The Progress Of Faust


Karl Shapiro

He was born in Deutschland, as you would suspect,

And graduated in magic from Cracow

In Fifteen Five. His portraits show a brow

Heightened by science. The eye is indirect,

As of bent light upon a crooked soul,

And that he bargained with the prince of Shame

For pleasures intellectually foul

Is known by every court that lists his name.

His frequent disappearances are put down

To visits in the regions of the damned

And to the periodic deaths he shammed,

But, unregenerate and in Doctor's gown,

He would turn up to lecture at the fair

And do a minor miracle for a fee.

Many a life he whispered up the stair

To teach the black art of anatomy.

He was as deaf to angels as an oak

When, in the fall of Fifteen Ninety-Four,

He went to London and crashed through the floor

In mock damnation of the play-going folk.

Weekending with the scientific crowd,

He met Sir Francis Bacon and helped draft

"Colours of Good and Evil" and read aloud

An obscene sermon at which nobody laughed.

He toured the Continent for a hundred years

And subsidized among the peasantry

The puppet play, his tragic history;

With a white glove he boxed the devil's ears

And with a black his own. Tired of this,

He published penny poems about his sins,

In which he placed the heavy emphasis

On the white glove which, for a penny, wins.

Sometime before the hemorrhage of the Kings

Of France, he turned respectable and taught;

Quite suddenly everything that he had thought

Seemed to grow scholars' beards and angels' wings.

It was the Overthrow. On Reason's throne

He sat with the fair Phrygian on his knees

And called all universities his own,

As plausible a figure as you please.

Then back to Germany as the sage's sage

To preach comparative science to the young

Who came to every land in a great throng

And knew they heard the master of the age.

When for a secret formula he paid

The Devil another fragment of his soul,

His scholars wept, and several even prayed

That Satan would restore him to them whole.

Backwardly tolerant, Faustus was expelled

From the Third Reich in Nineteen Thirty-nine.

His exit caused the breaching of the Rhine,

Except for which the frontier might have held.

Five years unknown to enemy and friend

He hid, appearing on the sixth to pose

In an American desert at war's end

Where, at his back, a dome of atoms rose.


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