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Home | 2015

Nietzsche's 171st birthday

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-10-15 09:03.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), had the brainy superman survived, would have been 171 today. Unfortunately he didn't survive, but died quietly mad in isolation from the world.

He was a classical philologist, later philospher – for ten years he styled himself a 'free philospher' – but also a musician and poet.

His poetry is digestible, deep and witty all at the same time, but is almost totally overshadowed by his reputation as philosopher and madman. Here are some pieces of his verse for his birthday, translated in the clunky, literal, unmetrical style for which this blog is so cherished.

Thy tyranny of clocks and laws

From: Scherz, List und Rache (1882), p. 35. [1]

Gegen die Gesetze Against the Laws
Von heut an hängt an härner Schnur From today hangs on a hair cord
Um meinen Hals die Stunden-Uhr: around my neck a watch:
Von heute an hört der Sterne Lauf, From today the course of the stars,
Sonn', Hahnenschrei und Schatten auf, the sun, cock-crow and shadows stop,
Und was mir je die Zeit verkünd't, and what up to now has told me the time,
Das ist jetzt stumm und taub und blind: – that is now dumb, deaf and blind: –
Es schweigt mir jegliche Natur The whole of Nature is silenced
Beim Tiktak von Gesetz und Uhr. by the tic-toc of law and the clock.

Me, a poet?

More tic-toc, from: Lieder des Prinzen Vogelfrei (1887), ditto, p. 43.

Dichters Berufung The Poet's Calling
Als ich jüngst, mich zu erquicken, As I recently, to refresh myself,
Unter dunkeln Bäumen saß, sat under shady trees
Hört ich ticken, leise ticken, I heard a ticking, quiet ticking,
Zierlich wie nach Takt und Maß. gracefully in beat and measure.
Böse wurd' ich, zog Gesichter, – I was angry, pulled faces, –
Endlich aber gab ich nach, Finally however I gave up
Bis ich gar, gleich einem Dichter, until even I, like a poet,
Selber mit im Tiktak sprach. spoke along in tic-toc.
Wie mir so im Verse-Machen During this versifying
Silb' um Silb' ihr Hopsa sprang, syllable and syllable hopped about,
Musst' ich plötzlich lachen, lachen then I suddenly had to laugh
Eine Viertelstunde lang. for a quarter of an hour.
Du ein Dichter? Du ein Dichter? You, a poet? You, a poet?
Steht's mit deinem Kopf so schlect? Is your brain so addled?
– 'Ja, mein Herr, Sie sind ein Dichter' – 'Yes, Sir, you are a poet'
Achselzuckt der Vogel Specht. said the woodpecker, with a shrug of his shoulders.


  1. ^ German texts from Friedrich Nietzsche, Gedichte, ed. Mathias Mayer, Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart, 2010.