Faust enters the wilderness alone and addresses a sublime Spirit, presumably the Earth Spirit, the one that showed its face in fire to Faust. Apparently that first visit was not in vain, for everything Faust had prayed for has been granted. Faust praises Nature for teaching him to know his fellow human beings and himself. Although he recognizes that human beings can never posses what is perfect, he also feels that in Margarete he at last has found a companion he cannot live without, who makes him swing back and forth between desire and enjoyment.
Faust’s love spiritually renews him and makes him feel as though he’s deeply a part of nature. He praises the Earth Spirit for this, presumably because the Earth Spirit endows human beings with the erotic urges that lead to love. Faust also has a much firmer sense of his place in the universe now. He must accept the imperfect, which means he can’t be a god. This is not a loss, however—he is blissful.
Mephistopheles enters. He urges Faust to enjoy this life of wild solitude but then to move onto something else afterward. Faust wishes the devil would leave him alone. He says Mephistopheles is behaving like an annoying servant who wants gratitude in spite of everything. The devil asks Faust why he is wasting his time alone in nature, and says it’s very “professorial” of him. Faust says that his solitude gives him vitality. Mephistopheles responds, with a masturbatory gesture, that Faust’s lofty desire to merge with the “All” will end in an unmentionable way. For shame, Faust exclaims.
Mephistopheles shrewdly seems to know that human love rarely ends in spiritual idleness, and idleness is what he desires for Faust. Love leads, rather, to cycles of sex, birth, labor, and the like. The devil urges Faust to move on to something likelier to stagnate the great man’s development, the more quickly to lead him to damnation. Mephistopheles’ crude gesture reduces spiritual love to mere lust and mechanical sex.
Mephistopheles denounces Faust as a hypocrite for being so modest. He goes on to tell Faust that Margarete is in town, sitting in gloom with her overpowering love for him, and he advises him to go to her and repay her for her devotion. Faust calls Mephistopheles a serpent for bringing up the image of the sweetness of Margarete’s body, when Faust’s sense are already half-crazed with desire.
The devil seems to think that there’s no faster way of putting an end to love than through its sexual consummation. This is why he mixes into Faust’s spiritual ecstasy the image of Margarete’s physical body—he’s trying to move Faust to have sex with his lover and get it over with.
Mephistopheles warns Faust that Margarete thinks he has run away, and adds that for all intents and purposes this is the case. Faust replies that he will always be with her, even far away, but that being in her arms would only make him restless and brutal. Mephistopheles cheers Faust for his ardor and again tells him to go to Margarete, to be courageous in the face of self-conflict. In other ways, he says, Faust is fairly well along in devilry. There’s nothing so boring, Mephistopheles says, as a devil in despair.
Faust has the sense that his love is pristinely spiritual and that lovemaking can only defile it, and so he seeks solitude in nature. He is conflicted, though, because he wants to maintain the spirituality of his love, but also wants to have sex with Margarete. This self-conflict leads to despair and inactivity, which the devil is attempting to spur Faust out of.