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Sappho and Her Friends: The Poetry Thread

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An die Melancholie (1871) To Melancholy (1871)

In November 1869, Cosima Wagner asked Nietzsche to help her obtain a Christmas present, a print of Albrecht Dürer's Melancolia 1 (1514), for Richard Wagner (who was fond of Dürer's works). Nietzsche bought a copy for her in June 1870. This poem was composed in Gimmelwald in 1871, when Nietzsche was on vacation with his sister and his friend Carl von Gersdorff. It was first published in "Gedichte von Friedrich Nietzsche." In: Das Magazin für Litteratur. Jahrg. 63. Nr. 27. 07-07-1894, 851f. For further information, see Christoph Landerer, Marc-Oliver Schuster, "'Begehrlich schrie der Geyer in das Thal.' Zu einem Motiv früher Wagner-Entfremdung in Nietzsches Nachlaß." In: Nietzsche-Studien (2005) 34:246-55.

Verarge mir es nicht, Melancholie,
Dass ich die Feder, dich zu preisen, spitze,
Und dass ich nicht, den Kopf gebeugt zum Knie,
Einsiedlerisch auf einem Baumstumpf sitze.
Don't blame me, Melancholy,
That I sharpen my pen to praise you,
Not that I, head bowed to my knee,
Sit hermitlike on a tree stump, hewn.
So sahst du oft mich, gestern noch zumal,
In heisser Sonne morgendlichem Strahle:
Begehrlich schrie der Geyer in das Thal,
Er träumt vom todten Aas auf todtem Pfahle.
You often saw me thus, just yesterday,
In the heat of the radiant morning sun:
A vulture cried greedily in the valley,
Dreaming of its staked and rotting carrion.
Du irrtest, wüster Vogel, ob ich gleich
So mumienhaft auf meinem Klotze ruhte!
Du sahst das Auge nicht, das wonnenreich
Noch hin und her rollt, stolz und hochgemuthe.
You failed, wild bird, although
I rested mummylike on my seat!
You missed my eye, roving to and fro,
Blissfully proud in the morning heat.
Und wenn es nicht zu deinen Höhen schlich,
Erstorben für die fernsten Wolkenwellen,
So sank es um so tiefer, um in sich
Des Daseins Abgrund blitzend aufzuhellen.
And though it did not attain your height,
Nor billowing clouds reach with its kiss,
It sank ever deeper into itself—right
Through its glinting yawning abyss.
So sass ich oft, in tiefer Wüstenei
Unschön gekrümmt, gleich opfernden Barbaren,
Und Deiner eingedenk, Melancholei,
Ein Büsser, ob in jugendlichen Jahren!
Thus I often sat, unsightly,
A crude crooked sacrifice,
Recalling with you, Melancholy,
Penance for the youthful years of life!
So sitzend freut' ich mich des Geyer-Flugs,
Des Donnerlaufs der rollenden Lawinen,
Du sprachst zu mir, unfähig Menschentrugs,
Wahrhaftig, doch mit schrecklich strengen Mienen.
Now I sit content, the vulture circling,
Avalanche of rolling thunder apace,
You speak to me, lacking man's deceiving,
Truthfully, yet with an austere face.
Du herbe Göttin wilder Felsnatur,
Du Freundin liebst es nah mir zu erscheinen;
Du zeigst mir drohend dann des Geyers Spur
Und der Lawine Lust, mich zu verneinen.
Stern goddess, savage and intense,
You, dearest friend, try to advance;
And point to where the vulture descends,
Daring me to deny you amid the rumbling avalanche.
Rings athmet zähnefletschend Mordgelüst:
Qualvolle Gier, sich Leben zu erzwingen!
Verführerisch auf starrem Felsgerüst
Sehnt sich die Blume dort nach Schmetterlingen.
Snarling with a hiss of terrible desire,
Driven by agonizing greed, she sighs!
On her stony bed, seductively, this flower
Yearns for the caress of butterflies.
Dies Alles bin ich—schaudernd fühl' ich's nach —
Verführter Schmetterling, einsame Blume,
Der Geyer und der jähe Eisesbach,
Des Sturmes Stöhnen—alles dir zum Ruhme,
All of this am I—feeling a shiver—
Seduced butterfly, lonely flower,
The vulture and rushing icy river,
Rumbling storms—all under your power
Du grimme Göttin, der ich tief gebückt,
Den Kopf am Knie, ein schaurig Loblied ächze,
Nur dir zum Ruhme, dass ich unverrückt
Nach Leben, Leben, Leben lechze!
I bow low, goddess grim,
For your praise, intoning without strife —
Head to my knee—this eerie hymn:
What I thirst after—for life, life, life!
Verarge mir es, böse Gottheit, nicht,
Dass ich mit Reimen zierlich dich umflechte.
Der zittert, dem du nahst, ein Schreckgesicht,
Der zuckt, dem du sie reichst, die böse Rechte.
Don't blame me, angry deity,
That you, with delicate rhymes, I adorn.
Trembling at your approach and terrible visage,
As you dawn, an evil face is born.
Und zitternd stammle ich hier Lied auf Lied,
Und zucke auf in rhythmischem Gestalten:
Die Tinte fleusst, die spitze Feder sprüht —
Nun Göttin, Göttin lass mich—lass mich schalten!
Here I stammer out songs of praise
In rhythmic forms, and quiver so:
The ink flows, the quill sprays —
Now leave me, goddess—let me go!
— Translation by The Nietzsche Channel © 2001.
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  • 3 months later...

Ode on Solitude

   By Alexander Pope


Happy the man, whose wish and care

   A few paternal acres bound,

Content to breathe his native air,

                            In his own ground.


Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,

   Whose flocks supply him with attire,

Whose trees in summer yield him shade,

                            In winter fire.


Blest, who can unconcernedly find

   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,

In health of body, peace of mind,

                            Quiet by day,


Sound sleep by night; study and ease,

   Together mixed; sweet recreation;

And innocence, which most does please,

                            With meditation.


Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;

   Thus unlamented let me die;

Steal from the world, and not a stone

                            Tell where I lie.



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  • 1 month later...

Ezra Pound retelling of Homer.


Canto I 

Launch Audio in a New Window
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit.   And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
“Cam’st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”
              And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine.    I slept in Circe’s ingle.
“Going down the long ladder unguarded,
“I fell against the buttress,
“Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
“But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
“Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
“A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
“And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.”
And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
“A second time? why? man of ill star,
“Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
“Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
“For soothsay.”
               And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: “Odysseus
“Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
“Lose all companions.”  And then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
In the Cretan’s phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that: 
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Too Much

Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Translated from the Bengali by Nandana Dev Sen


Did I ask for too much, then?

I wanted just two eyes, nothing more.

No dawn, no dusk, no long night—

not food, nor clothes, nor shelter.

Neither remembrance nor reflection,

but a moment's attention, to be erased

in the next moment—that's all.

Still, did I ask for too much?


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  • 5 months later...

A poem in honour of Hogmanay, celebrated at the end of the year and into the next. Read by the poet, with some explanation.

Bagpipe Music

It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."

It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather. 




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