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Prologue in Heaven

from Faust by J.W. von Goethe

The Lord, the Heavenly Hosts, later Mephistopheles.
The Archangels step forward.
RAPHAEL
The sun resounds as once of old
In loving spheres of motley song,
Predestined is its journey bold,
Ripening as it flows along.
Its sight the angels new strength gives,
Though none can fathom how its done;
The inconceivable still lives
In glory as when the days were one.
GABRIEL
How marvelously right
The splendiferous earth revolves,
It interchanges heaven's light
With dismal darkness unresolved,
It churns the seas and violent rivers
through rocky soil in convolution,
and rocks and seas apart are driven
In swift eternal revolution.
MICHAEL
And storms complete with briny bluster
From sea to land and land to sea,
Forge a chain from fury's fluster
That binds the world in harmony.
A fearful bolt of lightning's flame
Precedes the devastating thunder;
But angels worthy of the name
Revere in awe each daily wonder.
ALL THREE
Its sight the angels new strength gives,
Though none can fathom how it's done;
The inconceivable still lives
In glory as when the days were one.
MEPHISTOPHELES
Since you, O Lord, approach us once again
And ask us how our work is getting on,
And since I've given pleasure now and then,
You see me here debating with the throng.
My choice of words leaves much to be desired,
I'm subject to this circle's cruelest scorn;
You'd die laughing at pathos by me inspired,
If laughter were not a thing you'd long forsworn.
About the sun I've nothing to confess,
I only see how men are in a mess.
The god of earth is still his father's son,
As queer as when the days were one.
Somewhat better would he live
Had you forgot heaven's light to give.
His use of reason's minimal,
Lower than the lowest animal,
He seems to be, with permission of Your Grace,
A cricket jumping all around the place,
Who's always spinning and spinning springs,
and in the grass the same old lyric sings;
If only he'd molder in the grass
And not stick his nose in such morass.
THE LORD
Have you nothing else to say?
Must you always arrogance display?
Doesn't anything on earth seem good to you?
MEPHISTOPHELES
No Sir, I find things rotten through and through.
So sorry for humanity am I
That tormenting it almost makes me cry.
THE LORD
Do you know Faust?
MEPHISTOPHELES
The doctor?
THE LORD
My servant.
MEPHISTOPHELES
Of course. He serves you in a special way,
Keeping even food and drink at bay,
Confusion plays the devil with his mind.
Though knowing only fools would take such measures,
He asks that heaven show him orbs sublime
And earth provide him all its pleasures;
Not all that's high nor all that's low
Can satisfy his will to know.
THE LORD
Although he serves me in some confusion,
I'll gladly show him soon the light.
The gardener knows that flowers in profusion
And fruit adorn his trees when all is ripe.
MEPHISTOPHELES
What will you bet? You'll lose, you know,
If me you give permission
To lead him where he longs to go.
THE LORD
As long as he's on earth alive,
So long it's not to you forbidden.
Men must err as long as they still strive.
MEPHISTOPHELES
I thank you, Lord. I've never kept it hidden
That once they're dead I keep my distance,
It's rosy cheeks I love in every instance.
I'm not at home to corpses in my house,
I like to play the game of cat and mouse.
THE LORD
All right, I give you leave to try it.
Seduce that spirit from its primal source
And guide it, should you find a way to beguile it,
Along the fearsome pitfalls of your course;
And stand disgraced when finally you admit:
A good man, in spite of iniquity's force,
Will find the path to truth before he's quit.
MEPHISTOPHELES
Done! It won't take very long.
I have no doubt that I will win the bet,
And when I do, please don't forget the debt,
Allow my triumph its rightful measure.
Dust shall he eat, and with pleasure,
Just like the serpent, my celebrated pet.
THE LORD
Even that you're free to try.
Your kind and you I've never hated,
Of all the spirits who me deny,
The rogue by me the least is rated.
The deeds of men are easily put to sleep,
They love their undisturbéd rest.
That's why I give them over to his keep,
Who as the devil puts them to the test.
But you, true sons of God, enjoy
The living wealth of beauty's joy.
Let Being -- active and alive forever --
Embrace you in love's delightful folds.
Make fast the things that swerve and sever
With thought that steadfast holds.
MEPHISTOPHELES
I enjoy seeing the Old Man now and then
To ensure our rapport is never broken.
It's damned decent of Himself once again
In person with the Devil to have spoken.
 
Translation from the German: Frank Thomas Smith

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