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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Excerpts from Faust (1808)

Goethe worked on Faust throughout his artistic life; he published Part I in 1808 and completed Part II in 1832, the year of his death. Difficult to translate, this poetic masterpiece dramatizes humanity’s futile and often self-destructive search for transcendent knowledge and an understanding of the totality of things. It raises the question of how – and with what moral and philosophical justification – human reason is to be acted upon (recognizing that knowledge in and of itself is an unsatisfying possession). Faust figures in part as the embodiment of amoral, all-rationalizing modernity, but at the same also as the agent of human optimism against Mephistopheles’s perceptive but ultimately barren nihilism. In this way, Faust addresses major themes of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment eras.

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Three Archangels come forward

The Sun, in ancient guise, competing
With brother spheres in rival song,
With thunder-march, his orb completing,
Moves his predestin'd course along;
His aspect to the powers supernal
Gives strength, though fathom him none may;
Transcending thought, the works eternal
Are fair as on the primal day.

With speed, thought baffling, unabating,
Earth's splendour whirls in circling flight;
Its Eden-brightness alternating
With solemn, awe-inspiring night;
Ocean's broad waves in wild commotion,
Against the rocks' deep base are hurled;
And with the spheres, both rock and ocean
Eternally are swiftly whirled.

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