The Path – December 1887

THE THEOSOPHICAL MEANING OF GOETHE'S FAUST: II — F. S. Collins

IN TWO PARTS

PART II.

In passing to the second part of Faust, we find quite a change in the character of the poem; the interest in the strictly personal career of Faust lessens, the limitations of space and time become more vague and indistinct; we pass from what Mephistopheles called the lesser to the greater world. Activity in the state, in humanity in general, characterizes the second part; we have gone through the contest in Faust's own mind, then in the family, and in the limited civic relations shown in the Gretchen episode; Faust has turned from his care for pure self to something higher, and we shall see this broaden out still more now. The first part was all within a short space of time, and the scene was all in or near a German city of some medieval period. Now we find medieval emperors and their courts, Helen and Menelaus, and hints at men of the present century, mingled, orderly enough with regard to their poetic and inner significance, but without any regard for chronology. In its main lines, the plot, if so we may call it, of this part, follows the medieval Faust legend; the making of gold, the bringing of Helen, the winning a battle, and the contest with the devil at death; these four are here reproduced, but with a much higher and broader significance. The making of gold, the material gold, is transformed into a myth of industry, the development of wealth by modern progress, its value when guided by the ideal, beneficent to all; but when wealth is sought for itself, destructive to self and all. The bringing of Helen, the "teufelin" from Mephistopheles' own home, is transformed into a representation of the love of the beautiful and of culture, as a necessary stage in man's progress.

The winning of a battle for the emperor is transformed into a study of true and false governments; and the last scene is changed from the devil's triumphantly claiming his bargain, to the final victory of unselfish endeavor. Through all these the line of Faust's development follows, not always in clear sight, but always moving forward.

The introduction to the second part shows Faust, asleep, among the forms and spirits of bright, natural, elemental life. These are to wipe away from his brain the remembrance of the past, that he may awake afresh to a new career. We may see in this much resemblance to the subjective state between two incarnations, when the sorrowful remembrances of the past fade out, and the man begins his new career with refreshed energy. Faust so awakens, looking round at the bright landscape with delight. In his soliloquy, we will do well to notice these lines, showing his changed mental attitude.

"Life's pulses now with fresher force awaken
To greet the mild ethereal twilight o'er me;
This night, thou, Earth! hast also stood unshaken
And now thou breathest new-refreshed before me,
And now beginnest, all thy gladness granting,
A vigorous resolution to restore me,
To seek that highest life for which I'm panting.
The world unfolded lies in twilight glimmer,
A thousand voices in the grove are chanting;
Vale in, vale out, the misty streaks grow dimmer;
The deeps with heavenly light are penetrated;
The boughs, refreshed, lift up their leafy shimmer
From gulfs of air where sleepily they waited;
Color on color from the background cleareth,
Where flower and leaf with trembling pearls are freighted:
And all around a Paradise appeareth.

Look up! — The mountain summits, grand, supernal,
Herald, e'en now, the solemn hour that neareth;
They earliest enjoy the light eternal
That later sinks, till here below we find it.
Now to the Alpine meadows, sloping vernal,
A newer beam descends ere we divined it,
And step by step unto the base hath bounded;
The sun comes forth! Alas, already blinded,
I turn away, with eyesight pierced and wounded!

'Tis thus, when, unto yearning hope's endeavor,
Its highest wish on sweet attainment grounded,
The portals of fulfilment widely sever;
But if there burst from those eternal spaces
A flood of flame, we stand confounded ever;
For life's pure torch we sought the shining traces,
And seas of fire — and what a fire! — surprise us.
Is't Love? Is't Hate? that burningly embraces,
And that with pain and joy alternate tries us?
So that, our glances once more earthward throwing,
We seek in youthful drapery to disguise us.

Behind me, therefore, let the sun be glowing!
The cataract, between the crags deep-riven,
I thus behold with rapture ever-growing.
From plunge to plunge in thousand streams 'tis given,
And yet a thousand, to the valleys shaded,
While foam and spray in air are whirled and driven.
Yet how superb, across the tumult braided,
The painted rainbow's changeful life is bending,
Now clearly drawn, dissolving now and faded,
And evermore the showers of dew descending!
Of human striving there's no symbol fuller:
Consider, and 'tis easy comprehending —
Life is not light, but the refracted color.

No longer is it a contradiction between the aspiration to gaze directly at truth, and the denial of the possibility of truth; he realizes that truth is, but also realizes that before he can gaze directly upon it, he must learn to see its reflection in every part of the manifold life around him.

We need not dwell on the next act, the Mythus of Industry, but merely note that, through Faust's suggestions of utilizing the resources of nature, represented under the form of treasures hidden in the earth, the Emperor's court is enriched, and every one feels himself a wealthy man. And now Faust is to furnish amusements before the Emperor, and the scene of Paris and Helen is to be shown. That is to say, the new wealth demands artistic display, but cannot create the beautiful in art: it can only demand it in exchange for money. Faust, by the aid of Mephistopheles, is to furnish it. and to do so must descend to the "Mothers" "throned in venerable solitude," in the void and desolation. Mephistopheles declares that it is nothing, where they dwell: Faust logically concluding that what Mephistopheles, himself the spirit of negation, pronounces nothing, must be distinctly something; just as in mathematics, the product of two minus quantities is a plus quantity; and he exclaims "In thy nothing I hope to find the All." And indeed, that which seems to the purely earthly mind to be no existence at all, to be pure annihilation, may be to a higher spiritual insight, the perfection of being. Faust succeeds in abstracting himself from all space and time; and from the realm of pure form brings back Helen, the impersonation of Greek classic beauty; but when he exhibits her to the court, he is himself so charmed with her, though a mere shadow, that he tries to seize her, to keep her for himself from Paris, also a shade, who appears with her. The consequence is that both the forms instantly vanish, and Faust falls senseless.

Faust now fully believes in the truth as revealed in beauty; the old negation of the intellect is gone as far as that is concerned; but, as he has so often seen, aspiration alone will not give him the truth, and we next find him in the old German University, which he left so long before: no longer he denies the possibility of attaining truth; he sees where it is, in the form of the beautiful; but he must rise gradually to it, his soul must gradually grow up to it, through the same steps by which it was developed: as Helen is the perfect flower of classic culture and beauty, Faust must pass through the various forms through which the Greek mythus arose.

Passing over a number of scenes of the drama, for want of time, we come to the Classic Walpurgis Night, where we trace the development of the Greek idea. First, on the Pharsalian Field, we have a gallery of strange forms, which well illustrate how the divine in man, in his upward progress, gradually overpowers the animal. In this gallery of mythical forms, we first meet a group of three oriental forms: the griffon, half bird and half lion; a colossal ant; and the Arimaspeans, a one eyed race. Next a group of sphinxes, Egyptian forms, in which though the animal predominates, the human is more conspicuous than in the last group. Third, the sirens, Greek forms, in which humanity becomes more preponderant.

Another series begins with the water nymphs, pure children of nature, who beckon Faust on, and charm him by their beauty, but cannot delay him in his pursuit of Helen, the perfection of beauty. Next Chiron, the centaur, the human strongly predominating the animal; useful as a guide and to carry Faust, but not high enough to bring him directly to Helen, or indeed to appreciate the passion for her: he carries Faust to Manto the prophetess, an impersonation of the Ideal as Chiron is of the Practical. He is incessantly in motion, but she gives her character in the line "I wait and time around me wheels"; she can help Faust to find Helen, for when Chiron half sarcastically tells her this is Faust's longing, she replies:

"Him I love that longs for the Impossible."

A saying of Goethe's which comes quite appositely here "To live in the Idea, means to treat the Impossible as if it were possible," may be compared with the eleventh rule in Light on the Path, "Desire only that which is unattainable." Through Manto's abode Faust passes to Helen's and we see him no more at present.

In the next act Helen herself appears; not a mere shade, but a living woman; and as in the first part we saw Margaret's fall and redemption, as an episode in Faust's career, though in itself independent, so also the Helena poem may be viewed as independent in itself, or as a part of the Faust drama. We may consider her as she first appears the ideal of beauty the sensuous beauty of the Greek race; and as Faust to win her must pass through a long experience, so she, to be fitted for Faust, must have her nature changed from this to something higher.

Troy has fallen, and Menelaus has brought back to Greece his recaptured wife; his ship has reached the Spartan shore, and he sends Helena, accompanied by a troop of attendants, captive Trojan women, before him to his palace to have all preparations made for a sacrifice to the gods, as soon as he shall arrive. The Trojan women, who always speak as chorus, represent the purely sensual element; as Mephistopheles represented the negative side of Faust's character, to overcome which is the work of the whole drama, so this chorus represents the lower side of Helena's character, and it is only because she has the capacity for something higher, that she can become, if she can endure the experiences before her, worthy to be the wife of Faust. The chorus praises her beauty, but she feels that that has been the cause of all the misery that has come upon her, and through her upon her kindred and nation. The chorus has but little sorrow over the past, if only they can enjoy the bright sunshine, and the sensual happiness of the present; but her heart is full of remorse for the past and apprehension for the future; her world-wide fame gives her no satisfaction. As she enters the palace, in which she passed her happy childhood, she now knows not whether she returns as wife and mistress, or as sacrificial victim; and at the family hearth she sees, cowering, a hideous form; she turns to enter the bridal chamber and the form springs up against her, a veritable Dweller of the Threshold; a violent storm of abuse rages between this monster, Phorkyas, and the chorus of Trojan women. The latter symbolically represent the charm of sensual pleasure, the former its evil result; both, though dramatically distinct from Helena, are really parts of her own nature, but she is higher than the sensual longing, and will prove higher than the sharp remorse, which, in the form of Phorkyas, now brings before her with stinging clearness, her many sins and their terrible results: crushed by the weight of these, she sinks to the ground, but rises again, willing to bear the appointed doom, not disputing the justice of her condemnation. Phorkyas is conquered; now she has but to obey, and is ready to aid. Helen's strength of character has now made her fit for Faust, to whom Phorkyas conducts her and the chorus, passing at once from classic Greece to medieval times. We cannot follow all of this but can note that we may consider the whole of the third act as representing Faust, the universal man, gathering to himself the highest possible culture, impersonated in Helena; he makes her wholly his own, his wife. Is not this the highest attainable for man? No, we shall see later that it is not. Helen leaves Faust at the end of this act, returning to Persephone in Hades. She disappears from out Faust's career, but her influence remains forever. The chorus refuses to follow her to the underworld, perferring the pleasures of sunny day, the only pleasure they can comprehend; though with the certainty that it must soon end, and they disappear into the elements to cease to exist as individuals. Panthalis only, the leader of the chorus, turns from them, and descends to Hades, faithful to the queen; faithful service and unselfish devotion gain for her the immortality which her fellows lose. For the descent to Hades is only the passing out of the Faust consciousness, not from existence: the subjective Devachanic consciousness may be, as we know, far stronger than the consciousness of the objective world which we too often look at as the only real one.

Faust has won the highest culture, but instead of crowning his career it will be a curse to him if he stops here. Unless he turn and use all he has acquired for an unselfish end, he will yet lose his forfeit to Mephistopheles. As in the tale of the gem,(1) "he who tells not of his gem, and shares it not with all men, must lose it," it is "the stone no man could keep unless he gave it away."

"The true and the Beautiful must now be employed in the service of the Good."

But as we read in the notes to Light on the Path: "It is impossible to help others till you have obtained some certainty of your own."

The fourth act shows the outworking of Faust on the world around him; he has formed the plan to reclaim from the sea a new land, and to rill it with his own activity; his individual culture is to be for the benefit of all. To this end he joins the Emperor, now hard pressed by a revolt which threatens to overthrow State and Church. Faust gains the victory over the insurgents, saves the ancient established order, which now reorganizes with all the old abuses; but Faust is granted his strip of land, from which he proceeds to build up a new civilization; not by violent overthrow, but by gradual gain and progress.

In the fifth act we find him, a very old man, still unsatisfied; nowhere has he found the moment which was to fulfill his contract with Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles himself has lately been far less prominent; no longer Faust's guide, he is hardly more than his unwilling servant. True to his spirit of denial, he mocks at the tasks Faust sets to him, but more and more he fulfills his description of himself in the first act. "A part of that power which always wills the bad and always accomplishes the good."

At last, old and blind, comes upon Faust his last struggle, the contest with "Sorge," in this case anxiety for the future, the state after death. Faust is not overcome. "Let a man stand fast here and look about: what need he to sweep into eternity? To the strong man this world is not dumb. Thy might, O Sorge, I shall not recognize." Faster he pushes on his work of providing a happy home for untold generations, and in the enthusiasm of his vision of future ages, pronounces this distant view, the supreme moment of bliss. The promise of Mephistopheles is now fulfilled in the letter: Faust's term on earth is ended- — he falls lifeless. But only in the letter is the contract fulfilled: it is by no delight of the senses, by no selfish pleasure, even the highest, that Faust is satisfied. Pure unselfish happiness: he has identified the individual with the all, it is the true brotherhood of humanity, no temptation of Mephistopheles could have done this. Faust dies freed from every personal desire, not in the hope of a reward in the future life, any more than with an unsatisfied longing on earth.

In the first part, the chorus of angels at Easter sang a song of love, but it was met by the denial and unbelief of Faust. Now the same songs of love are sung, but the answer of denial comes from Mephistopheles. In the first scene, Mephistopheles had not yet been evolved externally, but was still contained in Faust's soul; the gradual process of evolving Mephistopheles from Faust and freeing the latter from his influence is the story of the whole poem, and now at last the spirits of love find Faust responsive to their invitation. He has fully purified himself from the spirit of denial, which is the same as the spirit of selfishness, of limitation. As the angels sing "Love leads only loving ones in," and "who unceasingly strives, him can we redeem," we see the vindication of the prophecy of the prologue:

"A good man, through obscurest aspiration,
Has still an instinct of the one true way."

And as, in the final scene, Faust's soul is borne upward, through sphere after sphere of spiritual glory, to the Queen of Heaven herself, we see again the spirit, "once called Gretchen," who long before called in despair on the Virgin to help her in her need, now again appealing, in almost the same words, but this time joyously asking for the privilege of welcoming the loved one yet dazzled by the new day.

As in Faust, so in Margaret, self is lost in pure devoted love, and at the word of the Mater Gloriosa she rises to higher spheres, there to draw him after her; as the mystic chorus tells, the summing up of the whole wonderful drama, whose meaning every one must feel to the measure of his apprehension, but can hardly express in words.

Alles vergaengliche All that's impermanent
Ist nur ein Gleichniss. Is but a likeness.
Das Unzulaengliche The Unattainable
Hier wird's Ereignis. Here findeth witness;
Das Unbeschreibliche The Indescribable,
Hier ist es gethan; Here is it done;
Das Ewig-weibliche The Ever-womanly
Zieht uns heran. Leadeth us on. (2)

FOOTNOTE:

1. Papyrus-The Gem, THE PATH, Vol. I, p. 359. (return to text)

2. Translated from article "Poetical Occultism" in THE PATH, Vol. I, p.212 (return to text)


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