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...
I've lived this hour, this day, this life
Must live them yet again, not once
Until every experience
And doubles back a million times
And yet if it must be, what if
As much as if it were my choice,
I treat necessity as fate
The life I live, and live the life
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 den, der gut zu tanzen weiß.
Auf Ruhm hast du den Sinn gericht
Dann acht der Lehre
Beizeiten leiste frei Verzicht
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...
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
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
Into a mask of common sense -
This is my defense.
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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