The blog provides a left-wing non-partisan perspective on socio-economic issues in Russia and throughout the world. The focus is on qualitative development of national economic systems and ensuring flexibility in economic policies to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Email: leftistobserver@gmail.com

MEPHISTO'S PROMISSORY NOTES

Flipping through the page of an English translation of Faust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, I have come across a very interesting section (part 2, act 1), in which an emperor, his court and his entire realm prosper from a large amount of unsecured paper money produced by Mephisto. Common people as well as money exchanges would accept these promissory notes for gold thus spreading them across the economy and boosting economic activity. The city as a result falls into revelry, and the king's approval rating sky-rockets. Since business owners and their costumers were unaware of what actually backed the notes they accepted, they would recognize them as valuable. The entire realm enjoyed enormous prosperity because of a simple trick. The very end of the section portrays a situation similar to the US sub-prime mortgage problems. In fact, the entire passage is reminiscent of the current state of affairs in many developed countries. I suggest you read it. I do not even need to comment on what is below. It is self-explanatory.

Pleasure Garden

[Faust and Mephisto, dressed becomingly, notconspicuously, according to the mode; both kneel.]

Faust.
Pardon you, Sire, the flames and wizardry?

Emperor [beckoning him to rise].
Many such pleasantries I would like to see.
Presto! I stood within a glowing zone,
It seemed almost Pluto and I were one.
In coal-black night and yet with fires aglow
Lay an abyss. From many a vent below
Thousands of savage flames were upward whirling,
Into a single vault above me swirling,
Licking their tongues of flame against the dome's far height
Which now appeared and now was lost to sight.
Far, far away, through spiral shafts of flame
Peoples I saw, in moving files they came,
In a wide circle pressing on and on
And paying homage as they've always done.
Courtiers I recognized amid the splendour,
I seemed a prince over many a salamander.

Mephisto.
That are you, Sire, since every element
Doth own you absolute to all intent.
Obedient have you now proved fire to be.
Where waves heave wildest, leap into the sea!
The pearl-strewn bottom you will scarcely tread
Ere a glorious billowing dome forms overhead.
You'll see there light-green rolling billows swelling,
Their edges purple, forming the fairest dwelling
Round you, the centre. Wander at your will,
The palaces attend you even still.
The very walls rejoice in life, in teeming,
Arrowy swarming, hither, thither streaming.
Sea-wonders push and dart along to win
The new soft glow but none may enter in.
The dragons, mottled, golden-scaled, are playing;
There gapes the shark but you laugh at his baying.
Though now the court surrounds you in delight,
Still such a throng has never met your sight.
Yet long you're not deprived of forms endearing;
The Nereids come curiously nearing
Your splendid palace in the cool of ocean,
The young with fish-like, shy, and wanton motion,
The old ones prudent. Thetis learns of this,
Gives her new Peleus hand and mouth to kiss.
The seat, then, on Olympus' wide domain...

Emperor.
Over the air I leave to you to reign;
Quite soon enough does one ascend that throne.

Mephisto.
Earth, Lord Supreme, already is your own.

Emperor.
What brought you here to ravish us with sights
Directly out of the Arabian Nights?
If like Scheherazade you are inventive,
Be sure of every favour and incentive.
Be near whenever - as is oft the case-
I grutch at this poor world of commonplace.

Steward [enters in haste].
Ah, Most Serene, in all my life I never
Thought I could give you news of such high favour
As this which richly blesses me
And drives me here almost in ecstasy.
Bill upon bill has now been squared,
The usurers' talons have been pared.
From hellish worry I am free!
In Heaven life can not happier be.

Commander-in-Chief [follows in haste].
Arrears are paid as they were due
And all the army's pledged anew;
The soldier feels his blood made over.
Landlords and wenches are in clover.

Emperor.
How free you breathe, with breasts so lightened!
Your wrinkled foreheads, how they're brightened!
How you come in with eager speed!

Treasurer [appears].
Inquire of these who did the deed.

Faust.
It's for the Chancellor to tell the story.

Chancellor [approaching slowly].
I'm blessed enough now when I'm old and hoary.
So hear and see the fateful, solemn leaf
Which into joy has transformed all our grief.

[He reads.]

"To all whom it concerns, let it be known:
Who hath this note, a thousand crowns doth own.
As certain pledge thereof shall stand
Vast buried treasure in the Emperor's land.
Provision has been made that ample treasure,
Raised straightway, shall redeem the notes at pleasure."

Emperor.
I sense a crime, a monstrous, cheating lure!
Who dared to forge the Emperor's signature?
Is still unpunished such a breach of right?

Treasurer.
Remember, Sire, yourself it was last night
That signed the note. You stood as mighty Pan,
The Chancellor came and spoke in words that ran:
"A lofty festal joy do for thyself attain:
Thy people's weal - a few strokes of the pen!"
These did you make, then thousand-fold last night
Conjurors multiplied what you did write;
And that straightway the good might come to all,
We stamped at once the series, large and small;
Tens, twenties, thirties, hundreds, all are there.
You can not think how glad the people were.
Behold your city, once half-dead, decaying,
Now full of life and joy, and swarming, playing!
Although your name has blessed the world of yore,
So gladly was it never seen before.
The alphabet is really now redundant;
In this sign each is saved to bliss abundant.

Emperor.
My people take it for good gold, you say?
In camp, in court, sufficient as full pay?
Although amazed, still I must give assent.

Steward.
The flight of notes we could nowise prevent;
Like lightning notes were scattered on the run.
The changers' shops open wide to everyone;
And there all notes are honoured, high and low,
With gold and silver - at a discount, though.
From there to butcher, baker, tavern hasting,
One-half the world seems thinking but of feasting,
The other in new raiment struts and crows;
The draper cuts the cloth, the tailor sews.
In cellars "Long live the Emperor!" is the toasting;
There platters clatter, there they're boiling, roasting.

Mephisto.
Who all alone will down the terrace stray
Perceives the fairest in superb array;
With her proud peacock-fan she hides one eye
And looking for a note goes simpering by;
More swiftly than through eloquence and wit
Love's richest favour can be gained by it.
With purse and scrip one is no longer harried.
A notelet in one's breast is lightly carried;
With billets-doux quite snugly will it nestle.
The priest bears it devoutly in his missal.
The soldier, that he may the faster haste,
Lightens the girdle quickly round his waist.
Pardon, Your Majesty, if I may seem
To mete a lofty work but slight esteem.

Faust.
Treasures in superfluity still sleep
Within your borders, buried deep,
And lie unused. Thought in its widest measure
Gives the most meagre bounds to such a treasure.
Imagination in its highest flight,
Strain as it may, can't soar to such a height.
Yet spirits, fit to fathom the unsounded,
Have boundless confidence in the unbounded.

Mephisto.
Nor gold nor pearls are half as handy as
Such paper. Then a man knows what he has.
There is no need of higgling or exchanging;
In love and wine one can at will be ranging.
If you want metal, changers are at hand;
If lacking there, dig for a while the land.
Goblet and chain are auctioned off and sold;
Paper redeemed without delay in gold
Confounds the doubter who had scoffed and taunted.
This men demand, to metals they are wonted.
Ready at hand the Emperor's realm will hold
Henceforth enough of paper, jewels, gold.

Emperor.
Our realm owes you this great prosperity;
As is the service, the reward should be.
Our empire's soil be trusted to your care,
The worthiest guardians of the treasures there.
You know the vast and well-preserved hoard,
And when men dig, it's you must give the word.
Become as one, ye masters of our treasure,
Fulfil your stations' dignities with pleasure
Here where in blest accord and unity
The upper and the lower world agree.

Treasurer.
Twixt us no slightest strife shall cause division;
I love to have as colleague the magician.
[Exit with FAUST]

Emperor.
If now I shall endow each man of you,
Let each confess what use he'll put it to.

A Page [receiving].
I'll joy to live, be glad and gay.

Another Page [likewise].
My love shall have a chain and rings today.

A Chamberlain [accepting].
Wine twice as good shall henceforth down me trickle.

Another Chamberlain [likewise].
I feel the dice inside my pocket tickle.

A Banneret [thoughtfully].
From debt I'll make my land sand castle free.

Another Banneret [likewise].
I'll add this treasure to my treasury.

Emperor.
I hoped for joy and heart for new emprise,
But knowing you one can your course surmise.
Well do I see, with all this treasure-store
You still remain just as you were before.

Fool [approaching].
You're scattering favours, grant me some, I pray.

Emperor.
Alive again? You'd soon drink them away.

Fool.
The magic leaves! I don't quite comprehend-

Emperor.
Of course, for you'd put them to some bad end.

Fool.
Still more drop there, I don't know what to do.

Emperor.
Just pick them up, I let them fall for you. [Exit.]

Fool.
Five thousand crowns are mine? How unexpected!

Mephisto.
Two-legged wineskin, are you resurrected?

Fool.
That happens oft but like this never yet.

Mephisto.
You are so glad you're breaking out in sweat.

Fool.
Is that the same as cash? Look, are you sure?

Mephisto.
What throat and belly want it will procure.

Fool.
And cattle can I buy and house and land?

Mephisto.
Of course! Just bid and they will be at hand.

Fool.
Castle with wood, chase, fish-brook?

Mephisto.
On my word! I'd like to see you as a stern Milord!

Fool.
Tonight a landed owner I shall sit!
[Exit.]

Mephisto [solus].
Who still will have a doubt of our fool's wit?

No comments:

Post a Comment