Photograph by poet De Waal Venter.
The guinea fowl
The guinea fowl counts: one, two, three, four …
Pray what is all that counting for,
Out there among the deep dark pine trees?
The bird, driven by knowledge’s itch,
And doing so without a glitch,
Is counting what it’s worth in guineas.
– Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914)
Translated from German by Johannes Beilharz (© 2008)
Perhaps Morgenstern’s most philosophical volume is a collection of aphorisms published posthumously in 1918 entitled Stufen: Eine Entwickelung in Aphorismen und Tagebuch-Notizen (Stages: A Development in Aphorisms and Diary Notes). It has given rise to a number of celebrated quotations. These include:
• “Home isn’t where our house is, but wherever we are understood.”
• “I shall excavate the strata of my soul.”
• “I’m a man of limits: forever physically, emotionally, morally and artistically on the brink of plunging into the abyss. Yet I manage to keep my balance and possess presence of mind.”
• “I bear no treasures within me. I only possess the power to transform much of what I touch into something of value. I have no depths, save my incessant desire for the depths.” (Translated by David W. Wood)