As he resumes work on Faust after putting it aside for many years, the writer of the drama, Goethe, addresses the misty figures and ideas that appear to him, those he has not yet managed to incorporate into his drama. He feels eager and invigorated to give them poetic form, because they remind him of delightful days past, legends, first loves, and friendship. But he also grieves to think of those he used to know who have passed away, those who heard the early cantos of Faust but died before hearing the later ones. The poet is seized by nostalgia. The present is insubstantial to him, and the past becomes his existence.
Goethe is invigorated by the thought of completing the whole of his drama, but he recognizes also that, for those who have passed away, it will remain forever partial and incomplete. His nostalgia for his personal past also mirrors his nostalgia for the historical past, namely for the period of Greek Classicism. He finds this past culture more admirable than either the rational Age of Enlightenment or the impassioned Romantic period during which he lives.