September 6, 2017

The Sun Sinks

Not for long will you thirst yet,
Burn heart!
Promise in the air,
From unfamiliar mouths it blows on me,
—The  great coolness comes…
My sun stood hot over me at noon:
My greetings for coming,
You sudden winds,
You cool spirits of the afternoon!
The air moves in a strange and pure way.
Does not the night, with a wry
Seducer’s glance,
Watch me from the corner of her eye?...
Stay strong, my stout heart!
Ask not: why?
Day of my life!
The sun is sinking.
The smooth flood already
Is gilded.
Warm breathes the rock:
Did happiness take its noonday sleep
On it at noon?
In green lights
The brown abyss’s play still evokes happiness.
Day of my life!
The eve is looming!
Your eye already glows
The teardrops
of our dew already surge,
Your love’s purple
already runs quietly over white seas,
Your last lingering bliss…
Cheerfulness golden, come!
You, death’s
Most secret, sweetest anticipatory delight!
—Did I run down my path too swiftly?
Only now, when my foot has become weary,
Your glance overtakes me,
your happiness overtakes me.
All around are only wave and play.
Whatever was heavy
Sank into blue oblivion,—
Now my boat lies idle.
Storm and voyage—how it has forgotten that!
Wish and hope drowned,
Smooth lie soul and sea.
Seventh loneliness!   
Never did I feel
Sweet certainty nearer to me,
Never warmer the sun’s look.
—Does not the ice of my peak still glow?
A light silver, a fish,
My skiff now swims out…

Although I strongly believe that Nietzsche’s works are a must read for anyone who wants to understand the world we live in and why it is the way it is, I’ve never been a huge fan of him. Yes, he was deeply inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my greatest intellectual heroes, and held in very high esteem the writings of Montaigne, yet another of my most favorite thinkers/writers ever. But as far as I can tell, he lacked what, in my view, made both Montaigne and Emerson what they were, are and will be, that is, respectively, the thoughtful, elegant levity and the “Americanness.” Yet, reading Nietzsche’s writing has been one of the most intense and challenging intellectual experiences I’ve ever gone through. Roughly speaking, I enjoyed the books, although sometimes (if not often) disagreeing with the author’s views, but didn’t love the author himself. Quite the opposite of what happened to me when I first read Montaigne’s Essays —some of them, the less “exciting” ones, so to speak—or some of Emerson’s less brilliant lectures and addresses. After all you can admire someone without loving him/her, but the opposite is pretty unlikely if not impossible: how can you love someone who doesn’t dazzle you in some way? To love is also to be positively marveled and surprised about what the other person does/writes or says, even if it is only now and again..

Perhaps, what I like least about him—apart from his well-known moral nihilism and his many other intellectual excesses—is his contiguity with the so-called Decadent Movement, which first flourished in France in the late 19th century and then spread throughout Europe and to the United States. Light-years away from my views on literature and art. A great example of Nietzsche’s “decadent” sensitivity is the above beautiful and touching poem. By the way, “Die Sonne sinkt” (The Sun Sinks), is proof—in case it was ever needed—that you don’t have to agree with a certain Weltanschauung to thoroughly enjoy one of its most powerful poetic expressions. Analogously, but in a different context, disapproving someone’s behavior should never prevent us from treating them with the utmost respect, if not love as in the case of Dante, when he tells us about Paolo and Francesca’s tragic love story with deeply moving and amazing verses (Inferno, Canto V), or when he describes Farinata degli Uberti as rising out of his burning tomb “from the waist up” and seeming to “have great contempt for Hell” (Inferno, Canto X). This posture suggests that spiritually, he towers above all of Hell and creates an image of infinite strength and grandeur. The just punishment of sins doesn’t include the denial of compassion and of the humanity of sinners—or at least of some of them—in all its aspects and contradictions.

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1862; Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford)

This poem from the Dithyrambs of Dionysus (Dionysos-Dithyramben), a collection of nine poems written in the fall of 1888 by the German philosopher under the nom de plume of Dionysos, reflects very much the views of Nietzsche on life, death and everything in between, including the ultimate meaning of happiness. Whether or not one disagrees with him there’s no doubt that the poem is proof that he was a true philosopher in the Ciceronian sense of the term, because it was the great Roman orator who once said that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare oneself to die (Tusculanae Disputationes). “The reason of which—as Montaigne put it commenting on Cicero’s statement—is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or, else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die. And to say the truth, either our reason mocks us, or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment only, nor to endeavor anything but, in sum, to make us live well, and, as the Holy Scripture says, at our ease. All the opinions of the world agree in this, that pleasure is our end, though we make use of divers means to attain it: they would, otherwise, be rejected at the first motion; for who would give ear to him that should propose affliction and misery for his end?” (Essays, Book I, chapter XIX)

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, "Die Sonne sinkt", aus den Dionysos-Dithyramben (original German text)
  2. Ditirambi di Dioniso (Italian version)
  3. The above quoted text is from  Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, by Karl Löwith. University of California Press, 1997.