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- Thus Spake Zarathustra - 3/76 -


which is written the first definite plan of "Thus Spake Zarathustra":--

"MIDDAY AND ETERNITY."

"GUIDE-POSTS TO A NEW WAY OF LIVING."

Beneath this is written:--

"Zarathustra born on lake Urmi; left his home in his thirtieth year, went into the province of Aria, and, during ten years of solitude in the mountains, composed the Zend-Avesta."

"The sun of knowledge stands once more at midday; and the serpent of eternity lies coiled in its light--: It is YOUR time, ye midday brethren."

In that summer of 1881, my brother, after many years of steadily declining health, began at last to rally, and it is to this first gush of the recovery of his once splendid bodily condition that we owe not only "The Gay Science", which in its mood may be regarded as a prelude to "Zarathustra", but also "Zarathustra" itself. Just as he was beginning to recuperate his health, however, an unkind destiny brought him a number of most painful personal experiences. His friends caused him many disappointments, which were the more bitter to him, inasmuch as he regarded friendship as such a sacred institution; and for the first time in his life he realised the whole horror of that loneliness to which, perhaps, all greatness is condemned. But to be forsaken is something very different from deliberately choosing blessed loneliness. How he longed, in those days, for the ideal friend who would thoroughly understand him, to whom he would be able to say all, and whom he imagined he had found at various periods in his life from his earliest youth onwards. Now, however, that the way he had chosen grew ever more perilous and steep, he found nobody who could follow him: he therefore created a perfect friend for himself in the ideal form of a majestic philosopher, and made this creation the preacher of his gospel to the world.

Whether my brother would ever have written "Thus Spake Zarathustra" according to the first plan sketched in the summer of 1881, if he had not had the disappointments already referred to, is now an idle question; but perhaps where "Zarathustra" is concerned, we may also say with Master Eckhardt: "The fleetest beast to bear you to perfection is suffering."

My brother writes as follows about the origin of the first part of "Zarathustra":--"In the winter of 1882-83, I was living on the charming little Gulf of Rapallo, not far from Genoa, and between Chiavari and Cape Porto Fino. My health was not very good; the winter was cold and exceptionally rainy; and the small inn in which I lived was so close to the water that at night my sleep would be disturbed if the sea were high. These circumstances were surely the very reverse of favourable; and yet in spite of it all, and as if in demonstration of my belief that everything decisive comes to life in spite of every obstacle, it was precisely during this winter and in the midst of these unfavourable circumstances that my 'Zarathustra' originated. In the morning I used to start out in a southerly direction up the glorious road to Zoagli, which rises aloft through a forest of pines and gives one a view far out into the sea. In the afternoon, as often as my health permitted, I walked round the whole bay from Santa Margherita to beyond Porto Fino. This spot was all the more interesting to me, inasmuch as it was so dearly loved by the Emperor Frederick III. In the autumn of 1886 I chanced to be there again when he was revisiting this small, forgotten world of happiness for the last time. It was on these two roads that all 'Zarathustra' came to me, above all Zarathustra himself as a type;--I ought rather to say that it was on these walks that these ideas waylaid me."

The first part of "Zarathustra" was written in about ten days--that is to say, from the beginning to about the middle of February 1883. "The last lines were written precisely in the hallowed hour when Richard Wagner gave up the ghost in Venice."

With the exception of the ten days occupied in composing the first part of this book, my brother often referred to this winter as the hardest and sickliest he had ever experienced. He did not, however, mean thereby that his former disorders were troubling him, but that he was suffering from a severe attack of influenza which he had caught in Santa Margherita, and which tormented him for several weeks after his arrival in Genoa. As a matter of fact, however, what he complained of most was his spiritual condition--that indescribable forsakenness--to which he gives such heartrending expression in "Zarathustra". Even the reception which the first part met with at the hands of friends and acquaintances was extremely disheartening: for almost all those to whom he presented copies of the work misunderstood it. "I found no one ripe for many of my thoughts; the case of 'Zarathustra' proves that one can speak with the utmost clearness, and yet not be heard by any one." My brother was very much discouraged by the feebleness of the response he was given, and as he was striving just then to give up the practice of taking hydrate of chloral--a drug he had begun to take while ill with influenza,--the following spring, spent in Rome, was a somewhat gloomy one for him. He writes about it as follows:-- "I spent a melancholy spring in Rome, where I only just managed to live,-- and this was no easy matter. This city, which is absolutely unsuited to the poet-author of 'Zarathustra', and for the choice of which I was not responsible, made me inordinately miserable. I tried to leave it. I wanted to go to Aquila--the opposite of Rome in every respect, and actually founded in a spirit of enmity towards that city (just as I also shall found a city some day), as a memento of an atheist and genuine enemy of the Church--a person very closely related to me,--the great Hohenstaufen, the Emperor Frederick II. But Fate lay behind it all: I had to return again to Rome. In the end I was obliged to be satisfied with the Piazza Barberini, after I had exerted myself in vain to find an anti-Christian quarter. I fear that on one occasion, to avoid bad smells as much as possible, I actually inquired at the Palazzo del Quirinale whether they could not provide a quiet room for a philosopher. In a chamber high above the Piazza just mentioned, from which one obtained a general view of Rome and could hear the fountains plashing far below, the loneliest of all songs was composed--'The Night-Song'. About this time I was obsessed by an unspeakably sad melody, the refrain of which I recognised in the words, 'dead through immortality.'"

We remained somewhat too long in Rome that spring, and what with the effect of the increasing heat and the discouraging circumstances already described, my brother resolved not to write any more, or in any case, not to proceed with "Zarathustra", although I offered to relieve him of all trouble in connection with the proofs and the publisher. When, however, we returned to Switzerland towards the end of June, and he found himself once more in the familiar and exhilarating air of the mountains, all his joyous creative powers revived, and in a note to me announcing the dispatch of some manuscript, he wrote as follows: "I have engaged a place here for three months: forsooth, I am the greatest fool to allow my courage to be sapped from me by the climate of Italy. Now and again I am troubled by the thought: WHAT NEXT? My 'future' is the darkest thing in the world to me, but as there still remains a great deal for me to do, I suppose I ought rather to think of doing this than of my future, and leave the rest to THEE and the gods."

The second part of "Zarathustra" was written between the 26th of June and the 6th July. "This summer, finding myself once more in the sacred place where the first thought of 'Zarathustra' flashed across my mind, I conceived the second part. Ten days sufficed. Neither for the second, the first, nor the third part, have I required a day longer."

He often used to speak of the ecstatic mood in which he wrote "Zarathustra"; how in his walks over hill and dale the ideas would crowd into his mind, and how he would note them down hastily in a note-book from which he would transcribe them on his return, sometimes working till midnight. He says in a letter to me: "You can have no idea of the vehemence of such composition," and in "Ecce Homo" (autumn 1888) he describes as follows with passionate enthusiasm the incomparable mood in which he created Zarathustra:--

"--Has any one at the end of the nineteenth century any distinct notion of what poets of a stronger age understood by the word inspiration? If not, I will describe it. If one had the smallest vestige of superstition in one, it would hardly be possible to set aside completely the idea that one is the mere incarnation, mouthpiece or medium of an almighty power. The idea of revelation in the sense that something becomes suddenly visible and audible with indescribable certainty and accuracy, which profoundly convulses and upsets one--describes simply the matter of fact. One hears-- one does not seek; one takes--one does not ask who gives: a thought suddenly flashes up like lightning, it comes with necessity, unhesitatingly--I have never had any choice in the matter. There is an ecstasy such that the immense strain of it is sometimes relaxed by a flood of tears, along with which one's steps either rush or involuntarily lag, alternately. There is the feeling that one is completely out of hand, with the very distinct consciousness of an endless number of fine thrills and quiverings to the very toes;--there is a depth of happiness in which the painfullest and gloomiest do not operate as antitheses, but as conditioned, as demanded in the sense of necessary shades of colour in such an overflow of light. There is an instinct for rhythmic relations which embraces wide areas of forms (length, the need of a wide-embracing rhythm, is almost the measure of the force of an inspiration, a sort of counterpart to its pressure and tension). Everything happens quite involuntarily, as if in a tempestuous outburst of freedom, of absoluteness, of power and divinity. The involuntariness of the figures and similes is the most remarkable thing; one loses all perception of what constitutes the figure and what constitutes the simile; everything seems to present itself as the readiest, the correctest and the simplest means of expression. It actually seems, to use one of Zarathustra's own phrases, as if all things came unto one, and would fain be similes: 'Here do all things come caressingly to thy talk and flatter thee, for they want to ride upon thy back. On every simile dost thou here ride to every truth. Here fly open unto thee all being's words and word-cabinets; here all being wanteth to become words, here all becoming wanteth to learn of thee how to talk.' This is MY experience of inspiration. I do not doubt but that one would have to go back thousands of years in order to find some one who could say to me: It is mine also!--"

In the autumn of 1883 my brother left the Engadine for Germany and stayed there a few weeks. In the following winter, after wandering somewhat erratically through Stresa, Genoa, and Spezia, he landed in Nice, where the climate so happily promoted his creative powers that he wrote the third part of "Zarathustra". "In the winter, beneath the halcyon sky of Nice, which then looked down upon me for the first time in my life, I found the third 'Zarathustra'--and came to the end of my task; the whole having occupied me scarcely a year. Many hidden corners and heights in the landscapes round about Nice are hallowed to me by unforgettable moments. That decisive chapter entitled 'Old and New Tables' was composed in the very difficult ascent from the station to Eza--that wonderful Moorish village in the rocks. My most creative moments were always accompanied by unusual muscular activity. The body is inspired: let us waive the question of the 'soul.' I might often have been seen dancing in those days. Without a suggestion of fatigue I could then walk for seven or eight hours on end among the hills. I slept well and laughed well--I was perfectly robust and patient."

As we have seen, each of the three parts of "Zarathustra" was written, after a more or less short period of preparation, in about ten days. The composition of the fourth part alone was broken by occasional interruptions. The first notes relating to this part were written while he and I were staying together in Zurich in September 1884. In the following November, while staying at Mentone, he began to elaborate these notes, and after a long pause, finished the manuscript at Nice between the end of January and the middle of February 1885. My brother then called this part


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