Borges, Gurney & Nietzsche—Examples of Profound Superficiality

Wildflowers alongside Fleam Dyke

A couple of people have asked me about the two poems I read over the last two weeks in the Morning Service of Mindful Meditation and so I post them here. They both struck me speaking about something related to a thought I hold dear that was expressed by Nietzsche in the fourth aphorism of his “The Gay Science” and so, for what it’s worth, I add that after the two poems.

I should note that when I read Borges’ poem in the service I silently added a few feminine third-person singular pronouns to the text. I would like to think that, had Borges been writing today, he would have done this himself quite naturally as they clearly need to be there . . .      

The Just

Jorge Luis Borges

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.

[S]He who is grateful for the existence of music.

He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.

Two workmen playing, in a café in the South, a silent game of chess.

The potter, contemplating a color and a form.

The typographer who sets this page well, though it may not please


A woman and a man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.

[S]He who strokes a sleeping animal.

He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.

[S]He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.

He who prefers others to be right.

These people, unaware, are saving the world.

(Selected Poems, trans. by Alastair Reid, ed. by Alexander Coleman, Viking 1999, p. 449).

The Escape

Ivor Gurney 

I believe in the increasing of life whatever

Leads to the seeing of small trifles . . . . . .

Real, beautiful, is good, and an act never

Is worthier than in freeing spirit that stifles

Under ingratitude's weight; nor is anything done

Wiselier than the moving or breaking to sight

Of a thing hidden under by custom; revealed

Fulfilled, used, (sound-fashioned) any way out to delight.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Trefoil . . . . hedge sparrow . . . . the stars on the edge of night.

(Selected Poems, ed. George Walter, J. M. Dent, 1996, p. 46). 

Aphorism No. 4 from the “The Gay Science” by Friedrich Nietzsche (trans. by Josefine Nauckhoff)

Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live: what is needed for that is to stop bravely at the surface, the fold, the skin; to worship appearance, to believe in shapes, tones, words — in the whole Olympus of appearance! Those Greeks were superficial — out of profundity! And is not this precisely what we are coming back to, we daredevils of the spirit who have climbed the highest and most dangerous peak of current thought and looked around from up there, looked down from up there? Are we not just in this respect — Greeks? Worshippers of shapes, tones, words? And therefore — artists? 

(The Gay Science, trans. by Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 8-9)