One Small Voice: The Journal of Peter Saint-Andre


Eternal Recurrence

2014-04-15

I'm still struggling mightily with finding my voice on this Nietzsche project - not trying to represent exactly what Nietzsche wrote (which is notoriously slippery anyway), but providing my perspective on his ideas in a way that does justice to what I see as the core truth in his texts. Plus huge questions are swirling in my head about whether I can pull this off philosophically and poetically!

Nevertheless, I'm going to try. As my colleague Adam Brault says: "What the heck. Why not?" :-)

Over the weekend, I wrote the first draft of the first poem for Songs of Zarathustra. There's no guarantee it will survive my usual self-editing process, but here it is anyway...

Eternal Recurrence

What if
I've lived this hour, this day, this life
Before
And I
Must live them yet again, not once
But more
And more,
Until every experience
Repeats,
Recurs,
And doubles back a million times
Or more.

A curse!
And yet if it must be, what if
I bless
This fact
As much as if it were my choice,
Not less.
The less
I treat necessity as fate
The more
I love
The life I live, and live the life
I bless.

Eudaimonia Suite

2014-04-11

On thinking further about my lifelong philosophy project, I've come to see it as a six-part suite on the theme of eudaimonia. Just I have likened my set of Yes arrangements for solo electric bass to a Bach Cello Suite, so the six books I'm writing on the philosophy of happiness might comprise a kind of suite:

  1. The Tao of Roark is a prelude in several senses: extravagant, improvisatory, fantastical even, and redolent of my intellectually intemperate youth under the influence of Ayn Rand.

  2. Songs of Zarathustra simply must be an allemande: a serious, German dance - yet also, I hope, tinged with some of the Mediterranean lightness that Nietzsche so treasured.

  3. My yet-untitled book on Aristotle will have the character of a courante: majestic and magisterial despite its brevity, it will likely be a short commentary on the key themes of Aristotelian ethics (in the tradition of Averroes, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas).

  4. From that high plane we will turn to a thinker who is in many ways the opposite of Aristotle: Thoreau. Here we proceed at a leisurely, loping pace in the sarabande, entitled Walking With Thoreau.

  5. Next the bourrée: Letters on Happiness: An Epicurean Dialogue. We find a kind of sober simplicity here, providing a counterpoint to Nietzsche's Dionysian pessimism.

  6. Finally a dancing gigue at the end, probably a set of aphorisms or short poems about the Old Master Lao Tzu. A fitting way to finish the suite, especially given our start with Rand.

I like this arrangement quite a bit, since the three pairs of contrasting thinkers (Rand and Lao Tzu, Nietzsche and Epicurus, Aristotle and Thoreau) are arrayed in a mirror image through the first and last, second and fifth, and third and fourth movements.


Nietzsche's Poetic Effects

2014-03-22

I have not yet begun to grapple with how I will write Songs of Zarathustra, a cycle of philosophical poems about the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. The prospect is daunting in many ways at once, like climbing a high mountain in winter.

As I study and contemplate various paths to the top, I keep noticing interesting features along the way. One is a certain metrical freedom that Nietzsche exercises in his own poetry (which sadly is not much appreciated). Consider a few of his shorter poems:

Für Tänzer

Glattes eis
Ein paradeis
Für den, der gut zu tanzen weiß.

and:

Zuspruch

Auf Ruhm hast du den Sinn gericht
Dann acht der Lehre
Beizeiten leiste frei Verzicht
Auf Ehre!

One doesn't need to know German to see the playful rhythmic patterns Nietzsche employs here.

Interestingly, famed Nietzsche translator Walter Kaufmann does the same in some of his own poems...

Dream

To write granite verse and prose
polished hard simple and
dazzling as a sphinx with a broken nose
in endless sand.

No passing image of what
is no matter
but a presence time can not
shatter.

So does my friend John Enright, whose poems I have always loved (and who turned me on to Walter Kaufmann's poetry)...

Philosophy and Poetry

Ironic turns of mind
Combined
Into a mask of common sense -

This is my defense.
My crime
Is rhyme.

Although I wouldn't call this free verse (especially given its prominent rhymes), it does have a great freedom. It's definitely a poetic effect that I shall incorporate into Songs of Zarathustra.


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