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Parable of the Madman -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Guest poem submitted by David Wright:
(Poem #953) Parable of the Madman
 Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning
 ran to the market place, and cried incessantly:
 "I seek God! I seek God!"
 As many of those who did not believe in God
 were standing around just then,
 he provoked much laughter.
 Has he got lost? asked one.
 Did he lose his way like a child? asked another.
 Or is he hiding?
 Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?
 Thus they yelled and laughed.

 The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.
 "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you.
 We have killed him---you and I.
 All of us are his murderers.
 But how did we do this?
 How could we drink up the sea?
 Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?
 What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?
 Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving?
 Away from all suns?
 Are we not plunging continually?
 Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions?
 Is there still any up or down?
 Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?
 Do we not feel the breath of empty space?
 Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?
 Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?
 Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers
 who are burying God?
 Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition?
 Gods, too, decompose.
 God is dead.
 God remains dead.
 And we have killed him.

 "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
 What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled
to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?
 What water is there for us to clean ourselves?
 What festivals of atonement, what sacred gamesshall we have to invent?
 Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?
 Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
 There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us -
 For the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all
history hitherto."

 Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners;
 and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment.
 At last he threw his lantern on the ground,
 and it broke into pieces and went out.
 "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet.
 This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering;
 it has not yet reached the ears of men.
 Lightning and thunder require time;
 the light of the stars requires time;
 deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard.
 This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars -
 and yet they have done it themselves.

 It has been related further that on the same day
 the madman forced his way into several churches
 and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo.
 Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing
 "What after all are these churches now
 if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter
Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]

     Not long ago, a poetry group I participate in was looking at Yeats's
The Second Coming (Minstrels Poem #289) - an exploration that was deeply
tinted with recent tragedies and ongoing world events.  I was thinking of
that poem as a reflection on man without God, man after God.  This led to
thoughts of Nietzsche's most notorious statement: God is Dead, which
everybody knows, although few people know the full parable that it is taken

     Nietzsche has been much maligned in the popular mind as an atheist, a
nihilist, and a proto-fascist.  I think the passage is appropriate for the
Minstrels because Nietzsche was a true oet philosopher (Plato being the only
other example I can call to mind.)  I don't read German, but I understand
that he is one of the greatest of German stylists, and his background in
philology gave him a poet's feel for language.  And writing in the form of a
parable, he demands interpretation in the same way a lot of poets do.

     I find it a moving, frightening, telling mythos for our time - it just
about defines what is meant by 'postmodernism.'  Perhaps it is for all time,
or for certain times throughout history when mankind has felt the darkness
closing in, the meaning evaporating.  But even Ragnarok, the Norse doom of
the Gods in which the world was to be plunged into darkness and ice and
humankind was to be destroyed while the Gods killed each other, even that
dark vision was to be followed by a new Golden Age in which the triumphant
Gods returned.  For Nietzsche, the death of God is attended merely by decay
and worms.  And freedom, that dreaded freedom that Sartre addresses in his


[Minstrels Links]

The aforementioned Yeats poem:
Poem #289, The Second Coming  -- William Butler Yeats

For something completely different, see:
Poem #615, The Philosopher's Drinking Song -- Monty Python

47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Aamir Ansari said...

Thank you for that poem. Yes, I'd always thought of Nietzsche as an atheist.
This poem came as an eye-opener. Nietzsche writes about the horrific
enormity of such faithlessness, the drinking up of the sea, the wiped out
horizons, the unchaining of the earth from its sun. Powerful and honest,
this passionate attempt to restore sanity to our turbulent faithless lives
provides an opportunity to realise the murderous assault we've launched on,
not God, but ourselves.

Dave Hash said...

I'd just add one little correction - the older Ragnarok myth ended with just
an 'End' - after the destruction of the gods and mankind, the world, the
seas and the heavens all that was left (any even this was left out in some
versions) was Yggdrasil, the World Tree that underlies reality. It was only
with the advent of Christianity into Nordic lands that Baldur, son of Odin,
was given a messianic, Christ-like makeover, nailed dead to Yggdrasil during
Ragnarok, only to rise again at the End and usher in a new creation.

Laura said...

The interesting thing about Nietzsche is that he did believe in God; just that we had killed him. The sad thing about Nietzsche is that he's wrong. So much passion and articulation put into such a mistaken idea. Slightly ironic, don't you think?

~ Laura ~

Peter Turton said...

I find the Parable of the Madman brilliant, as brilliant as 'Vereinsamt', Nietzche's poem about loneliness. I too had believed that Nietzsche was an atheist, but the Parable shows he was not. Of course the crux of the question is what we mean by 'God'. I think it means 'a divine order' which we would to well to respéct. Modern man does not respect this and sees 'progress' as wallowing deeper in the trough of greedy pig-like consumerism, where notions of 'God' have disappeared or are distorted in the'tombs and sepulchres' of forma religion. I think William Blake would have liked this poem.

Lebron said...

Laura you are a fucking sanctimonious pig.

Anonymous said...

Well I believe God is not dead at all. He is risen and alive. But maybe courtesy is dead when somone calls another person that name (above), just for stating their beleifs... If you guys have a problem, please don't post it on the internet where little kids can read it.

Anonymous said...

I think he is right, and the postmodern relativism that ravages cultures and ancient traditions in the name of progress will stop only when it meets übermensch... but he will not come by himself, we have to tear down fake morality and rip it form the face of earth carve the skin of earth with a thousand thombs for dead gods and mediocre philosophies.

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