Front Page Titles (by Subject) PROLOGUE FOR THE THEATRE. - Goethe's Works, vol. 2 (Faust 1 & 2, Egmont, Natural Daughter, Sorrows of Young Werther)
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PROLOGUE FOR THE THEATRE. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 2 (Faust 1 & 2, Egmont, Natural Daughter, Sorrows of Young Werther) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 2.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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PROLOGUE FOR THE THEATRE.
Manager. Dramatic Poet. Merryman.
Ye twain, whom I so oft have found
True friends in trouble and distress,
Say, in our scheme on German ground,
What prospect have we of success?
Fain would I please the public, win their thanks;
Because they live and let live, as is meet.
The posts are now erected and the planks,
And all look forward to a festal treat.
Their places taken, they, with eyebrows rais’d,
Sit patiently, and fain would be amaz’d.
I know the art to hit the public taste,
Yet so perplex’d I ne’er have been before;
’Tis true, they’re not accustom’d to the best,
But then they read immensely, that’s the bore.
How make our entertainment striking, new,
And yet significant and pleasing too?
For to be plain, I love to see the throng,
As to our booth the living tide progresses;
As wave on wave successive rolls along,
And through heaven’s narrow portal forceful presses;
Still in broad daylight, ere the clock strikes four,
With blows their way towards the box they take;
And, as for bread in famine, at the baker’s door,
For tickets are content their necks to break.
Such various minds the bard alone can sway,
My friend, oh work this miracle to-day!
Oh speak not of the motley multitude,
At whose aspect the spirit wings its flight;
Shut out the noisy crowd, whose vortex rude
Still draws us downward with resistless might.
Lead to some nook, where silence loves to brood,
Where only for the bard blooms pure delight,
Where love and friendship, gracious heavenly pair,
Our hearts true bliss create, and tend with fostering care.
What there up-welleth deep within the breast,
What there the timid lip shap’d forth in sound,
A failure now, now haply well express’d
In the wild tumult of the hour is drown’d;
Oft doth the perfect form then first invest
The poet’s thought, when years have sped their round;
What dazzles satisfies the present hour,
The genuine lives, of coming years the dower.
This cant about posterity I hate;
About posterity were I to prate,
Who then the living would amuse? For they
Will have diversion, ay, and ’tis their due.
A sprightly fellow’s presence at your play,
Methinks, should always go for something too;
Whose genial wit the audience still inspires,
Is not embittered by its changeful mood;
A wider circle he desires,
To move with greater power, the multitude.
To work, then! Prove a master in your art!
Let phantasy with all her choral train,
Sense, reason, feeling, passion, bear their part,
But mark! let folly also mingle in the strain!
And, chief, let incidents enough arise!
A show they want; they come to feast their eyes.
When stirring scenes before them are display’d,
At which the gaping crowd may wondering gaze,
Your reputation is already made,
The man you are all love to praise.
The masses you alone through masses can subdue,
Each then selects in time what suits his bent.
Bring much, you somewhat bring to not a few,
And from the house goes every one content.
You give a piece, in pieces give it, friend!
Such a ragout, success must needs attend;
’Tis easy to serve up, as easy to invent.
A finish’d whole what boots it to present!
’Twill be in pieces by the public rent.
How mean such handicraft as this you cannot feel!
How it revolts the genuine artist’s mind!
The sorry trash in which these coxcombs deal,
Is here approved on principle, I find.
Such a reproof disturbs me not a whit!
Who on efficient work is bent,
Must choose the fittest instrument.
Consider! ’tis soft wood you have to split;
Think too for whom you write, I pray!
One comes to while an hour away;
One from the festive board, a sated guest;
Others, more dreaded than the rest,
From journal-reading hurry to the play.
As to a masquerade, with absent minds, they press,
Sheer curiosity their footsteps winging;
Ladies display their persons and their dress,
Actors unpaid their service bringing.
What dreams beguile you on your poet’s height?
What puts a full house in a merry mood?
More closely view your patrons of the night!
The half are cold, the other half are rude.
One, the play over, craves a game of cards;
Another a wild night in wanton joy would spend.
Poor fool, the muses’ fair regards
Why court for such a paltry end?
I tell you, give them more, still more, ’tis all I ask,
Thus you will ne’er stray widely from the goal;
Your audience seek to mystify, cajole;—
To satisfy them—that’s a harder task.
What ails thee? art enraptur’d or distress’d?
Depart! elsewhere another servant choose!
What! shall the bard his godlike power abuse?
Man’s loftiest right, kind nature’s high bequest,
For your mean purpose basely sport away?
Whence comes his mastery o’er the human breast,
Whence o’er the elements his sway,
But from the harmony that, gushing from his soul,
Draws back into his heart the wondrous whole?
When round her spindle, with unceasing drone,
Nature still whirls th’ unending thread of life;
When Being’s jarring crowds, together thrown,
Mingle in harsh inextricable strife;
Who deals their course unvari’d till it falls,
In rhythmic flow to music’s measur’d tone?
Each solitary note whose genius calls,
To swell the mighty choir in unison?
Who in the raging storm sees passion lour,
Or flush of earnest thought in evening’s glow,
Who, in the springtide, every fairest flower
Along the lov’d one’s path would strow?
From green and common leaves whose hand doth twine,
The wreath of glory, won in every field?
Makes sure Olympos, blends the powers divine?—
Man’s mighty spirit, in the bard reveal’d!
Come then, employ your lofty inspiration,
And carry on the poet’s avocation,
Just as we carry on a love affair.
Two meet by chance, are pleas’d they linger there,
Insensibly are link’d, they scarce know how;
Fortune seems now propitious, adverse now,
Then come alternate rapture and despair;
And ’tis a true romance ere one’s aware.
Just such a drama let us now compose.
Plunge boldly into life—its depths disclose!
Each lives it, not to many is it known,
’Twill interest wheresoever seiz’d and shown;
Bright pictures, but obscure their meaning:
A ray of truth through error gleaming,
Thus you the best elixir brew,
To charm mankind, and edify them too.
Then youth’s fair blossoms crowd to view your play,
And wait as on an oracle; while they,
The tender souls, who love the melting mood,
Suck from your work their melancholy food;
Now this one, and now that, you deeply stir,
Each sees the working of his heart laid bare;
Their tears, their laughter, you command with ease,
The lofty still they honor, the illusive love,
Your finish’d gentlemen you ne’er can please;
A growing mind alone will grateful prove.
Then give me back youth’s golden prime,
When my own spirit too was growing,
When from my heart th’ unbidden rhyme
Gush’d forth, a fount for ever flowing;
Then shadowy mist the world conceal’d,
And every bud sweet promise made,
Of wonders yet to be reveal’d,
As through the vales, with blooms inlaid,
Culling a thousand flowers I stray’d.
Naught had I, yet a rich profusion;
The thirst for truth, joy in each fond illusion.
Give me unquell’d those impulses to prove;—
Rapture so deep, its ecstasy was pain,
The power of hate, the energy of love,
Give me, oh give me back my youth again!
Youth, my good friend, you certainly require
When foes in battle round you press,
When a fair maid, her heart on fire,
Hangs on your neck with fond caress,
When from afar, the victor’s crown,
Allures you in the race to run;
Or when in revelry you drown
Your sense, the whirling dance being done.
But the familiar chords among
Boldly to sweep, with graceful cunning,
While to its goal, the verse along
Its winding path is sweetly running;
This task is yours, old gentlemen, to-day;
Nor are you therefore in less reverence held;
Age does not make us childish, as folk say,
It finds us genuine children e’en in eld.
A truce to words, mere empty sound,
Let deeds at length appear, my friends!
While idle compliments you round,
You might achieve some useful ends.
Why talk of the poetic vein?
Who hesitates will never know it;
If bards ye are, as ye maintain,
Now let your inspiration show it.
To you is known what we require,
Strong drink to sip is our desire;
Come, brew me such without delay!
To-morrow sees undone, what happens not to-day;
Still forward press, nor ever tire!
The possible, with steadfast trust,
Resolve should by the forelock grasp;
Then she will ne’er let go her clasp,
And labors on, because she must.
On German boards, you’re well aware,
The taste of each may have full sway;
Therefore in bringing out your play,
Nor scenes nor mechanism spare!
Heaven’s lamps employ, the greatest and the least,
Be lavish of the stellar lights,
Water, and fire, and rocky heights,
Spare not at all, nor birds nor beast.
Thus let creation’s ample sphere
Forthwith in this our narrow booth appear,
And with considerate speed, through fancy’s spell,
Journey from heaven, thence through the world, to hell!