Hey Professor, I could use a hand,
I just read a play I didn’t understand.
And what was this play, pray?
Faust, the one you assigned the other day.
I simply can’t wrap my mind around it;
I read it carefully, but I am left confounded.
I have, alas, studied philosophy,
Literature, history, and poetry.
I have some time that I can set aside;
So I will do my best to be your guide.
Gosh, thanks! So where should I start?
I suppose at the most conspicuous part:
The language, it was strangely various;
Both in style and quality, it was multifarious.
One moment, it is regal and poetic;
Other moments it is hasty and frenetic.
Doggerel alternates with highfalutin;
At times colossal, at others Lilliputian.
Perhaps the translation was abysmal?
Actually, I read the German original.
Ah, I see; please go on.
I hope you won’t think I’m a moron,
But I also thought the drama lacking;
Even though Faust does all this yacking
About his tortured soul, his weary spirit,
I found his actions downright incoherent.
He alternately scorns the world and yearns—
For what? What does he wish to learn?
Although supposedly full of all these riddles,
I found him a bit superficial.
In short, it’s hard to care about his fate,
When all he does is whine and prate.
What about Mephistopheles?
With him, I was somewhat more pleased.
He has at least a bit of spice;
His naughtiness is rather nice.
And how did you like the plot?
That actually perplexed me a lot.
For one, it’s not a tragedy,
Since the play ends happily.
And what was with Walpurgis Night?
Yes it was fun, but it didn’t seem right
To interrupt the action so severely,
So pointlessly and cavalierly.
Some critics admire that scene, “it’s po-mo,”
They say, but I say “Oh, no!”
And what was with Valentine?
He sticks around for just one scene,
And if I am to be concise,
He struck me as a plot device.
To be honest, from what I gleaned,
I can’t tell why this is so esteemed.
It was nice and all, but I find it queer,
That Goethe is compared with Shakespeare.
I can understand the plight you’re in,
It’s hard to know where to begin.
Goethe is a slippery fellow;
Reading him is like juggling jello.
He was a touch mercurial;
Often brilliant, occasionally dull.
He was a dabbler through and through
There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do,
Or at least try; which is partly why
The language goes from low to high.
Certainly he was heterogeneous;
But why do you think he was a genius?
In some ways he was like Faust;
He studied all, and all renounced.
He was skeptical of all modes of thought;
And found faults in everything he sought.
His distrust of tidiness
Is why the play is such a mess.
If reality is in disarray,
So shouldn’t be his play?
This strikes me as just an excuse.
Everyone is entitled to their views.
Yet consider Goethe’s sophistication;
In him there is no mystification.
In renouncing reason, he does not turn,
To superstition, but instead learns
To spread his mind in all directions;
At once seeking, through reflection,
To transcend all worldly views,
While remaining coarse and worldly, too.
His wisdom soars above, and crawls below;
It is both cheap and tawdry, and it glows
And grows, expanding ever and anon—
Here one moment, in another, gone.
He was, in short, a universal man;
Easy to admire, hard to understand.
So was he Faust or Mephisto?
He was both, he was both.