Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas! | My thought’s on n’ought!

1845-1945, 1946-Today, Max Stirner / Monday, January 1st, 2018

In his book Der Einzige…, Max Stirner used Goethe’s poem “Vanitas!” as inspirtation to begin the entire book. The title of the preamble is “Ich hab’ Mein’ Sach’ auf Nichts gestellt”, which is the first line of Geothe’s poem.

There have only been a small number of English translations of the preamble. H.J. Schirmer, in his 1897 translation, presents it as “I’ve Based My Cause ‘Pon Nothing.” In the 1907 Byington translation we read it as “All Things Are Nothing To Me.” In John Carroll’s “Roots of the Right” edition on 1961 we read it as “I Have Founded My Affair on Nothing,” and in the Landstreicher translation it is Englished as “I Have Based My Affair on Nothing.”

But Swedish-Japanese Buddhist scholar William Flygare translated the entire original poem for an unpublished new edition of The Ego and His Own that Libertarian Book Club was going to publish (according to Sid Parker), but then decided not to. Flygare renders the line “My thoughts ‘n’ oughts are nothing fixed,” but below we present the entirety of his translation.

William Flygare’s (1916-1997) published works included two collections of poetry: Presence in 1972 and This in 1993 (revised 1995); a monograph Montaigne-Shakespeare in 1978; but most Union of Egoist readers would be more familiar with his annotated edition of Etienne la Boetie’s The Will to Bondage published in 1974 as part of the Libertarian Broadsides (1967) series. He contributed reviews, translations and poetry to S.E. Parker‘s egoist journals Minus One (1963) and Ego (1982).

My thought’s on n’ought!

My thoughts ‘n’ oughts are nothing fixed
for Joy’s the world that’s downed unmixed
this way!
and all who’d be good mates of mine
to clink ‘n’ drink just suit me fine
for lees of life and wine!

I’d trained my trade on gold ‘n’ gain
but so I sold my joy for pain;
I say,
the coins were rolling here and there,
but every time I chased a where
the here was over there.

To women then I gave my heart
O belles!
but how those damsels made me smart
o hells!
The false were true to others, true,
but true ones bored me through and through;
the best … were not for woo.

Next, I thought I ought to roam
but then I lost my ways of home,
that way,
and nothing seemed to suit me quite,
the board was bad, the bed a fright,
and no one got me right.

I tuned my dream to name and fame
but better men put me to shame
O hell!
or when I gave some good I had
they made me out to be a cad;
my good was worse than bad.

I sought the right in battle might
and often was our might so right
the enemy’s land was ours to run;
but still the score was won to none,
and a leg became undone.

So now I call my calling nought
So what!
The world’s all mine that comes unsought
that’s what!
Now that it’s song and sup all day,
come clink ‘n’ drink me all the way
these lees to the last hooray!