Friedrich Nietzsche – On Inspiration

The nature of inspiration has never been described more forcefully and graphically than by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Has anybody, at the end of the nineteenth century, an idea what poets of stronger ages called inspiration? If not, let me describe it.

With the smallest residue of superstition within oneself, one would indeed hardly escape the idea of being merely the incarnation, the mouthpiece, the medium of super-human powers. The idea of revela­tion, in the sense that suddenly with incredible certainty and subtlety, something becomes visible and audible, shaking us and overpowering us in our deepest being: all this is merely a description of facts. One listens, one does not search; one accepts, one does not ask, who is giving; like lightning a thought flashes up, with necessity, without hesitation with regard to its form—I never have had a choice. An ecstasy of joy, whose immense tension sometimes dissolves into a stream of tears, and whose pace is sometimes like a storm and some­times becomes slow; a state of being completely beside oneself, yet with the clearest consciousness of an infinite number of fine tremors and wave-like vibrations running down to the very toes; a depth of happiness, in which all that is painful and dark, does not act as a contradiction but as a necessary condition, a challenge, as a necessary color within such an abundance of light; an instinct for rhythmic proportions, which spans extensive realms of form—the extension, the need for an all-encompassing rhythm is almost a criterion for the power of inspiration, a kind of compensating counter-force against its pressure and tension. … All this happens involuntarily in the highest degree, and yet like a storm of freedom, of unconditionality, of power, of godliness. … The involuntary character of the inner image, (the simile), is the most remarkable part; one has no more the slightest idea what is image or simile, everything offers itself as the nearest, the most adequate, the simplest expression.”