I was reading the last act of Faust II today (again), and I think I finally get it. I mean, kind of. There is so much here that really got to me this time, maybe because I'm a year older today. And I feel little need to editorialize here, I will let Goethe again speak for himself.
After so many lines where it seems that Faust is this remote figure, whose motivations often seem strange, he says the following near the end, before he dies:
I have run through the world, grabbed at
My lusts and dragged them by the hair
And left them lying when I wanted more,
And what I escaped I let them go.
All I have done is lust and do
And want again and so stormed through
My life with power; at first mightily great
But wisely now, now I deliberate.
I know the round earth well enough
And what's beyond, the view of it's blocked off.
The man's a fool who ogles over there
And dreams his kind inhabit the upper air.
Let him stand still and look around him here,
This world speaks to the man who stands four-square.
Why wander off into eternity?
He makes the things he knows his property.
So let him journey through his earthly day;
However haunted, still go on his way,
Onwards, to happiness and torment,
And never satisfied by any moment.
(From the 2009 Penguin translation of Faust II by David Constantine)