In the novel A Scanner Darkly, there were a number of passages containing German text. What did they say in English? Why weren't they in English like the rest of the book? I interpreted it to show that Bob Arctor was going crazy.

  • If I recall correctly they're all very famous excerpts from Goethe's Faust. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 7:49
  • 1
    Can you link them or include them in your post?
    – Einer
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 7:54
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    @Einer - I think I can do better... Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 8:09

3 Answers 3


I found the details, the German sections actually come from; Goethe’s Faust, an untitled poem by Heinrich Heine and the libretto of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Translations of the German passages:

pages 175-6 (from Goethe):

You instruments, of course, can scorn and tease

With rollers, handles, cogs, and wheels:

I found the gate. you were to be the keys;

Although your webs are subtle, you cannot break

the seals.

Page 179:

Why, hollow skull, do you grin like a faun?

Save that your brain, like mine, once in dismay

Searched for light day, but foundered in the heavy dawn

And, craving truth, went wretchedly astray.

Page 181:

I’m like the worm that burrows in the dust,

Who, as he makes of dust his meager meal,

Is crushed and buried by a wanderer’s heel.

Page 183:

Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,

And one is striving to forsake its brother.

Unto the world in grossly loving zest,

With clinging tendrils, one adheres;

The other rises forcibly in quest

Of rarefied ancestral spheres.

Page 185:

Still this old dungeon, still a mole!

Cursed by this moldy walled-in hole

Where heaven’s lovely light must pass,

And lose its luster, through stained glass.

Confined with books, and every tome

Is gnawed by worms, covered in dust,

And on the walls...

Page 215 (from the Fidelio libretto):

How cold it is in this underground vault!

This is only natural; it is so deep.

Page 261 (from Heine):

I, unfortunate Atlas! A whole world,

A monstrous world of sorrows I must carry.

I bear a weight unbearable; a burden

That breaks the heart within me

As this is a short lyric poem the rest of it bears repeating:

Oh foolish heart, you have what you desired!

You would be happy, infinitely happy,

Or infinitely wretched, foolish heart.

And now– now you are wretched.

As for why those passages weren't in English: I believe your interpretation to be correct, as Bob started to loose grip on reality he began to drift into the past and remembered the German spoken in his house as a child (which was mentioned in the book).

  • Not bad! I already begun my own translation (now canceled). The translation you provided partially drops some of the original meaning to make it rhyme. But I don't think the precise meaning is of no consequence for this question anyway. So thanks for deterring me from a futile waste of time ;-)
    – Einer
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 8:33
  • Please include the sources of those translations in your answer.
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:12
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    @user14111 - The source for the poem by Heinrich Heine is on there, please click the link. As for Goethe’s Faust, that came from the book I have on my shelf translated Bayard Taylor. Sadly my copy of Beethoven’s Fidelio doesn't list the translator and the page numbers per the German passages from A Scanner Darkly come from my copy of that book as well. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:23
  • I notice, from an English perspective, the punctuation is a bit off; for example "I bear a weight unbearable; a burden/That breaks the heart within me" the T is capital but there is no period before it. Is this part of the German language or part of the poem?
    – Celeritas
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 6:33
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    @Celeritas: Poetic Language Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 3:24

Its in German because earlier the psychiatric suits asked Fred/Bob if he had been speaking or thinking in different languages. Fred/Bob said he hasn't and would remember something like that....obviously he has, and doesn't.


According to Google Books,

Untitled poem reprinted from Heinrich Heine: Lyric Poems and Ballads, translated by Ernst Feise. Copyright 1961 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. Other German quotes from Goethe's Faust, Part one, and from Beethoven's opera Fidelio.

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