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Goethe's Standard of the Soul

Goethe's Faust: A Picture of his Esoteric World Conception

I.

GOETHE'S FAUST: A PICTURE OF HIS ESOTERIC
WORLD CONCEPTION

It is Goethe's conviction that man can never solve the riddle of existence within the limits of a synthetic conception of the world. [See Note 1] He shares this idea with those who, as a result of certain proofs of inner life, have acquired insight into the nature and substance of knowledge. Such men, unlike some philosophers, find it impossible to speak of a limitation of human cognition; and while realising that there are no bounds to man's search for wisdom, but that it is capable of infinite expansion, are aware that the depths of the universe are unfathomable, that in every unmasked secret lies the origin of the new; and in every solution of a riddle another lies unrevealed. Yet they also know that each new riddle will be capable of solution when the soul has risen to the requisite stage of evolution. Convinced as they are that no mysteries of the Universe are absolutely beyond the reach of man, they do not always desire to reach the contentment of a complete and finished knowledge. They strive only to reach certain vantage points in the life of the soul whence the perspectives of know-ledge open out and lose themselves in the far distance.

It is the same with knowledge in general as it is with knowledge acquired from great works of the spiritual life. They proceed from unfathomable depths of soul life. We may really say that the only significant spiritual creations are those in whose presence we feel this to an ever increasing degree the more often we return to them. It must be assumed that a man's soul life has itself advanced in development each time he returns to the work. Goethe's Faust must surely produce a similar feeling in all who approach it with this attitude of mind.

Students who bear in mind that Goethe began Faust as a young man and finished it shortly before his death, will guard against entertaining conclusive opinions about it. In his long, varied life, the poet advanced from one stage of development to another, and he allowed his creation of Faust to participate in the fullest sense in this development. He was once asked whether the conclusion of Faust accorded with the words of the “Prologue in Heaven,” written in 1797:

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

He answered that this was “enlightenment” but that Faust was finished in old age and then man becomes a mystic. Goethe, as a young man, could not of course realise that in the course of his life he would rise to the conception which at the end of Faust in the “Chorus Mysticus” he was able to express in the words:

“All things transitory
But as Symbols are sent.”

At the end of Goethe's life the Eternal element in existence was revealed to him in a sense other than he could have dreamed in 1797, when he allows “the Lord” to speak to the Archangels of this Eternal element, in the words:

“And what in wavering apparition gleams”

Fix in its place with thoughts that stand for ever! Goethe was fully aware that the truth he possessed had developed within him by degrees, and he would have judged his Faust from this standpoint. On 6th December, 1829, he said to Eckermann: “In old age one's view of things of the world has changed. ... I am like a man who in youth has many small silver and copper coins which in the course of life he changes into more and more valuable coin, so that he finally sees his youthful heritage in gold pieces before him.”

Why was it that old age brought to Goethe a different view of “things of the world?” Because in the course of his life he attained to higher and higher points of view in his soul life, from which new perspectives of truth were perpetually revealed to him. Only those who follow Goethe's inner development can hope to read aright the portions of Faust which were written in the poet's old age. But to such men new depths of this world poem will ever and again be revealed. They advance to a stage where all the events and figures take on an esoteric significance; an inner, spiritual meaning is there beside the external appearance. Those who are incapable of this, will, according to their personal artistic perception, be like the famous aesthetic Vischer, who called the second part of Faust a patched up production of old age, or they will find delight in the rich world of imagery and fable which streams from Goethe's imagination.

Anyone who speaks of an esoteric meaning in Goethe's Faust will naturally arouse the opposition of those who claim that a “work of art” must be accepted and enjoyed purely “as art,” and that it is inadmissible to turn living figures of artistic imagination into dry allegory. They think that because the spiritual content is barren so far as they are concerned, it must be so for everyone else. But there are some who breathe a higher life that streams from a mighty Spirit, where others hear only words. It is difficult to meet on common ground those who have not the will to follow us into the spiritual world. We have at our disposal only the same words as they; and we cannot force anyone to sense within the words, that totally different element which is perceptible to us. We have no quarrel with such people; we admit what they say, for with us, too, Faust is primarily a work of art, a creation of the imagination. We know how great our loss would be if we were unable to appreciate the artistic value of the work. But it must never be urged that we have no perception of the beauty of the lily because we rise to the spirit which it reveals, nor that we are blind to the picture that in a higher sense is for us like “all things transitory,” which “as symbols are sent.”

We agree with Goethe, who said to Eckermann on 29th January, 1827: “Yet everything (in Faust) is of a sense nature, and on the stage will be quite evident to the eye. I have no other wish. If it should chance that the general audience find pleasure in the representation, that is well; the higher significance will not escape the initiate.” Those who want truly to understand Goethe must not hold aloof from such initiation. It is possible to indicate the exact point in Goethe's life when he came to the realisation which he has clothed in the words:

“All things transitory
But as symbols are sent.”

Standing before the ancient works of art his soul was flooded with this thought: “This much is certain, that the artists of antiquity possessed equally with Homer a mighty knowledge of Nature, a sure conception of what lends itself to portrayal, and of how it ought to be portrayed. Unfortunately the number of works of art of the first rank is all too small. But when we find them our only desire is to understand them in truth and approach them in peace. Supreme works of art, like the most sublime products of Nature, are created by man in conformity with true and natural Law. All that is arbitrary, all that is invented, collapses: there is Necessity, there is God.” These thoughts are inscribed in Goethe's Diary of his “Italian Journey” under the date, 6th September, 1787.

Man can also penetrate to the “spirit of things” by other paths. Goethe's nature was that of the artist; hence for him the revelation of this spirit had to come through art. It can be shown that the scientific knowledge which enabled him to proclaim the scientific views of the nineteenth century in advance, was born from his artistic qualities. One personality will arrive at a similar perspective of knowledge and truth through religion, another through the development of philosophic understanding. (c.f. my book Goethe's World Conception.)

We must seek in Goethe's Faust for the picture of an inner soul development, — a picture such as an inherently artistic personality is bound to produce. Goethe was by reason of his spiritual gifts able to look into the very depths of Nature in all her reality. We can see how in the boy Goethe there develops, out of his faith, a pro-found reverence for Nature. He describes this in Poetry and Truth: “The God who stands in immediate connection with Nature and recognises and loves it as His handiwork, seemed to him the real God, who might enter into closer relationship with man, as with everything else, and who would make him His care, as well as the motion of the stars, times and seasons, plants and animals.” The boy selects the best minerals and stones from his father's collection and arranges them on a music stand. This is the altar upon which he likes to offer his sacrifice to the God of Nature. He lays tapers on the stones and by means of a burning glass lights the tapers with the intercepted rays of the rising morning sun. In this way he kindles a sacred fire through the essence of the Divine Nature forces. We may perceive here the beginning of an inner soul development that — speaking in the terms of Indian Theosophy —s eeks for the Light at the centre of the Sun, and for Truth at the centre of the Light. Anyone who follows Goethe's life can trace this Path along which, in inter-mediate stages, he seeks those deeper levels of consciousness where the eternal Necessity, God, was revealed to him. He tells us in Poetry and Truth how he explored every possible region of science, including experimental Alchemy.

“ Wherefore from Magic I seek assistance,
That many a secret perchance I reach
Through spirit power and spirit speech.”
(Faust's Monologue at the beginning of Part I.)

Later on Goethe sought for the expression of eternal law in the creations of Nature and in his “Archetypal Plant” and “Archetypal Animal” he discovered what the spirit of Nature proclaims to the human spirit when the soul has attained to a mode of thought and conception that is “in conformity with the Idea.” Between these two turning points of Goethe's soul life lies the period of the composition of that part of the Drama in which, after Faust's despair of all external Science, he invokes the Earth Spirit. The eternal truth-bearing Light speaks in the words of this “Earth Spirit.”

“In the tides of Life, in Action's storm,
A fluctuant wave,
A shuttle free,
Birth and the Grave,
An eternal sea,
A weaving, flowing
Life, all-glowing,
Thus at Time's humming loom 'tis my hand prepares
The garment of Life which the Deity weaves!”

This is an expression of the all-embracing conception of Nature which we also find in the Prose Hymn Nature, written by Goethe somewhere about the 30th year of his age. “Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her, we cannot draw back from her, nor can we penetrate more deeply into her being. She lifts us, unmasked and unwarned, into the gyrations of her dance, and whirls us away until we fall, exhausted, from her arms. She creates new forms eternally. What is, had no previous existence; what was, comes not again; all is new and yet is ever the old. She builds and destroys eternally, and her laboratory is inaccessible ... She lives in the purity of children, and the Mother, where is she? Nature is the only artist. Each of her creations is an individual Being, each of her revelations a separate concept; yet all makes up a unity. ... She transforms herself eternally and has never a moment of inactivity. ... Her step is measured, her exceptions few, her laws are unchangeable. ... All men are within her, she is within all men. ... Life is her fairest device, and Death is her artifice for acquiring greater life. ... Man obeys her laws even when he opposes them. ... She is the All. She rewards and punishes, delights and distresses herself ... She knows not past and future. The present is her Eternity. ... She has placed me within life and she will lead me out of it. I trust myself to her. ... It was not I who spoke of her. It was she who spoke it all, whether it were true or false. Her's is the blame for all things, her's the credit.”

In old age, looking back at this stage of his soul development, Goethe himself said that it represented an inferior conception of life and that he had acquired one more lofty. But this stage revealed to him that eternal, universal law which streams alike through Nature and the human soul. It inspired the grave conception that an eternal, iron Necessity binds all beings into unity, and taught him to consider man in his indissoluble connection with this Necessity. This attitude of mind is expressed in his Ode, The Divine, written in the year 1782.

“Let man be noble, resourceful and good! For this alone distinguishes him from all other beings known to us. According to eternal, mighty Laws of iron must we complete the circle of our existence.”

The same conception is expressed in Faust's Monologue written about the year 1787:

“Spirit sublime, thou gav'st me, gav'st me all
For which I prayed. Not unto me in vain
Hast thou thy countenance revealed in fire.
Thou gav'st me Nature as a kingdom grand,
With power to feel and to enjoy it. Thou
Not only cold, amazed acquaintance yield'st,
But grantest, that in her profoundest breast I gaze,
as in the bosom of a friend.
The ranks of living creatures thou dost lead
Before me, teaching me to know my brothers
In air and water and the silent wood.
And when the storm in forests roars and grinds,
The giant firs, in falling, neighbour boughs
And neighbour trunks with crushing weight bear down,
And falling, fill the hills with hollow thunders, —
Then to the cave secure thou leadest me,
Then show'st me mine own self, and in my breast
The deep, mysterious miracles unfold.”

The perspective of his soul was revealed to Goethe by the mysteries of his own breast. It is a perspective which can no longer be revealed in the external world alone, but only when a man descends into his own soul in such a way that in ever deeper regions of consciousness, sublimer secrets may come to light. The world of the senses and intellect then takes on a new significance. It becomes a “symbol” of the Eternal. Man perceives that he has a more intimate connection between the external world and his own soul. He learns to know that in his inner being there is a voice destined also to solve all riddles of the outer world.

“Here the inadequate
Becomes attainment” [See Note 2]

The highest facts of life, the division into male and female becomes the key to the riddle of humanity. The process of cognition becomes that of life, of fecundation. The soul, in its depths, becomes woman, that element which, impregnated by the world Spirit, gives birth to the highest life-substance. Woman becomes a “symbol” of these soul depths. We ascend to the mysteries of existence by allowing ourselves to be drawn “upwards and on” by the “eternal feminine,” the woman soul. Higher existence begins when we experience the action of wisdom as a process of spiritual fecundation. The deeper mystics of all ages have realised this. They allowed the highest knowledge to grow out of the action of spiritual fecundation as in the case of the Egyptian Horus, the soul-man, born of Isis, who was overshadowed by the spiritual eye of Osiris, — “He who was awakened from the dead.” The second part of Goethe's Faust is written from such a point of view.

Faust's love for Gretchen in the first part, is of the senses. Faust's love for Helena, in the second part, is not merely a sense process, but a “symbol” of the most profoundly mystical soul experience. In Helena, Faust seeks for the “eternal feminine,” the woman soul; he seeks the depths of his own soul. The fact that Goethe should allow the archetypal figure of Greek feminine beauty to represent the “woman in man” is connected with the essential nature of his personality. The realisation of Divine Necessity dawned in him as he contemplated the beauty of the Greek masterpieces.

Faust became a mystic as the result of his union with Helena, and he speaks as a mystic at the beginning of the fourth Act of Part II. He sees the female image, the depths of his own soul, and speaks the words:

“... Towering broad and formlessly,
It rests along the East like distant icy hills,
And shapes the grand significance of fleeting days.
And still there clings a light and delicate band of mist
Around my breast and brow, caressing, cheering me.
Now light, delayingly, it soars and higher soars
And folds together. — Cheats me an ecstatic form,
As early youthful, long foregone and highest bliss?
The first glad treasures of my deepest heart break forth;
Aurora's love, so light of pinion, is its type,
The swiftly-felt, the first, scarce-comprehended glance,
Out-shining every treasure, when retained and held.
Like Spiritual Beauty mounts the gracious Form,
Dissolving not, but lifts itself through ether far,
And from my inner being bears the best away.”

In this description of the ecstacy experienced by one who has descended into the depths of his own soul and has there felt the best within him drawn away by the “eternal feminine,” it is as though we were listening to the words of the Greek Philosopher: “When, free from the body, thou ascendest to the free Aether, thy soul becomes an immortal god, who knows not death.”

For at this stage Death becomes a “symbol.” Man dies from the lower life in order to live again in a higher existence. Higher spiritual life is a new stage of the “Becoming”; time becomes a “symbol” of the Eternal that now lives in man. The union with the “eternal feminine” allows the child in man to come into being, — the child, imperishable, immortal, because it is of the Eternal. The higher life is the surrender, the death of the lower, the birth of a higher existence. In his “West-East Diva” Goethe expresses this in the words: “And as long as thou art without this ‘dying and becoming’ thou art but an uneasy guest on the dark Earth.” We find the same thought in his prose aphorisms: “Man must give up his existence in order to exist.” Goethe is in agreement with the Mystic Herakleitos when he speaks of the Dionysian cult of the Greeks. It would have been an empty, even a dishonourable cult in his eyes if it had made sacrifices merely to the god of nature and of sense pleasure. But that was not the case. The worship was not alone directed to Dionysos, the god of the immediate sense prosperity of Life, but to Hades, the god of death as well. The Greeks “prepared tumultuous fire” both for Hades and Dionysos, for in the Greek Mysteries life was honoured in company with death; this is the higher existence that passes through material death of which the Mystics speak when they say that “Death is after all the root of all life.” The second part of Faust represents an awakening, the birth of the “higher man” from the depths of the soul. From this point of view we can understand the meaning of Goethe's words: “If it should chance that the general audience find pleasure in the representation, that is well; the higher significance will not escape the initiate.”

Those who have developed true mystical knowledge find it in high degree in Goethe's Faust. After the scene with the Earth Spirit in Part I., when Faust has conversed with Wagner and is alone, despairing of the insignificance of the Earth Spirit, he speaks the words:

“I, God's own image, from this toil of clay
Already freed, with eager joy who hailed
The mirror of eternal Truth unveil'd,
Mid light effulgent and celestial clay:—
I, more than cherub, whose unfettered soul
With penetrative glance aspir'd to flow
Through Nature's veins, and, still creating, know
The life of Gods, — how am I punished now!” [See Note 3]

What is the “Mirror of Eternal Truth”? We can read of it in the following words of Jacob Boehme, the Mystic: “All that, whereof this world is an earthly mirror, and an earthly parable, is present in the Divine Kingdom in great perfection and in Spiritual Being. Not only the spirit conceived as a will or thought, but Beings, corporate Beings, full of strength and substance, though to the outer world impalpable. For from the self-same spiritual Being in whom is the pure element — and from the Being of Darkness in the Mystery of Wrath — from the origin of the eternal Being of manifestation whence all the qualities come forth, this visible world was born and created, a spoken sound proceeding from the Being of all Beings.”

For the sake of those who love truisms let it be observed that it is not in any sense correct to state that Goethe had precisely this passage of Jacob Boehme in his mind when he wrote the words quoted above. What he had in his mind was the mystical knowledge which finds expression in Boehme's sentences. Goethe lived in this mystical knowledge and it grew riper and riper within him. He created from the kind of knowledge possessed by the mystics. And from this source he derived the capacity for seeing Life, — “things transitory” as symbols only, as a reflection. A period of inexhaustible inner development lies between the time (Part I.) when Goethe wrote his words of despair at being so remote from the “mirror of eternal truth,” and the time when he wrote the “Chorus Mysticus” whose words express the fact that “things transitory” are to be seen only as “symbols” of the Eternal.

The theme of the mystical “dying and becoming” runs through the Introductory Scene of Part II.:

“A pleasing landscape. Faust reclining upon flowery turf, restless, seeking sleep.” The elves, under Ariel, bring about Faust's “Awakening.”

“Who round this head in airy circles hover,
Yourselves in guise of noble Elves discover!
The fierce convulsions of his heart compose;
Remove the burning barbs of his remorses,
And cleanse his being from the suffered woes!
Four pauses makes the Night upon her courses,
And now, delay not, let them kindly close!
First on the coolest pillow let him slumber,
Then sprinkle him with Lethe's drowsy spray!
His limbs no more shall cramps and chills encumber,
When sleep has made him strong to meet the day.
Perform, ye Elves, your fairest rite:
Restore him to the holy Light!”

And at sunrise Faust is restored to the “holy Light”:

“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.”

For what was Faust striving in his study (Part I.), and what had happened at the stage he has reached at the beginning of Part II.? His striving is clothed in the words of the “Wise man”:

“The spirit world no closures fasten;
Thy sense is shut, thy heart is dead:
Disciple, up! untiring, hasten
To bathe thy breast in morning-red!”

As yet Faust cannot bathe his “earthly breast” in the “morning red.” When he has invoked the Earth Spirit he is forced to acknowledge the insignificance of this being. This he is able to do at the beginning of Part II. Ariel proclaims how it comes to be:

“Hearken! Hark! — the Hours careering!
Sounding loud to spirit-hearing,
See the new-born day appearing!”

The “new-born day” of knowledge and of life born out of the “morning red” inspired Jacob Boehme's earliest work entitled Aurora or The Rise of Dawn, which was imbued with mystical knowledge. The passage in Act IV., Part II., of Faust already quoted shows how deeply Goethe lived in such conceptions. “The first glad treasures” of his “deepest heart” are revealed to him by “Aurora's Love.” When Faust has really bathed his “earthly breast in the morning red” he is ready to lead a higher life within the course of his earthly existence. He appears in the company of Mephistopheles at the imperial palace during a feast of pleasure and empty amusements and must himself help to increase them. He appears in the Mask of Hades, the God of Wealth, in a masquerade. He is desired to add to the amusements by charming Paris and Helena from the Underworld. This shows us that Faust had attained to that stage in his soul life where he under-stood the “dying and becoming.” He participates joyfully in the Feast, but while it is going on he sets out on “the path to the Mothers,” where alone he can find the figures of Paris and Helena which the emperor wishes to see. The eternal archetypes of all existence are preserved in the realm of the Mothers. It is a realm which man can only enter when he has “given up his existence in order to exist.” There, too, Faust is able to find the part of Helena that has outlived the ages. But Mephistopheles, who has up to now been his guide, is not able to lead him into this realm. This is characteristic of his nature. He says emphatically to Faust:

“Thou deem'st the thing is quickly fixed:
Here before steeper ways we're standing;
With strangest spheres would'st thou be mixed.”

Mephistopheles is a stranger to the realm of the Eternal. This may well appear inexplicable when we consider that Mephistopheles belongs to the kingdom of Evil, itself a kingdom of Eternity. But the difficulty is solved when we take Goethe's individuality into account. He had not experienced “eternal Necessity” within the realm of Christianity where, to him, Hell and the Devil belong. This idea of the Eternal arose for Goethe in a region alien to the conceptions of Christendom. It is to be admitted of course that the ultimate origin of a figure like Mephistopheles is to be found in the conceptions of Heathen religions too. (Cp. Karl Kiesewetter's “Faust in history and tradition.”) So far as Goethe was concerned, however, this figure belonged to the Northern world of Christendom, and the source of his creation was there. He could not in personal experience find his kingdom of the Eternal within the scope of this world of conceptions. To understand this, we need only be reminded of what Schiller said of Goethe in his deeply intuitive letter of 23rd August, 1794: “If you had been born a Greek or even an Italian with a special kind of Nature and an idealistic Art around you from the cradle, your path would have been infinitely limited and perhaps made quite superficial. Even in the earliest conception of things you would have absorbed the Form of Necessity and you would have developed a mighty style together with your earliest experience. But being born a German with your Greek spirit thrown into the milieu of this Northern world, you had no choice but to become either an Artist of the North, or to re-establish in your Imagination by the help of the power of thought, what Reality withheld from you, and so, as it were, from within outwards, and on a rationalistic path, give birth to a Greek world.”

It is not our task here to embark upon a consideration of the different conceptions formed by man as to the meaning of the Mephistopheles figure. These conceptions express the endeavour to change figures of Art into barren allegories or symbols, and I have always opposed this. So far as an esoteric interpretation is concerned, Mephistopheles must be accepted, in the sense, naturally, of poetical reality, as an actual being. For an esoteric interpretation does not look for the spiritual value which certain figures in the first instance receive from the poet, but the spiritual value they already have in life. The poet can neither deprive them of this nor can he impart it; he takes it from life, as he would anything visible to the eye. It is, however, part of the nature of Mephistopheles that he lives in the material sense world. Hell, too, is nothing but incarnate materiality, The Eternal in the womb of the Mothers can only be an entirely alien realm to anyone who lives in materiality as intensely as Mephistopheles. Man must penetrate through materiality in order again to enter into the Eternal, the Divine, whence he has sprung. If he finds the way, if he “gives up his existence in order to exist,” then he is a Faust being; if he cannot abandon materiality he becomes a character like Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles is only able to give to Faust the “key” to the realm of the Mothers. A mystery is connected with this “key.” Man must have experienced it before he can fully penetrate it. It will be most easy of attainment to those who are scientists in the true sense.

It is possible for a man to accumulate much scientific learning and yet for the “spirit of things,” the realm of the Mothers, to remain closed to him. Yet in scientific knowledge we have, fundamentally, the key to the spiritual world in our hands. It may become either academic erudition or wisdom. If a man of wisdom makes himself master of that “dry erudition” which a man who is merely scientific has accumulated, he is led into a region which to the other is entirely foreign. Faust is able to penetrate to the Mothers with the key given him by Mephistopheles. The natures of Faust and Mephistopheles are reflected in the way in which they speak of the realm of the Mothers.

Mephistopheles:

“...Naught shalt thou see in endless Void afar, —
Not hear thy footstep fall, nor meet
A stable spot to rest thy feet.”

Faust:

“... I to the Void am sent,
That art and power therein I may augment;
To use me like the cat is thy desire,
To scratch for thee the chestnuts from the fire.
Come on then! We'll explore, whate'er befall;
In this, thy Nothing, may I find my All!”

Goethe told Eckermann how he came to introduce the “Mothers ” scene. “I can only tell you,” he says, “that in Plutarch I found that in Greek Antiquity the Mothers were spoken of as Divinities.” This necessarily made a profound impression upon Goethe, who as the result of his mystical knowledge, realised the significance of the “eternal feminine.”

From the realm of the Mothers, Faust conjures up the figures of Helena and of Paris. When he sees them before him in the imperial palace he is seized by an irresistible desire for Helena. He wants to take possession of her. He sinks unconscious to the ground and is carried off by Mephistopheles. Here we come to a stage of great significance in Faust's evolution. He is ready and ripe to press forward into the spiritual world. He can rise in spirit to the eternal archetypes. He has reached the point where the spiritual world in an infinite perspective becomes visible to man.

At this point it is possible for a man either to resign himself to the realisation that this perspective cannot be gauged in one bound, but must rather be traversed by numberless life stages; or he may determine to make himself master of the final aim of Divinity at one stroke. The latter was Faust's desire. He undergoes a new test. He must experience the truth that man is bound to matter and that only when he has passed through all stages of materiality is he made pure for attainment of the final aim.

Only a purely spiritual being, born in a spiritual fashion, can unite himself directly with the spiritual world. The human tspirit is not a being of this kind and it must pass through the whole range of material existence. Without this life-journey the human spirit would be a soulless, lifeless entity. The very existence of the human spirit implies that the journey through materiality has been begun at some point. For man is what he is only because he has passed through a series of previous incarnations. Goethe had also to express this conception in Faust. On 16th December, 1829, he speaks of Homunculus to Eckermann: “A spiritual being like Homunculus, not yet darkened and circumscribed by a fully human evolution, is to be counted a Daemon.”

Homunculus, therefore, is a man but without the element of materiality that is essential to man. He is brought into existence by magical methods in the laboratory. On the date above mentioned Goethe speaks further of him to Eckermann: “Homunculus, as a being to whom actuality is absolutely clear and transparent, beholds the inner being of the sleeping Faust. But because everything is transparent to his spirit, the spirit has no point for him. He does not reason; he wants to act.” In so far as man is a knower, the impulse to will and action is awakened through knowledge. The essential thing is not the knowledge or the spirit as such, but the fact that this spirit must be led to pass through the material, through action. The more knowledge a being possesses, the greater will be the impulse to action. And a being who has been produced by purely spiritual means must be filled with the thirst for action. Homunculus is in this position. His powerful urge towards reality leads Faust with Mephistopheles to Greece, into the “Classical Walpurgis Night.” Homunculus is bound to become corporeal in the realm where Goethe found the highest reality. It then becomes possible for Faust to find the real Helena, not merely her archetype. Homunculus leads him into Greek reality. To understand fully the nature of Homunculus we need only follow his journeys through the Classical Walpurgis Night. He wants to learn from two Greek Philosophers how he can come into being, that is, to action. He says to Mephistopheles:

“From place to place I flit and hover.
And in the best sense. I would fain exist.
And most impatient am. my glass to shatter;
But what till now I've witnessed, is't
Then strange if I mistrust the matter?
Yet I'll be confidential. if thou list:
I follow two Philosophers this way.
'Twas ‘Nature! Nature!’ — all heard them say;
I'll cling to them and see what they are seeing,
For they must understand this earthly being,
And I shall doubtless learn, in season.
Where to betake me with the soundest reason.”

His wish is to gain knowledge of the natural conditions of the genesis of corporeal existence. Thales leads him to Proteus. the Lord of Change, of the “eternal Becoming.” Thales says of Homunculus:

“He asks thy counsel, he desires to be.
He is, as I myself have heard him say.
(The thing's a marvell!) only born half-way.
He has no lack of qualities ideal,
But far too much of palpable and real.
Till now the glass alone has given him weight,
And he would fain be soon incorporeate.”

And Proteus gives utterance to the Law of Becoming:

“No need to ponder here his origin;
On the broad ocean's breast must thou begin!
One starts there first within a narrow pale.
And finds, destroying, lower forms, enjoyment:
Little by little, then, one climbs the scale,
And fits himself for loftier employment.”

Thales gives the counsel:

“Yield to the wish so wisely stated,
And at the source be thou created!
Be ready for the rapid plan!
There, by eternal canons wending,
Through thousand, myriad forms ascending,
Thou shalt attain, in time, to Man.”

Goethe's whole conception of the relationship of all beings, of their metamorphic evolution from the imperfect to the perfect is here expressed in a picture. At first the spirit can only exist germinally in the world. The spirit must pour itself out, must dip down into matter, and into the elements, before it can take on its sublimer form. Homunculus is shattered by Galatea's shell chariot and is dissolved· into the elements. This is described by the Sirens:

“What fiery marvel the billows enlightens,
As one on the other is broken and. brightens?
It flashes and wavers, and hitherward plays!
On the path of the Night are the bodies ablaze,
And all things around are with flames overrun:
The Eros be ruler, who all things began!”

Homunculus as a spirit no longer exists. He is blended in the Elements and can arise from out of them. Eros, desire, will, action, must go forward to the spirit. The spirit must pass through matter, through the Fall into Sin. In Goethe's words, the spiritual essence must be.darkened and circumscribed, for this is necessary to a full human development. The second Act of Part II. presents the mystery of human development. Proteus, the Lord of corporeal metamorphosis, discloses this Mystery to Homunculus:

“In spirit seek the watery distance!
Boundless shall there be thine existence,
And where to move, thy will be free.
But struggle not to higher orders!
Once Man, within the human borders,
Then all is at an end for thee.”

This is all that the Lord of corporeal metamorphosis can know about human development. So far as his knowledge goes evolution comes to an end when man, as such, has come into existence. What comes after that is not his province. He is only at home in the corporeal; and as a result of man's development the spiritual element separates itself from the merely corporeal. The further development of man proceeds in the spiritual world. The highest point to which the process is brought by the Eros of Nature is the separation into two sexes, male and female. Here spiritual development sets in; Eros is spiritualised. Faust enters into union with Helena, the archetype of Beauty. Goethe was well aware of all that he owed to his intimate connection with Greek beauty. The mystery of spiritualisation was for him of the nature of Art. Euphorion arises out of Faust's union with Helena. Goethe himself tells us what Euphorion is. (Eckermann quotes Goethe's words of 20th December, 1829): “Euphorion is not a human but an allegorical being. Euphorion personifies poetry that is bound neither to place nor person.” Poetry is born from the marriage experienced by Faust in the depths of his soul. This colouring of the spiritual Mystery must be traced back to Goethe's personal experience and nature. He saw in Art, in Poetry, “a manifestation of secret Laws of Nature,” which without them would never be revealed. (Compare his Prose Aphorisms.) He attained the higher stages of soul life as an artist. It was only natural that he should ascribe to poetry not only quite general qualities but those of the poetical creations of his time. Byronic qualities have passed over to Euphorion. On 5th July, 1827, Goethe said to Eckermann: “I could never choose anyone else but Byron as the representative of the most modern school of poetry, for he has unquestionably the greatest talent of the century. Byron is neither ancient nor modern, but like the present day itself. I had to have one like him. Besides this, he was typical, on account of his unsatisfied nature and that warlike temperament which led him to Missolonghi. It is neither opportune nor advisable to write a treatise on Byron, but in the future I shall not fail to pay him incidental tribute and to point to him in certain matters of detail.”

The union of Faust with Helena cannot be permanent. The descent into the depths of the soul, as Goethe also knew, is only possible in “Festival moments” of life. Man descends to those regions where the highest spirituality comes to birth. But with the metamorphosis which he has there experienced he returns again to the life of action. Faust passes through a process of spiritualisation, but as a spiritualised being he has to work on in everyday life. A man who has passed through such “Festival moments” must realise how the deeper soul element in him vanishes again in everyday actuality. Goethe expressed this in a picture. Euphorion disappears again into the realm of darkness. Man cannot bring the spiritual to continuous earthly life, but the spiritual is now inwardly united with his soul. This spiritual element, his child, draws his soul into the realm of the Eternal. He has united himself with the Eternal. As a result of the loftiest spiritual activity man enters into the Eternal in his highest being, in the depths of his soul. The union into which his soul has entered enables him to ascend to the All. The words of Euphorion sound forth as this eternal call in the heart of ever-striving man:

“Leave me here, in the gloomy Void,
Mother, not thus alone!”

A man who has experienced the Eternal in the Temporal perpetually hears this call from the spiritual in him. His creations draw his soul to the Eternal. So will Faust live on. He will lead a dual life. He will create in life, but his spiritual child binds him on his earthly path to the higher world of the spirit. This will be the life of a mystic, but in the nature of things not a life where the days are passed in idle observation, in inner dream, but a life where deeds bear the impress of that nobility attained by man as the result of spiritual deepening.

Faust's outer life, too, will now be that of a man who has surrendered his existence in order to exist. He will work absolutely selflessly in the service of humanity. But still another test awaits him. At the stage to which he has attained he cannot bring his activity in material existence into full harmony with the real needs of the spirit. He has taken land from the sea and has built a stately abode upon it. But an old hut still remains standing and in it live an aged couple. This disturbs the work of new creation. The aged couple do not want to exchange their dwelling for any nobler estate. Faust must see how Mephistopheles carries out his wish, turning it to evil. He sets the homestead on fire and the aged couple die of fright. Faust must experience once again that “perfect human evolution darkens and circumscribes,” and that it must lead to guilt. It was his material sense life that laid this blow, this test upon him. As he hears the bell sound from the aged couple's Chapel he breaks forth into the words:

“Accurséd chime! As in derision
It wounds me, like a spiteful shot:
My realm is boundless to my vision,
Yet at my back this vexing blot!
The bell proclaims; with envious bluster,
My grand estate lacks full design:
The brown old hut, the linden-cluster,
The crumbling chapel are not mine.
If there I wished for recreation,
Another's shade would give no cheer:
A thorn it is, a sharp vexation, —
Would I were far away from here!”

Faust's senses engender in him a fateful desire. There still remains in him some element of that existence which he must “surrender in order to exist.” The homestead is not his. In the “midnight hour” four grey women appear. Want, Blame, Care, Need. These are they who darken and circumscribe man's existence. He passes through life under their escort, and at first he cannot exist without their guidance. Life alone can bring emancipation from them. Faust has reached the point where three of these figures have no power over him. Care is the only one from whom this power has not been taken away. Care says:

“Ye sisters, ye neither can enter, nor dare:
But the keyhole is free to the entrance of Care.”

And Care exhorts him in a voice that lies deep in the heart of every man. No man can eradicate the last doubt as to whether he can with his life's reckoning stand steadfast in face of the Eternal. At this moment Faust has such an experience. Has he really only pure powers around him? Has he freed his “inner man” from all that is impure? He has taken Magic to his aid along his path, and acknowledges this in the words:

“Not yet have I my liberty made good:
If I could banish Magic's fell creations,
And totally unlearn the incantations,
Stood I, O Nature! Man alone in thee,
Then were it worth one's while a man to be!”

Faust too is unable to cast the last doubt away from him. Care may say of him also:

“Though no ear should choose to hear me,
Yet the shrinking heart must fear me:
Though transformed to mortal eyes,
Grimmest power I exercise.”

In the face of Care, Faust would first ask himself whether those remains of doubt as to his life's reckoning have vanished:

“The sphere of Earth is known enough to me,
The view beyond is barred immutably:
A fool, who there his blinking eyes directeth,
And o'er his cloud of peers a place expecteth!
Firm let him stand, and look around him well!
This world means something to the Capable,
Why needs he through Eternity to wend?”

In these very sentences Faust shows that he is about to fight his way to full freedom. Care would urge him on to the Eternal after her own fashion. She shows him how men on the earth only unite the Temporal to the Temporal. And even if they do this, believing that this world means something to the ‘Capable,’ she, nevertheless, remains with them to the last. And what she has been able to do in the case of others, Care thinks she can also do in the case of Faust. She believes in her power to enhance in him those doubts that beset a man when he asks himself whether all his deeds have indeed any significance or meaning. Care speaks of her power over men:

“Shall he go, or come? — how guide him?
Prompt decision is denied him;
Midway on the trodden highway
Halting he attempts a by-way;
Such incessant rolling, spinning,
Painful quitting, hard beginning, —
Now constraint, now liberation,
Semi-sleep, poor recreation,
Firmly in his place ensnare him
And, at last, for Hell prepare him!”

Faust's soul has progressed too far for him to fall into the power of Care to this extent. He is able to cry in rejoinder:

“And yet, O Care, thy power, thy creeping shape,
Think not that I shall recognize it!”

Care is only able to have power over his bodily nature. As she vanishes she breathes on him and he becomes blind. His bodily nature dies in order that he may attain a higher stage:

“The Night seems deeper now to press around me,
But in my inmost spirit all is light.”

After this it is only the soul element in Faust which comes into consideration. Mephistopheles who lives in the material world has no power here. Since the Helena Scene the better and deeper soul of Faust has lived in the Eternal. This Eternal takes full possession of him after his death. Angels incorporeate Faust's immortal essence into this Eternal:

“This noble Spirit now is free,
And saved from evil scheming:
Who'er aspires unweariedly
Is not beyond redeeming.
And if with him celestial love
Hath taken part, — to meet him
Come down the angels from above;
With cordial hail they greet him.”

The “Celestial Love” is in strong contrast to “Eros,” to whom Proteus refers when he says at the end of the second Act, Part II.:

“All things around are with flames overrun:
Then Eros be ruler who all things began!”

This Eros is the Love “from below” that leads Homunculus through the elements and through bodily metamorphosis in order that he may finally appear as man. Then begins the “Love from above” which develops the soul further.

The soul of Faust is set upon the path to the Eternal, the Infinite. An unending perspective is open before it. We can dimly sense what this perspective is. To make it poetically objective is very difficult. Goethe realised this and he says to Eckermann: “You will admit that the conclusion, where the soul that has found salvation passes heavenward, was very difficult to write and that in reference to such highly supersensible and hardly conceivable matters I could have very easily fallen into vagueness if I had not, by the use of sharply defined Christian-Theological figures and concepts, given a certain form and stability to my poetical intentions.” The inexhaustible content of the soul must be indicated, and the deepest inner being expressed in symbol. Holy Anchorites “dispersed over the hill,” “stationed among the clefts” represent the highest states of the evolution of the soul. Man is led upwards into the regions of consciousness, of the soul, — wherein the world becomes to an ever increasing extent the “symbol” of the Eternal.

This consciousness, the deepest region of the soul, are mystically seen in the figure of the “eternal feminine,” Mary the Virgin. Dr. Marianus in rapture prays to her:

“Highest Mistress of the World!
Let me in the azure
Tent of Heaven, in light unfurled
Here thy Mystery measure!”

With the monumental words of the Chorus Mysticus, Faust draws to its conclusion. They are words of Wisdom eternal. They give utterance to the Mystery that “All things transitory are only a symbol.” This is what lies before man in the farthest distance; to this leads the path which man follows when he has grasped the meaning of this “dying and becoming”:

“Here the Inadequate
Becomes attainment.”

This cannot be described because it can only be discovered in experience; this it is that the Initiates of the “Mysteries” experienced when they were led to the path of the Eternal; it is unutterable because it lies in such deep clefts of the soul that it cannot be clothed in words coined for the temporal world:

“The indescribable,
Here it is done.”

And to all this man is drawn by the power of his own soul, by the powers that are dimly sensed when he passes through the inner portals of the soul, when he seeks for that divine voice within calling him to the union of the “eternal masculine,” — the universe, with the “eternal feminine,” — consciousness:


“The Eternal Feminine draws us
Upwards and on.”

 


 

Notes:

Note 1. This chapter was written and published in the original German for the first time in the year 1902.

Note 2. The author of this essay is in agreement with the opinion of Ad. Rudolf expressed in his Archives of Modern Languages LXX., 1883, that the writing of the word “Ereignis” (event) is only due to an auditory mistake of Goethe's stenographer, and that the correct word is “Erreichnis,” attainment.

Note 3. Miss Swanwick's translation.




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