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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