For the past few weeks I have been reading Goethe’s Faust. By reputation, it is one of the greatest epic poems of the Western tradition, one of the mightiest examples of German art, and one of the archtypal expressions of Romanticism.
I am finding it bewildering, impenetrable, and exhausting. Part I was fine; it is Part II that is giving me the trouble. I have now read most of it, and I have no idea what is happening, nor why. No doubt part of my difficulty is that my knowledge of Greek and Latin mythology is not what it might be, and the poem leans heavily on those sources. But there seems to be a great deal of abstraction and symbolism integrated into the text — I might even say that the main substance of the poem is symbolic, if I had any confidence about what the main substance is. Each scene seems to introduce an entirely new raft of characters, unrelated to those that came before or will come after. Reading the poem has been a long and increasingly aggravating exercise.
I think it would help if I had an idea of what the overall point of the poem is supposed to be. Is it a symbolic rehearsal of Western history? Is it a summation and celebration of the Romantic sensibility? Is it a coded message to Freemasons? At this point, I am ready to believe pretty much anything.
I am curious to know if anyone reading this post has read the poem, and, if so, what you thought of it. I doubt that I am alone in finding it opaque, but it is possible; I have learned to never underestimate my capacity to be obtuse.