Friedrich Nietzsche Full Text EBook REVOLUTION IN POETRY. The strict limit which the French dramatists marked out with regard to unity of action, time and place, construction of style, verse and sentence, selection of words and ideas, was a school as important as that of counterpoint and fugue in the development of modern music or that of the Gorgianic figures in Greek oratory. Such a restriction may appear absurd; nevertheless there is no means of getting out of naturalism except by confining ourselves at first to the strongest (perhaps most arbitrary) means. Thus we gradually learn to walk gracefully on the narrow paths that bridge giddy abysses, and acquire great suppleness of movement as a result, as the history of music proves to our living eyes. Here we see how, step by step, the fetters get looser, until at last they may appear to be altogether thrown off; this appearance is the highest achievement of a necessary development in art. In the art of modern poetry there existed no such fortunate, gradual emerging from self imposed fetters. Lessing held up to scorn in Germany the French form, the only modern form of art, and pointed to Shakespeare; and thus the steadiness of that unfettering was lost and a spring was made into naturalism that is, back into the beginnings of art. From this Goethe endeavoured to save himself, by always trying to limit himself anew in different ways; but even the most gifted only succeeds by continuously experimenting, if the thread of development has once been broken. It is to the unconsciously revered, if also repudiated, model of French tragedy that Schiller owes his comparative sureness of form, and he remained fairly independent of Lessing (whose dramatic attempts he is well known to have rejected). But after Voltaire the French themselves suddenly lacked the great talents which would have led the development of tragedy out of constraint to that apparent freedom; later on they followed the German example and made a spring into a sort of Rousseau like state of nature and experiments. It is only necessary to read Voltaire's "Mahomet" from time to time in order to perceive clearly what European culture has lost through that breaking down of tradition. Once for all, Voltaire was the last of the great dramatists who with Greek proportion controlled his manifold soul, equal even to the greatest storms of tragedy, he was able to do what no German could, because the French nature is much nearer akin to the Greek than is the German; he was also the last great writer who in the wielding of prose possessed the Greek ear, Greek artistic conscientiousness, and Greek simplicity and grace; he was, also, one of the last men able to combine in himself the greatest freedom of mind and an absolutely un-revolutionary way of thinking without being , inconsistent and cowardly. Since that time the modern spirit, with its restlessness and its hatred of moderation and restrictions, has obtained the mastery on all sides, let loose at first by the fever of revolution, and then once more putting a bridle on itself when it became filled with fear and horror at itself, but it was the bridle of rigid logic, no longer that of artistic moderation. It is true that through that unfettering for a time we are able to enjoy the poetry of all nations, everything that has sprung up in hidden places, original, wild, wonderfully beautiful and gigantically irregular, from folk songs up to the "great barbarian" Shakespeare; we taste the joys of local colour and costume, hitherto unknown to all artistic nations; we make liberal use of the "barbaric advantages "of our time, which Goethe accentuated against Schiller in order to place the formlessness of his Faust in the most favourable light. But for how much longer? The encroaching flood of poetry of all styles and all nations must gradually sweep away that magic garden upon which a quiet and hidden growth would still have been possible; all poets must become experimenting imitators, daring copyists, however great their primary strength may be. Eventually, the public, which has lost the habit of seeing the actual artistic fact in the controlling of depicting power, in the organising mastery over all art means, must come ever more and more to value power for power's sake, colour for colour's sake, idea for idea's sake, inspiration for inspiration's sake; accordingly it will not enjoy the elements and conditions of the work of art, unless isolated, and finally will make the very natural demand that the artist must deliver it to them isolated. True, the "senseless" fetters of Franco-Greek art have been thrown off, but unconsciously we have grown accustomed to consider all fetters, all restrictions as senseless; and so art moves towards its liberation, but, in so doing, it touches which is certainly highly edifying upon all the phases of its beginning, its childhood, its incompleteness, its sometime boldness and excesses, in perishing it interprets its origin and growth. One of the great ones, whose instinct may be relied on and whose theory lacked nothing but thirty years more of practice, Lord Byron, once said: that with regard to poetry in general, the more he thought about it the more convinced he was that one and all we are entirely on a wrong track, that we are following an inwardly false revolutionary system, and that either our own generation or the next will yet arrive at this same conviction. It is the same Lord Byron who said that he "looked upon Shakespeare as the very worst model, although the most extraordinary poet”. And does not Goethe's mature artistic insight in the second half of his life say practically the same thing? That insight by means of which he made such a bound in advance of whole generations that, generally speaking, it may be said that Goethe's influence has not yet begun, that his time has still to come. Just because his nature held him fast for a long time in the path of the poetical revolution, just because he drank to the dregs of whatsoever new sources, views and expedients had been indirectly discovered through that breaking down of tradition, of all that had been unearthed from under the ruins of art, his later transformation and conversion carries so much weight; it shows that he felt the deepest longing to win back the traditions of art, and to give in fancy the ancient perfection and completeness to the abandoned ruins and colonnades of the temple, with the imagination of the eye at least, should the strength of the arm be found too weak to build where such tremendous powers were needed even to destroy. Thus he lived in art as in the remembrance of the true art, his poetry had become an aid to remembrance, to the understanding of old and long departed ages of art. With respect to the strength of the new age, his demands could not be satisfied; but the pain this occasioned was amply balanced by the joy that they have been satisfied once, and that we ourselves can still participate in this satisfaction. Not individuals, but more or less ideal masks; no reality, but an allegorical generality; topical characters, local colours toned down and rendered mythical almost to the point of invisibility; contemporary feeling and the problems of contemporary society reduced to the simplest forms, stripped of their attractive, interesting pathological qualities, made ineffective in every other but the artistic sense; no new materials and characters, but the old, long accustomed ones in constant new animation and transformation; that is art, as Goethe understood it later, as the Greeks and even the French practised it.
Previous Section 221. REVOLUTION IN POETRY Next Section