Poem of the Week | October 09, 2008

This week’s poem is “Nietzsche in Love” by Brian Brodeur.  It is previously unpublished.  Brodeur is the author of Other Latitudes (2008), winner of the University of Akron Press’s 2007 Akron Poetry Prize, judged by Stephen Dunn, and So the Night Cannot Go on without Us (2007), which won the Fall 2006 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Poetry Chapbook Award.  Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming inGettysburg ReviewMargie, and River Styx.  Brian lives and works in Fairfax, VA.

“Reading biographies has always been a guilty pleasure.  I first encountered the name Mathilde Trampedach in Rüdiger Safranski’s Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (Norton, 2002, Shelley Frisch trans).  In a brief anecdote-almost an aside-Safranski mentions Nietzsche’s aggressive proposal to a twenty-one-year-old Trampedach in April of 1876, followed by Trampedach’s brusque refusal.  Because Nietzsche’s unluckiness in love is fairly notorious, I thought it might be interesting to explore a fictional Nietzsche, one who’d had a family and a comfortable life.  Unlike Lou Salome, the lesser known Trampedach seemed an enticing candidate for the role of Mrs. Nietzsche.  Once this was established, the poem itself came more or less unbidden.”

Nietzsche in Love

Strange to think of him as the young professor
genuflecting in some Basel salon
to kiss the hand of Mathilde Trampedach

who giggled into her glove,
her dark hair shining under the oil lamps.
Soon after, he wrote to her from his rented flat,

urging her to gather all the strength
that was in her heart so she would not be frightened
by the question he put to her: would she be his wife?

Though no response survives, we know her answer.
Nietzsche never married, fled to Rapallo
where he sequestered himself in a grand gesture,

letting his moustache burgeon from his face
like a rare fungus.  Nor can we blame
Mathilde (nor the others who refused him)

for sparing herself a life with this man
who believed his genius was in his nostrils
and called himself the annihilator par excellence.

So why do I blame her?  Eleven years his junior,
she might’ve seen past his pale complexion
to the Fredrick underneath, who once called love

the most unjust condition in the world.
I like imagining that other Nietzsche:
requited, a family man, too tired at night

to invent the Übermensch or kill off god.
Think of the never-to-be-born Nietzsche children-
Frieda and Alastair and little Franz-

squealing as he kneels by their beds, his turn
to read from Mother Goose, which puts them to sleep
faster in French than German.  He dozes, too.

Later, he dabs spit-up from his sleeve
as he wanders the Marktplatz, humbled, sober.
Perusing the cobbled stalls for some distraction,

he promises himself he’ll write tomorrow
if he tastes one cake tonight, eyeing pastries
on the confectioner’s cart, prepared to bargain.