’s carouse inviteth.
But the familiar chords among        175
Boldly to sweep, with graceful cunning,
While to its goal, the verse along
Its winding path is sweetly running;
This task is yours, old gentlemen, to-day;
Nor are you therefore less in reverence held;        180
Age does not make us childish, as folk say,
It finds us genuine children e’en in eld.

A truce to words, mere empty sound,
Let deeds at length appear, my friends!
While idle compliments you round,        185
You might achieve some useful ends.
Why talk of the poetic vein?
Who hesitates will never know it;
If bards ye are, as ye maintain,
Now let your inspiration show it.        190
To you is known what we require,
Strong drink to sip is our desire;
Come, brew me such without delay!
To-morrow sees undone, what happens not to-day;
Still forward press, nor ever tire!        195
The possible, with steadfast trust,
Resolve should be the forelock grasp;
Then she will ne’er let go her clasp,
And labours on, because she must.
On German boards, you’re well aware,        200
The taste of each may have full sway;
Therefore in bringing out your play,
Nor scenes nor mechanism spare!
Heaven’s lamps employ, the greatest and the least,
Be lavish of the stellar lights,        205
Water, and fire, and rocky heights,
Spare not at all, nor birds, nor beast,
Thus let creation’s ample sphere
Forthwith in this our narrow booth appear,
And with considerate speed, through fancy’s spell,        210
Journey from heaven, thence through the world, to hell!


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