Friday, February 12, 2016


I love this book, not just because I love Faust (no, I haven’t read the whole thing. I have read portions here and there, in translations, especially in the Assamese translation by the incomparable Nabakanta Barua.), but because this book is in German, as it should be, as it was written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I found the book in a secondhand book shop, for Rs 20. I don’t know how the book ended up there. Probably, it was discarded by some students of German Literature.

Anyway, sometimes I open the book and look at the words, and imagine how it would sound like, and imagine my friends, who know German reading them. The book is old, print in the 1960s, in the US not less. It has a nice hard cover with a lovely paper dust jacket.

So, here is my favourite part of the poem/play, a conversation between Marguerite and Faust in the garden, regarding the divine:

Margaret: Ah, if in this I was only fluent!
You don’t respect the Holy Sacrament.

Faust: I respect it.

Margaret: Without wanting it, though. You’ve passed
So many years without confession, or mass. 3425
Do you believe in God?

Faust: My darling, who dare say:
‘I believe in God’?
Choose priest to ask, or sage,
The answer would seem a joke, would it not,
Played on whoever asks?
Margaret So, you don’t believe? 3430
Faust Sweetest being, don’t misunderstand me!
Who dares name the nameless?
Or who dares to confess:
‘I believe in him’?
Yet who, in feeling, 3435
Says: ‘I don’t believe’?
The all-clasping,
The all-upholding,
Does it not clasp, uphold, 3440
You: me, itself?
Don’t the heavens arch above us?
Doesn’t earth lie here under our feet?
And don’t the eternal stars, rising,
Look down on us in friendship? 3445
Are not my eyes reflected in yours?
And don’t all things press
On your head and heart,
And weave, in eternal mystery,
Visibly: invisibly, around you? 3450
Fill your heart from it: it is so vast,
And when you are blessed by the deepest feeling,
Call it then what you wish,
Joy! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name 3455
For it! Feeling is all:
Names are sound and smoke,
Veiling Heaven’s bright glow.

Margaret: That’s all well and good, I know,
The priest says much the same, 3460
Only, in slightly different words.

Faust: It’s what all hearts, say, everywhere
Under the heavenly day,
Each in its own speech:
And why not I in mine? 3465

(This is a translation by AS Kline. You can read the whole thing, or download the book at Poetry in Translation.)

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