View Full Version : The Metaphysics of Faust

Susan R. Henley
10-28-2006, 08:53 AM

The sun-orb sings, in emulation,
Mid brother spheres, in his ancient round:
His path predestined through Creation
He ends with step of thunder-sound.
The angels from his visage splendid
Draw power, whose measure none can say;
The lofty worlds, uncomprehended,
Are bright as on the earliest day.


And swift, and swift beyond conceiving,
The splendor of the world goes round,
Day's Eden-brightness still relieves
The awful Night's intense profound:
The ocean-tides in foam are breaking,
Against the rocks' deep bases hurled,
And both, the spheric race partaking,
Eternal, swift, are onward whirled.


And rival storms abroad are surging
From seas to land, and land to sea.
A chain of deepest action forging
Round all, in wrathful energy.
There flames a desolation, blazing
Before the Thunder's crashing way:
Yet, Lord, thy messengers are praising
The gentle movement of Thy day.
The Three

Though still by them uncomprehended,
From these the angels draw their power,
And all Thy works, sublime and splendid,
Are bright as in Creation's hour.


Since Thou, o Lord. deign'st to approach again
And ask us how we do, in manner kindest,
And heretofore to meat myself wert fain,
Among thy menials, now, my face though findest.
Pardon, this troop I cannot follow after
With lofty speech, though by them scorned and spurned:
My pathos certainly would move thee to laughter,
If Thou hadst not all merriment unlearned.
Of suns and worlds I've nothing to be quoted:
How men torment themselves, is all I've noted.
The little god o' the world sticks to the same old way,
And is as whimsical as on Creation's day,
Life somewhat better might content him,
But for the gleam of heavenly light which Thou has lent him:
He calls it Reason--thence his power's increased,
to be far beastlier than any beast.
Saving Thy Gracious Presence, he to me
A long-legged grasshopper appears to be,
That springing flies. and flying springs,
And in the grass the same old ditty sings.
Would he still lay among the grass he grows in!
Each bit of dung he seeks, to stick his nose in.

The Lord

Hast thou, then, nothing more to mention?
Come'st ever, thus, with ill intention?
Find'st nothing right on earth, eternally?


No, Lord! I find thing, there, still as they can be.
Man's misery even to pity moves my nature;
I've scarce the heart to plague the wretched creature”

The above quotation is from an English translation of Faust, in the original meters, by Bayard Taylor, which had an original copyright date of 1870. This version retains many references to Hermetics, astrology, and alchemy.

For instance, in the very Prologue (cited above), Goethe describes the condition of the universe (macrocosm) and humanity which reflect the Hermetic principle of “As above, So below.”

Also in Part One, Scene 2, “Before the City Gate,” the author clearly proclaims his knowledge of alchemy when Faust states:

"My Father's was a sombre, brooding brain,
which through the holy spheres of nature groped and wandered,
with labor whimsical, and pain;
Who, in his dusky workshop bending,
With proved adepts in company,
Made from his recipes unending,
Opposing substances agree.
There was a Lion red, a wooer daring,
Within the Lily's tepid bath espoused,
A both, tormented by the flame unsparing,
By turns in either bridal chamber housed,
If then appeared, with colors splendid,
The young queen in her crystal shell,
This was the medicine--the patients' woes soon ended,
And none demanded: who got well?
Thus we, our hellish boluses compounding,
among these vales and hills surrounding,
Worse than pestilence, have passed.
Thousands were done to death from poison of my giving;
And I must hear, by all the living,
The shameless murderers praised at last!"

Yet, within this same quotation, Goethe’s Faust establishes that he, himself, saw only bad in the alchemical practices of his father. And, thoughout the early chapters there is evidence that the younger Dr. Faust has abandoned much of the alchemical practices while he still pursues Hermetic practices such the invoking of Spirits.

Given the vastly different scientific and cultural views of the world we now live in as compared to when Faust was written (and translated), I am looking for others who have read a translation which retained the original focus on Romantic thought as well as the Hermetic, astrological and alchemical aspects of the works. I am hoping to discuss these aspects in respect to main theme (s) of the book.

For instance, I would like to discuss the varying levels of interpretation of the alchemical process sited above such as the a whole layer of alchemical symbolic pertaining to the colors of the lion and the lily as well as the actual process of which the goal was to produce an elixir to be used as medicine against the plague. For instance, with the imagery of marriage, a union occurs between the masculine Scarlet Lion (perhaps, reddish mercuric oxide) and the feminine lily (perhaps, hydrochloric acid) which are heated over a flame to yield the offspring of the young queen. At the same time, the analogy of the red lion and the lily can refer to the raw material of our experience, our thoughts and feelings, and the metaphysical goal to reach a direct Gnostic of reality.

I am hopeful others who share my interest will join in the discourse.