Faust

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Nature and the Earth Spirit Symbol Icon

Early on in the play, Faust conceives of nature as posing the ultimate mysteries to the human mind, mysteries that he is hell-bent on solving. He desires to learn what binds the universe together in the very depths of its being, and to contemplate all the forces that move the heavens and the earth. To this end, he summons the Earth Spirit, a personification of nature who explicitly symbolizes the constant changes of the natural world, day and night, summer and winter, life and death, ebb and flow. In short, the Spirit symbolizes the macrocosm in which human beings live and act, and is the changing expression of the eternal will of God. The Spirit judges Faust unworthy of forming a pact with him, however, as the magician is first too frightened and then too arrogant. And so it is that Faust instead contracts himself to Mephistopheles, who, in contrast to the Earth Spirit, is sarcastic and shallow, skeptical and negative.

Nonetheless, nature provides Faust with his moments of most sensitive feeling and deepest enjoyment, as in the “Forest and Cave” scene of Part I. After he has fallen in love with Margarete (significantly in a garden, the environment where nature harmonizes with human artifice), Faust himself thanks the Earth Spirit for both teaching him to know his fellow creatures and revealing him to his own self—even for teaching him that nothing perfect can ever be man’s. Nature, then, also comes to symbolize the joy one can experience in understanding the whole of which one is a part, as well as the joy one can experience in acting within one’s limitations. Faust may not be able to become a god, but he can achieve the humbler transformation of falling in love with another person, thanks to the erotic urges with which nature endows human beings.

It is not until the end of the play, however, that Faust both fully understands and can act harmoniously with nature. This is embodied by his great project of creating new lands by artificially driving the sea back upon itself, much as God made dry ground appear as distinct from the formless sea on the third day of Biblical creation. Nature becomes, at last, the aged Faust’s motive and joy, the canvas that both limits his imagination but which also empowers him to create, and the abundance that sustains the kingdom and society he builds.

Nature and the Earth Spirit Quotes in Faust

The Faust quotes below all refer to the symbol of Nature and the Earth Spirit. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Princeton University Press edition of Faust published in 2014.
Part 1: Night (Faust’s Study 1) Quotes

How all things interweave as one
and work and live each in the other!

How grand a show! But still, alas! mere show.
Infinite Nature, when can I lay hold of you
and of your breasts?

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker)
Related Symbols: Nature and the Earth Spirit
Page Number: 447-456
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we get a better sense of what, exactly, is lacking in Faust's life. Faust reads a book in which he comes across a passage about the macrocosmic nature of the universe. Faust learns that the universe is all one harmonious whole--every tiny part of the world has its grander purpose and locks in with the other parts.

Faust's newfound knowledge of the universe, however, doesn't bring him much happiness. It's not enough for Faust to learn that the universe has a purpose; Faust wants to experience that purpose first-hand, instead of trusting that the purpose exists. In short, Faust doesn't want to be a cog in a machine anymore--he wants to understand and touch the machine itself.

Note the physical nature of this passage--Faust talks about "laying hold" of Nature, whom he personifies as a beautiful woman. It's certainly possible to suggest that Faust is simply deprived of love and human companionship: he's trying to find passion and eros in science and philosophy, and so of course he comes up short. And yet Faust's observations about Nature could suggest that knowledge itself has an almost erotic quality: the mixture of power, domination, and love that Faust feels as he talks about nature shows us that Faust is trying to fit all of human contact and experience into his crazed experiments.

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Part 1: Outside the City Gate Quotes

Alas! it is so hard to find corporeal wings
that match those of the human mind.
Yet in all of us there is an innate urge
to rise aloft and soar along
when, lost in the blue space above us,
the lark pours forth its vibrant song,
when high above fir-covered crags
the eagle floats on outspread wing,
and when above the plains and lakes
the crane seeks out its native place.

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker), Wagner
Related Symbols: Nature and the Earth Spirit
Page Number: 1090-1099
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faust and his assistant, Wagner, go outside Faust's study to survey the city they live in. Outside, Faust notices an entire city of people walking outside, socializing, and having a good time. The scene prompts Faust to note that all human beings feel a desire to "soar" in some way or other. For animals like the eagle, soaring is a literal affair--the eagle flies overhead, savoring the vistas of Earth. For ordinary people, it's implied, "soaring" is a matter of ambition, but also being around other people, enjoying the city and nature, drinking, etc.--such interpersonal interactions bring joy and comfort to the soul.

The passage seems to suggest that Faust can find some happiness and comfort in socializing with his fellow human beings. And yet there's also a suggestion that for Faust, socializing and enjoying the city simply aren't enough. Because of Faust's massive intellect, he feels apart from other human beings, even when he's around them--he wants to "soar" in a way that others don't.

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Nature and the Earth Spirit Symbol Timeline in Faust

The timeline below shows where the symbol Nature and the Earth Spirit appears in Faust. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prelude in the Theater
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
...of his senses. It is by this power that he breathes life and rhythm into nature, and also coordinates the different parts of the world into one general choir. (full context)
Prologue in Heaven
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael, are beholding and celebrating the mysterious splendor of the Lord’s creation, nature, which is comforting to the angels but also too great for their comprehension. Raphael sings... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
...Lord finishes speaking to Mephistopheles, He invites the angels to delight in beauty’s living richness, nature, and urges them to turn their vague revelations into solid thoughts. Heaven closes and the... (full context)
Part 1: Night (Faust’s Study 1)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
...He feels anxious and constricted to find himself surrounded not by the living world of nature but instead by so much smoke and mustiness, and he thinks of the books as... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...He feels like a god, with total clarity about the being and workings of creative nature, how all things interweave as one and work and live in each other harmoniously. Grand... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Angrily Faust turns the pages of the book until he comes to the sign of the Earth Spirit , a spirit which Faust thinks is closer to him than the Macrocosm was. He... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...the Spirit revealing itself should be Faust’s own life. In a flash of reddish flame, the Earth Spirit appears. (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Faust turns away in fear. The Earth Spirit wonders whether the frightful worm now in his presence could possibly be the demigod whose... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
...inspiration. He is also grateful to Wagner in a way, however, because he feared that the Earth Spirit would destroy his mind, as it was so great and it made Faust feel so... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
...his possessions, whose brain he suspects went wretchedly astray. Faust feels that the secrets of Nature can never be understood, not even with the implements of learning he inherited from his... (full context)
Part 1: Outside the City Gate
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
...old Winter withdraws into the mountains and the Sun seeks to enliven the world of nature. From a height, he looks down at the mass of people outside the city gate... (full context)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
...want to let such thoughts spoil the day’s beauty, however. As night falls he surveys nature, the greenery, the cottages, the sun, the peaks and valleys, and the brooks and rivers.... (full context)
Part 1: A Garden
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
It is the same evening, and Faust and Mephistopheles are in Martha’s garden. Martha and Mephistopheles walk together, and Margarete is on Faust’s arm. She is self-deprecating in... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
...are deep in conversation. Faust asks if she really recognized him when he entered the garden. She says she did. The two discuss their first meeting, which Margarete says dismayed but... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...town wouldn’t gossip about it. Then she asks where the young couple is. Down the garden path like wanton butterflies, Mephistopheles answers. Martha says that Faust is infatuated with the girl.... (full context)
Part 1: A Summerhouse
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Faust and Margarete run from Martha’s garden to a summerhouse. Here, the girl warns her lover that Mephistopheles is coming. Faust calls... (full context)
Part 1: Forest and Cave
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Part 1: Martha’s Garden
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Margarete and Faust enter Martha’s garden together. Margarete wants to know her lover’s religion, but he hushes her. He tells her... (full context)
Part 1: Walpurgis Night
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
...Mephistopheles are hiking in a labyrinth of valleys among welling and plunging waters, elements of nature that make Faust feel energetic and alive. He feels spring in his limbs, but the... (full context)
Part 2: Act 1: A Pleasant Landscape
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...have passed since the action of Part I. Faust is couched on the grass, amidst nature, trying to sleep as twilight fades to night. Small graceful Spirits hover about, singing to... (full context)
Part 2: Act 5: A Broad Landscape
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Politics Theme Icon
...not without human sacrifice and torment. The three sit for a meal in the couple’s garden, where Baucis goes on to say that Faust covets their cottage. He’s even offered an... (full context)
Part 2: Act 5: Faust’s Palace (Before the Palace)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Politics Theme Icon
Faust, now a very old man, a hundred years old, paces in a large formal garden outside of his palace. He is obsessed by the fact that he has not acquired... (full context)
Part 2: Act 5: Mountain Gorges
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...of trivialities, and how Love gives all things their form and sustains them such that nature is expressive of the Divine. A cloud of innocent children who died at birth floats... (full context)