An Excuse to Wax Philosophically

As a young man, Elliott Smith went to college and received a B.A. in Philosophy. Of the authors he read during his studies, he mentioned Kierkegaard as being among his favorites. The title from Elliott’s third album, Either/Or is a direct lift from the Kierkegaard work of the same name. I mention this because I have to read this stuff for a class at school, and I always found that tidbit of info to be kinda interesting. And some of the more poignant moments strike a chord with Elliott’s musical and poetic sensibilities.

What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ — that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.’ And the critics come forward and say: ‘That’s the way, that’s how the rules of aesthetics say it should be done.’ Of course, a critic resembles a poet to a hair, except he has no anguish in his heart, no music on his lips. So I tell you, I would rather be a swineherd at Amagerbro and be understood by the swine than a poet and misunderstood by people. –Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Also, compare the following Kierkegaard passage with the lyrics to the opening track of the excellent 1997 Amorphis album, Elegy.

Why wasn’t I born in Nyboder, why didn’t I die as a small child? Then my father would have laid me in a little coffin, taken me under his arm, carried me out one Sunday morning to the grave, thrown the earth upon the coffin himself, said a few words half aloud that only he could understand. It could only occur to the unhappy days of old to let small children weep in Elysium because they had died so young. –Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Now look at the lyrics to “Better Unborn” from Elegy.

Better it would have been for me, and better it would have been. Had I not been born, not grown. Not been brought into the world. Not had to come to this Earth, not been suckled for the world. If I’d died a three-night-old, been lost in my swaddling hand. I’d have needed but a span of cloth, a span more of wood. But a cubit of good earth, two words from the priest. Three verses from the cantor, one clang from the bell. – Amorphis, Elegy
(adapted from the Finnish Kanteletar)


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~ by chaosrexmachinae on February 20, 2008.

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