BY THE UPPER PENEUS
Mephistopheles [peering around].
As mid these little fires I wander aimless,
I find myself quite strange and disconcerted.
Naked are almost all, some few are shirted;
The griffins impudent, the sphinxes shameless,
Winged, curly things- who'll ever dare to name them?
Seen fore and aft, they're crude enough to shame them...
It's true, indecency is our ideal,
But the antique is too alive and real.
By modern taste the nude should be controlled
And overlaid in fashions manifold.
A loathsome folk! yet so I must not treat them;
As new-come guest I should politely greet them...
Hail, ye wise grizzlies, hail, ye ladies fair!
A Griffin [snarling]. Not grizzlies! Griffins! No one likes to hear
Himself called grizzly. In each word there rings
An echo of the source from which it springs.
Graves, growling, grumpy, gruesome, grim, and grey,
All of one sort in etymology are they,
And put us out of sorts.
Mephistopheles. Yet- not to leave this thesis-
The gri in your proud title Griffin pleases.
Griffin [as above and continuously so].
Of course! The kinship has been proved to hold.
'Tis true, it's oft rebuked but oftener extolled.
Let one but grip at maidens, crowns, and gold;
Fortune is mostly gracious to the Gripper bold.
Ants of the colossal kind.
You speak of gold! In great heaps did we hoard it,
In rocky caverns secretly we stored it;
The Arimaspians have nosed it out,
They bore it off so far they laugh and shout.
Griffin. We'll bring them to confess their deed.
Arimaspians. But not in this free night of jubilee.
Ere morning all will squandered be;
This time we'll probably succeed.
Mephistopheles [who has seated himself between the SPHINXES].
How pleasantly I grow familiar here;
I understand them one and all.
A Sphinx. We breathe our spirit-tones into your ear,
And then you render them material.
Until we know you better, tell your name.
Mephistopheles. Men think that many a title I may claim.
Are Britons here? Such travellers are they;
Cascades and battlefields they love to trace,
Ruins and many a musty classic place;
A worthy goal they would find here today.
They testified that in the old stage-play
I was seen there as "Old Iniquity."
A Sphinx. How did they hit on that?
Mephistopheles. It puzzles even me.
A Sphinx. Perhaps!- Do you know planets and their power?
What say you to the aspect of the hour?
Mephistopheles [looking upward].
Star courses star, I see the clipped moon glide
And feel quite happy at your cosy side;
I'll warm myself against your lion's-hide.
'Twould hurt to soar up, I'd but go astray.
Propound some riddles or charades to play.
A Sphinx. Express yourself; that too will be a riddle.
See if your inmost essence you can rede:
"What both the pious and the wicked need:
For those a breastplate for ascetic fencing,
For these a comrade crazy pranks advancing,
Both but the joy of Zeus enhancing."
First Griffin [snarling]. I don't like him.
Second Griffin [snarling more loudly]. What is it he wants here?
Both. The nasty wretch belongs not in our sphere!
You think perhaps the guest's nails do not scratch
And with your sharp claws cannot match?
Just try it!
A Sphinx [gently]. Here you might forever stay,
But from our midst you'll drive yourself away.
At home you think to do just as you please,
But if I err not, here you're ill at ease.
Mephistopheles. Right appetizing are you upward from the bosom,
But further down your beastly part is gruesome.
A Sphinx. These words, you hypocrite, you'll surely rue,
Because our paws are sound; but I can see
That with that shrunken horse's-foot you do
Not feel at ease in our society.
SIRENS prelude overhead.
Mephistopheles. What birds are they who're cradled yonder
On boughs beside the poplared river?
A Sphinx. Beware! The best of men have ever
Been led by that singsong to wander.
Ah, why mar thy taste completely,
Mid these hideous wonders dwelling?
Hear our notes accordant swelling,
See our hosts come singing sweetly
As becometh sirens meetly.
Sphinxes [mocking them in the same melody].
Force them down! And so reveal them!
Mid the branches they conceal them;
Nasty falcon-claws they're wearing
And will fall on thee, unsparing,
If thou lendest willing ear.
Hence with hate, let envy perish!
We the purest pleasures cherish
Strewn beneath the sky's blue sphere!
On the earth and on the ocean
Let him see in every motion
Sign of welcome and of cheer.
Mephistopheles. What novelties and how assuring
When both from string and voice alluring
The tones about each other twine.
But lost on me is all the trilling,
Tickling my ears but never thrilling
Down in its depths this heart of mine.
Sphinxes. Speak not of heart! Vain so to call it!
A shrivelled-up, old leathern wallet
Would better with your face combine.
Faust [approaching]. How strangely satisfying are these creatures!
Repulsive, yet what big, compelling features!
I feel now the approach of some good chance;
Whither is hailing me that earnest glance?
Referring to the SPHINXES.
Before such Oedipus once stood his ground;
Referring to the SIRENS.
Before such did Ulysses writhe, in hemp fast bound;
Referring to the ANTS.
By such was noblest treasure once amassed;
Referring to the GRIFFINS.
By these 'twas kept inviolate to the last.
New spirit thrills me when I see all these;
Great are the figures, great the memories.
Mephistopheles. In former times such creatures you'd have scouted
Which now it seems that you approve;
Aye, when one seeks his lady-love,
Monsters themselves are welcome and not flouted.
Faust [to the SPHINXES]. Ye forms like women, answer me and say:
Has anyone of you seen Helena?
Sphinxes. We did not last till Helena's generation;
Hercules slew the last ones of our nation.
From Chiron you might get the information.
This ghostly night he's galloping around;
If he will stop for you, you've gained much ground.
With us too thou wouldst not miss it!...
When Ulysses, with us whiling,
Sped not past us, unreviling,
Much he told made bright his visit;
All his tales we'd tell to thee
If thou camest to renew thee
To our meadows by the sea.
A Sphinx. Sir, hark not to trickery!
Whereas Ulysses to the mast,
Let us now with good counsel bind thee.
If lofty Chiron thou canst find thee,
What I have sworn, thou wilt learn at last.
FAUST goes away.
Mephistopheles [vexed]. What croaks on pinions rushing by?
So fast that they elude the eye?
Swiftly in single file they fly.
A hunter tires of such as these.
A Sphinx. Like to the storm that winter harrows,
Reached scarcely by Alcides' arrows,
They are the swift Stymphalides.
They mean well with their croak-salute,
Their vulture's-beak, their goose's-foot.
Here in our midst they'd like to be
And prove they're of our pedigree.
Mephistopheles [as if intimidated].
Some other things are hissing shrill.
A Sphinx. For fear of these you need not quake;
They are the heads of the Lernaean snake;
Cut from the trunk, they think they're something still.
But say, what's wrong? why so distressful?
Why this behaviour so unrestful?
Where would you go? Be off, good-by!-
I see, that chorus twists your neck awry.
Don't force yourself to stay! Go, leave this place,
Greet yonder many a charming face.
The Lamiae, wanton wenches, you'll find there,
Their foreheads brazen, faces smiling,
As when the satyrs they're beguiling.
There all things may a goat's-foot dare.
Mephistopheles. You'll stay here and I'll find you here again?
Sphinxes. Yes! Go and mingle with the airy train.
We long ago are wont, from Egypt coming here,
To sit enthroned to the thousandth year.
Respect to our position you must pay.
Thus rule we lunar, rule we solar day.
At the pyramids our station,
We look on the doom of races,
War and peace and inundation,
With eternal changeless faces.