Extract from “Thus Spake Zarathustra” by Nietzsche
Zarathustra’s eye had perceived that a certain youth avoided him. And as he walked alone one evening over the hills surrounding the town called “The Pied Cow,” behold, there found he the youth sitting leaning against a tree, and gazing with wearied look into the valley. Zarathustra thereupon laid hold of the tree beside which the youth sat, and spake thus:
“If I wished to shake this tree with my hands, I should not be able to do so. But the wind, which we see not, troubleth and bendeth it as it listeth. We are sorest bent and troubled by invisible hands.” Thereupon the youth arose disconcerted, and said: “I hear Zarathustra, and just now was I thinking of him!”
“Why art thou frightened on that account? –But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeketh to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark and deep–into the evil.” “Yea, into the evil!” cried the youth. “How is it possible that thou hast discovered my soul?”
Zarathustra smiled, and said:
“Many a soul one will never discover, unless one first invent it.” “Yea, into the evil!” cried the youth once more. “Thou saidst the truth, Zarathustra. I trust myself no longer since I sought to rise into the height, and nobody trusteth me any longer; how doth that happen? I change too quickly: my to-day refuteth my yesterday. I often overleap the steps when I clamber; for so doing, none of the steps pardons me. When aloft, I find myself always alone. No one speaketh unto me; the frost of solitude maketh me tremble. What do I seek on the height?
My contempt and my longing increase together; the higher I clamber, the more do I despise him who clambereth. What doth he seek on the height? How ashamed I am of my clambering and stumbling! How I mock at my violent panting! How I hate him who flieth! How tired I am on the height!”
Here the youth was silent.
And Zarathustra contemplated the tree beside which they stood, and spake thus:
“This tree standeth lonely here on the hills; it hath grown up high above man and beast. And if it wanted to speak, it would have none who could understand it: so high hath it grown. Now it waiteth and waiteth,–for what doth it wait? It dwelleth too close to the seat of the clouds; it waiteth perhaps for the first lightning?”
When Zarathustra had said this, the youth called out with violent gestures: “Yea, Zarathustra, thou speakest the truth. My destruction I longed for, when I desired to be on the height, and thou art the lightning for which I waited! Lo! what have I been since thou hast appeared amongst us? It is mine envy of thee that hath destroyed me!”–Thus spake the youth, and wept bitterly. Zarathustra, however, put his arm about him, and led the youth away with him.
“Thus Spake Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche
A young ambitious man was having trouble understanding the meaning of life and as a result had resigned into solitude. Zarathustra had noticed him long ago while he went through the town called “The Pied Cow” preaching. But as he was about to retire in the evening to the outskirts of the town, he met this same young man sitting quietly under a tree.
It is possible that his confusion is twofold. One may have to do with ambition to be “successful” in life. And the other, I believe, is a struggle to live a moral life (a spiritual struggle) which every society obligates on its youth – even if that society itself is not moral.
After some time the youth confessed to Zarathustra that the more he tries to be moral and live up to expectation the stronger the impulse (and for that matter the temptation) to commit immoral acts.
“But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeketh to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark and deep–into the evil.”
Zarathustra first consoled him by implying that a lone tree grows taller and stronger than others in the forest but also reminds him that over ambition can kill:
“…so high hath it grown. Now it waiteth and waiteth,–for what doth it wait? It dwelleth too close to the seat of the clouds; it waiteth perhaps for the first lightning?”
The broader meaning of this passage also corresponds to passages in the book of Ecclesiastics in the Bible which speaks of life as having no purpose – that all is vanity and waste of time and energy. That men rise as high as they can only to be cut off by death. This is what, I think , this passage is about. When you look at the life history of most geniuses (in music, sports, politics, entertainment etc), you will notice that they were loved by the crowds for what they did and in trying to do more to please the crowds they ended their lives, mostly through drugs. A typical example is Whitney Houston.
Also the passage raises important metaphysical/psychological question, which I will call the internal struggle, which the bible also describes in the book of Galatians 5: 17:
And here I quote the Bible as I would any literature.
“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
Meaning that life becomes something like a seesaw. Either you please the inner world or the outer, but often one is torn between the two.