Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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The Origin of Poetry.

The lovers of the fantastic in man, who at the same time represent the doctrine of instinctive morality, draw this conclusion: Granted that utility has been honoured at all as the highest divinity, where then in all the world has poetry come from?  this rhythmising of speech which thwarts rather than furthers plainness of communication, and which, nevertheless, has sprung up everywhere on the earth, and still springs up, as a mockery of all useful purpose!  The wildly beautiful irrationality of poetry refutes you, you utilitarians!  The wish to get rid of utility some way that is precisely what has elevated man, that is what has inspired him to morality and art!  " Well, I must here speak for once to please the utilitarians, they are so seldom in the right that it is pitiful!  In the old times which called poetry into being, people had still utility in view with respect to it, and a very important utility at the time when rhythm was introduced into speech, that force which arranges all the particles of the sentence anew, commands the choosing of the words, recolours the thought, and makes it more obscure, more foreign, and more distant : to be sure a superstitious utility!  It was intended that a human entreaty should be more profoundly im pressed upon the Gods by virtue of rhythm, after it had been observed that men could remember a verse better than an unmetrical speech.  It was likewise thought that people could make them selves audible at greater distances by the rhythmical beat ; the rhythmical prayer seemed to come nearer to the ear of the Gods.  Above all, however, people wanted to have the advantage of the elementary conquest which man experiences in himself when he hears music : rhythm is a constraint ; it produces an unconquerable desire to yield, to join in ; not only the step of the foot, but also the soul itself follows the measure, probably the soul of the Gods also, as people thought!  They attempted, therefore, to constrain the Gods by rhythm, and to exercise a power over them ; they threw poetry around the Gods like a magic noose.  There was a still more wonderful idea, and it has perhaps operated most powerfully of all in the originating of poetry.  Among the Pythagoreans it made its appearance as a philosophical doctrine and as an artifice of teaching : but long before there were philosophers music was acknowledged to possess the power of unburdening the emotions, of purifying the soul, of soothing the ferocia animi - precisely owing to the rhythmical element in music.  When the proper tension and harmony of the soul were lost a person had to dance to the measure of the singer that was the recipe of this medical art.  By means of it Terpander quieted a tumult, Empedocles calmed a maniac, Damon purged a love sick youth ; by means of it even the maddened, revengeful Gods were treated for the purpose of a cure.  This was effected by driving the frenzy and wantonness of their emotions to the highest pitch, by making the furious mad, and the revengeful intoxicated with vengeance : all the orgiastic cults seek to discharge the ferocia of a deity all at once and thus make an orgy, so that the deity may feel freer and quieter afterwards, and leave man in peace.  Melos, according to its root, signifies a soothing agency, not because the song is gentle itself, but because its after effect is gentle.  And not only in the religious song, but also in the secular song of the most ancient times, the prerequisite is that the rhythm should exercise a magical influence ; for example, in drawing water, or in rowing : the song is for the enchanting of the spirits supposed be active thereby ; it makes them obliging, involuntary and the instruments of man.  Every action provides an occasion for song, every action is dependent on the assistance of spirits and the magical song and the spell seem to be the primeval form of poetry.  When verse also came to be used in oracles the Greeks said that the hexameter was invented at Delphi, the rhythm was here also intended to exercise a compulsory influence.  To make a prophecy that means originally (according to what seems to me the probable derivation of the Greek word) to determine something ; people thought they could determine the future by winning Apollo over to their side : he who, according to the most ancient idea, is far more than a foreseeing deity.  According as the formula is pronounced with literal and rhythmical correctness, it determines the future : the formula, however, is the invention of Apollo, who as the God of rhythm, can also determine the goddesses of fate.  Looked at and investigated as a whole, was there ever anything more serviceable to the ancient superstitious species of human being than rhythm?  People could do everything with it: they could make labour go on magically; they could compel a God to appear, to be near at hand, and listen to them ; they could arrange the future for themselves according to their will ; they could unburden their own souls of any kind of excess (of anxiety, of mania, of sympathy, of revenge), and not only their own souls, but the souls of the most evil spirits, without verse a person was nothing, by means of verse a person became almost a God.  Such a fundamental feeling no longer allows itself to be fully eradicated, and even now, after mil lenniums of long labour in combating such supersti tion, the very wisest of us occasionally becomes the fool of rhythm, be it only that one perceives a thought to be truer when it has a metrical form and approaches with a divine hopping.  Is it not a very funny thing that the most serious philosophers, however anxious they are in other respects for strict certainty, still appeal to poetical sayings in order to give their thoughts force and credibility?  and yet it is more dangerous to a truth when the poet assents to it than when he contradicts it!  For, as Homer says, "The Poets tell many lies!"  
 

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