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Poets from the former East Germany have shared a difficult fate:  because of the peculiar history of 20th-21st century Germany much of their potential terrain for poetry was overrun by the events that surrounded them. Like many poets suffering terror regimes and/or exile their roots became invalidated and or irrelevant. Like many from totalitarian regimes they had to develop a technique of ‘inner emigration’. My interest lies in the diverse ways certain poets managed, in this historical trashing, to find a terrain for poetry.  I have translated the work of a number of poets whose lifetimes overlapped the Nazi, war-time, communist, post-Wall periods. Some, like Peter Huchel and Gunter Eich, lived out the whole period from the Hitler nightmare through the apocalyptic end of the war, when thousands died being driven westwards by the Russian forces from the now Polish regions in the East; they experienced the firebombing of cities; and then the reduction of many areas of Germany to stone- age conditions and heaps of rubble inhabited by homeless, hungry, often stateless refugees from the camps; and the occupying forces trying to restore some semblance of order. Others arrived post-Hitler and knew only the GDR. Those remaining in the East were first subject to the totalitarian regime eventually finding themselves in a free capitalist world for which they were scarcely prepared. All this created an enormous amnesiac gulf between their time and that of the earlier rich treasury of German literary culture prior and up to the Weimar Republic.
In the aftermath of the war there was, in literature, a great silence. Germans as both perpetrators and victims were silenced by a kind of narrative wreckage that made it impossible to reconstruct any cultural terrain for a long time. In the East the communist narrative of Nazism and the holocaust was quite different to that that emerged gradually in the west of Germany, being seen through the lens of critiques of capitalism.  The horror of all these events was and is only partially to be explained. Subsequently under the communist regime there was constraint on what could be written and published and this often led to coded forms, explicable only to others living in that society. Only the relatively young, with the vitality to engage subsequently with an unfamiliar capitalist world could make themselves at home, poetically, when they found themselves in affluence and freedom. But the near half-century under communism was now revealed as a period of economic, political and cultural failure – whatever large parts of the population may have believed or wanted to believe about it. It had become invalid.
Nevertheless the past remained –  though only partly articulated. For example the young poet Durs Grunbein, though he had the brilliance and energy to fully exploit in his work post-Wall many perspectives and many cultural opportunities, nevertheless devoted one poetry collection to his birth city Dresden, whose appalling destruction in the closing months of the war he’d been too young to witness, and which his poems nevertheless address.
The great literary silence around these apocalyptic events must have been, aside from the difficulty of explaining them due also to the dual role Germans had to embrace as at once perpetrators of these horrors and victims of them.  Why is this of interest to poets of today? Firstly of course many poets in the world at large will find their cultural terrain trashed by political events –though mostly they will be exclusively victims of such events.. Yet even those living in comparative freedom and affluence may find a world around them disenchanted and commoditised and inimical to the creation of poetic art, and that so similarly offers slight refuge for the poet –though he’s perfectly free to do and say what he likes. Some such poets may too find themselves in ‘inner emigration’.
In the work of poets like Gunter Eich, Reiner Kunze, Heinz Czechovski and Peter Huchel and others we can find strategies for creating terrains for poetry in the face of cultural narrative wreckage. Here it is the work of Peter Huchel I want to offer now as a fine poetic survival. Peter Huchel’s life was a struggle against every outside pressure – whether political or through literary trends and canons. His translator, Michael Hamburger wrote of him: ‘at the cost of producing no more than 4 books in half a century…at the cost of silence, exile…and what to some looked like compromise’,  and, I would add, wrote some of the most profound and beautiful poetry in the whole history of German lyric. He was extremely reticent and fairly indifferent about how his work was received, though it must be said he won eventually some highly prestigious prizes. He avoided outward commitment in order to stay true to his inner ones. And he suffered for it.
Born in 1903 near Berlin to a middle-class family he was 30 when Hitler came to power. He went to university in Berlin, Freiburg and Vienna and then travelled to France., working as a labourer and then moving on to the Balkans. From 1934 until 1940 he worked writing radio plays ( as did some other poets) – but we know little of any public statements he might have made about the Nazi regime. In 1940 he was conscripted into the war and in 1945 imprisoned briefly by the Russians. Much of his early life had been spent on his grandfather’s farm in rural Brandenburg, and it’s that flat, misty land of lakes and forests, rain and snow that forms the constant background and companion to much of his poetry. – in spite of his travels in the sunny south and east of Europe.
His early poems are much in the tradition of the romantic German nature lyric; they recall for me both Wordsworth and John Clare in their absorption into  the natural world and into the innocence and freedom of childhood. His poem ‘Elderberry’ illustrates this (in spite of the grim realities around him).’ Underneath the elderberry hollow/we’d sleep the whole spring…holy to us it sang’.  But these landscapes and his lyrical use of them pervade all his work whatever the themes. It’s clear too that, equally, early on and prior to Hitler he’s haunted by the deprivation and alienation of the poor and the migrants working on the land around him. For example he writes of the ‘fire at the heart’ of the Polish reaper as he harvests what he will not enjoy: ‘none of the scythed corn belongs to him’.  Huchel, like many GDR poets was a socialist in spirit and soul; nevertheless it’s that lyrical connection between the natural world, their habitats and the soul of the inhabitants that is at the heart of this early work.
His first collection Knabenteich (Boy’s Pond) was withdrawn before publication when the Nazi’s came to power and only re-appeared much later in 1948 under a different title –Gedichte (Poems). He was married but divorced in  1946 and re-married in 1953. Peter Huchel would have been in his 40s during the apocalyptic time of the bombing, migrations and chaos of 1945. Those scenes appear in poems, not in their literal forms, but as landscapes marked by and speaking of them. He continued in the GDR writing radio plays but also, importantly, edited a radical and influential journal ‘Sinn und Form’ in which he published such writers as Sartre, Neruda, Brecht and many contemporary Germans. In 1961 it was censored and Huchel dismissed and publicly disgraced. From 1962 and until 1971, when he was allowed to leave, he lived in isolation under Stasi surveillance and forbidden to work or to publish. Nevertheless his collection ‘Chausseen, Chaussen (Highways, Highways) was published in West Germany. When he left the GDR he settled in Staufen near Freiburg. The next five years was a period of success –travel, prizes, readings –but he was soon to fall ill and died in 1980. Subsequently all his work –poetry and prose- has been published in special editions by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt.
He always supported vigorously other writers – Brecht and particularly Reiner Kunze –and they saw immediately the power of his work – even though, or perhaps especially, because he avoided so many popular trends for example that mundane, up-to-date, colloquial style and the irony of much post-war writing –still marked by the statements that there could be no poetry, to write a poem about a tree, would be an offense after Auschwitz. The writer Hans Nossak wrote of him: ‘how highly political is Huchel’s anti-political attitude – only we of two world wars can understand’. He was right! That preservation of one’s unique  outlook, ideas and imagery, that poetic terrain that belongs to inwardness in general, is the only weapon against the controlling frameworks of any political or cultural milieu – whether totalitarian or simply vulnerable to the entertainment and promotional frameworks of the capitalist world.  I suspect it was precisely his inwardness and ambivalence towards the world outside that aroused more hostility on the part of the GDR regime than any straightforward opposition would have done.
It is his intense lyricism that contrasts him with most poets of his milieu and generation. He also had an extraordinary capacity for rhyme and metre –more available to German given its regular morphology than to English. It’s his lyricism rooted in place, in the inhabiting of a place, the intimacy he feels with nature – its weathers, plants and forests, its fields and lakes, that have witnessed the horrors of human life at its worst, it is this that answers the question: what terrain was left for the poet after the violence of the 20th century.? It is the natural world and our inhabiting of it and our response to it that remains for the poet a primordial terrain. Much of Huchel’s poetry is winter poetry, the melancholy of winter,, calling to mind the great Schubert song-cycle Die Winterreise (The winter Journey) that makes Huchel’s poetry so distinctive. Here are three of Huchel’s poems I’ve particularly loved and so translated

SNOW

 Der Schnee treibt
das grosse Schleppnetz des Himmels,
Es wird die Toten nicht fangen.

Der Schnee wechselt
Sein Lager.
Er stäubt von Ast zu Ast.

Die blauen Schatten
der Füchse lauern
im Hinterhalt. Sie wittern

die weisse
Kehle der Einsamkeit.
SNOW

 Snow is driving
the great dragnet of heaven,
it will not catch the dead.

The snow
shifts camp.
It sprinkles itself
from branch to branch.

The blue shadows
of foxes lurk
In ambush. They sense

the white
throat of loneliness.

 

WINTERPSALM

Da ich ging bei der träger Kälte des Himmels
Und ging hinab die Strasse zum Fluss,
Sah ich die Mulde im Schnee.
Wo nachts der Wind
Mit flacher Schulter gelegen.
Seine gebrechliche Stimme,
In den erstarrten Ästen oben
Stiess sich am Trugbild weisser Luft:
“Alles Verscharrte blickt mich an.
Soll ich es heben aus dem Staub
Und zeigen dem Richter? Ich schweige.
Ich will nicht Zeuge sein’’
Sein Flüstern erlosch
Von keiner Flamme  genährt

Wohin du stürzt, o Seele,
Nicht weiss es die Nacht. Denn da ist nichts
Als vieler Wesen stumme Angst.
Der Zeuge tritt hervor. Es ist das Licht.

Ich stand auf der Brücke,
Allein vor der trägen Kälte des Himmels.
Atmet noch schwach,
Durch die Kehle des Schilfrohrs,
Der vereiste Fluss?


WINTER PSALM

There I walked by the lifeless cold of heaven
down the street to the river,
I saw the troughs in the snow
Where of nights the wind
Had leaned a flattened shoulder.
Its frail voice,
above in the frozen branches,
Came against a mirage of white air:
“All that’s been buried gazes at me,
must I raise it from the dust
and expose it to justice? I’m silent.
I will not be a witness’.
Its whispering dies out.
Unfed by any flame.

Wherever you fall, oh soul,
the night knows it not. For there’s nothing
but the dumb fear of many beings.
The witness steps forward.
It is the light.

I stood on the bridge
alone before the lifeless cold of heaven.
Is it the icy river
Still breathing weakly
through the throat
of the reeds?

DIE WASSERAMSEL

Könnte ich stürzen
Heller hinab
Ins fliessende Dunkel

Um mir ein wort zu fischen

Wie diese Wasseramsel
Durch Erlenzweige,
die ihre Nahrung

vom steinigen Grund des Flusses holt

Goldwäsche,. Fischer,
stellt eure Geräte fort,
der scheue Vogel

will seine Arbeit lautlos verrichten

 

THE WATER OUSEL

 If I could swoop
brightly downwards
into the flowing dark

to fish for myself a word,

like this water ousel
through the alder branches
whose sustenance

the stony riverbed keeps.

Gold washers, fishermen,
put away your gear
the shy bird

wants to work in silence.

Judy Gahagan March 2012

My Nightingale

My mother was once a doe
The golden brown eyes
the grace
remained from her time as a doe

Here she was
half angel half human –
the middle a mother
When I asked her what she would have liked to be
she said: a nightingale

Now she is a nightingale
Night after night I hear her
in the garden of my sleepless dream

She sings the ancestors’ Zion
she sings old Austria
she sings the mountains and beech woods
of the Bukovina
Night after night
my nightingale sings me
lullabies
in the garden of my sleepless dream

Rose Ausländer  translation by Vincent Homolka

Meine Nachtigall

Meine Mutter war einmal ein Reh
Die goldbraunen Augen
dieAnmut
blieben ihr aus der Rehzeit

Hier war sie
halb Engel halb Mensch –
die Mitte war Mutter
Als ich sie fragte was sie gern geworden wäre
sagte sie: eine Nactigall

Jetzt ist sie eine Nachtigall
Nacht um Nacht höre ich sie
im Garten meines schlaflosen Traumes

Sie singt  das Zion der Ahnen
sie singt das alte Österreich
sie singt die Berge und Buchenwälder
der Bukowina
Wiegenlieder
singt mir Nacht um Nacht
meine Nactigall
im Garten meines schlaflosen Traumes

                                 Rose Ausländer

Midday dream

The northeasterly breeze
sings the ballad of the
green resurrection
Pebbles in the asphalt
resume their sparkling
in the April sun.

On the benches
we dream away
our midday break
For brief minutes we doze
in the dream castle
on a journey to the primeval world
or in our mother’s arms

Opening our eyelids
we look into the pavement’s
glittering eyes
Tiny in the distance
the Statue ofLiberty
waves to us you’re free free
The tower clock strikes one
its finger threatens
hurry up
the dream is over.

Translation by Vincent Homolka

Mittagstraum

 Die Nordostbrise
singt die Ballade von der
grünen Auferstehung
Steinchen im Asphalt
erneuern ihr Leuchten
in der Aprilsonne

Wir träumen
auf den Bänken unsre
Mittagspause zu Ende
Minutenkurz schlummern wir
im Traumschloß
auf der Urweltreise
oder im Mutterarm

Wenn wir die Lider öffnen
blicken wir in die Glitzeraugen
des Pflasters
Die Statue ofLiberty
meilenklein
winkt uns zu ihr seid frei frei
Eins ruft die Turmuhr
ihr Finger droht
sputet euch
der Traum ist aus

Rose Ausländer

Snow is driving
the great dragnet of heaven,
it will not catch the dead.

The snow
shifts camp.
It sprinkles itself
from branch to branch.

The blue shadows
of foxes lurk
in ambush. They scent

the white
throat of loneliness.

Translated by Judy Gahagan

Schnee

Der Schnee treibt
das grosse Schleppnetz des Himmels,
Es wird die Toten nicht fangen.

Der Schnee wechselt
Sein Lager.
Er stäubt von Ast zu Ast.

Die blauen Schatten
der Füchse lauern
im Hinterhalt. Sie wittern

die weisse
Kehle der Einsamkeit.

                                        Peter Huchel

Love VI

We will meet again
in the lake
you as water
I as lotus blossom

You will carry me
I will drink you

We will belong to each other
in everyone’s sight

Even the stars
will be surprised
here are two beings
transformed back
into their dream
that chose them

Rose Ausländer translated by Vincent Homolka


Liebe VI

Wir werden uns wiederfinden
im See
du als Wasser
ich als Lotosblume

Du wirst mich tragen
ich werde dich trinken

Wir werden uns angehören
vor allen Augen

Sogar die Sterne
werden sich wundern:
hier haben sich zwei
zurückverwandelt
in ihren Traum
der sie erwählte

Rose Ausländer

Czernowitz before the Second World War

Peaceful hill town
encircled by beech woods

Willows along the Pruth
rafts and swimmers

Maytime profusion of lilac

About the lanterns
May bugs dance
their death

Four languages
Speak to each other
enrich the air

The town
breathed happily
till bombs fell

Rose Ausländer translated by Vincent Homolka

Czernowitz vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Friedliche Hügelstadt
von Buchenwäldern umschlossen

Weiden entlang dem Pruth
Flösse und Schwimmer

Maifliederfülle

um die Lanterner
tanzen Maikäfer
ihren Tod

Vier Sprachen
verständigen sich
verwöhnen die Luft

Bis Bomben fielen
atmete glücklich
die Stadt

Rose Ausländer

Note:  We must be grateful to Vincent Homolka for bringing us these beautiful poems from a writer I had previously never even heard of. Rose Ausländer’s poetry has the chief characteristics that I believe poetry should have (and which few poets today even strive for, let alone achieve) : it is sincere, it deals with recognizable human situations and emotions in a language which ordinary people can understand and yet is both musical and memorable. She puts the appropriate expression and celebration of human feelings first and ‘showing what can be done with words’ last  : exactly the reverse of a poet who lived in the same town, Paul Celan, and whose only merit in my eyes is to have apparently encouraged Rose Ausländer to carry on writing.  S.H.

Who, if I were to scream, would hear me
amidst the din of those up above?
If one of them were to take me under their wing,
I would vanish in their stark design.

That ideal is nothing other than the onset of a horror
that we are drawn to, and wonder at,
and all the while it threatens to destroy us.
For these angels bring terror.

But if we are to swallow grief, where should we find solace?
Not in those up above, nor in others.
And even the dogs in the street can sniff out
our existential anxiety.

Perhaps there is some hilltop tree, seen on our daily commute,
or the other fixtures and fittings of our lives.
Then there is the night, when a huge nothing confronts us.
Darkness lies there in wait for all of us, softly enticing,
with desire and nocturnal disappointments.
But do couples simply hide behind each other to forget their fate?
Throw off that empty gesture of longing.
Let it waft into the sky and make more space for those birds that are full of flying.

Springtime sought you out.
Stars hoped to be spotted by you.
Waters move at your orders.
Violins pour out of open windows.
This was your calling, if you had the stomach for it.
Anticipation was too much.
As if for the arrival of a lover.
As if you had time for one, amidst your lucubrations.

So sing of the lovers of the past. Their stories can never be proclaimed enough.
Especially the abandoned lovers whom we almost envy.
Begin over again forlornly to sing their praise.
Think how heroes outlive themselves, how their fame is made anew each day.
But lovers by their nature burn up in their passion once and for all.

Have you heard of Gaspara Stampa,
whom all abandoned lovers should aspire to be like?
Should we not have learned from these endless sufferings
that it is time that we released ourselves, as an arrow flies from the string,
to become more than ourselves? The holding on is inertia.

Soundings. Soundings. Hear, my heart, as only prophets have heard,
so that they’ve been raised up from their knees, rapt in their hearing.

Not that we could endure, by any means, the voices of eternity.
But listen to those signals, the news that stays news,
formed out of silence, that streams to you today from those who died young.
Does their fate not speak to you through the architecture of old Italian churches? Or that inscription in Santa Maria Formosa?
And my task is to lessen that sense of grievance that clings to them and can hinder the pure progress of their souls.

Strange, to no longer inhabit the earth,
to no longer follow frail routines,
for roses and other pretty things
to no longer have human significance.
To be no longer what one was in infinitely
patient hands. To shed even one’s name,
to lay it aside like a broken toy.
To no longer will. Strange,
also, to see what once cohered
now flutter loosely amongst the celestial bodies.

To be in this state is laborious,
full of the little stirrings needed
before one can retrieve something of eternity.
We draw these borders too readily.
They say the dead don’t know if they move
amongst those who live or those who’ve passed away.
Both are immersed in an eternal current that envelops all ages,
and finally drowns them out.

And eventually they no longer need us;
they wean themselves off this earth.
But we, who crave the great mysteries,
who find in sorrow inspiration,
could we survive without the dead?

And what does the lament for Linus leave us with?
In the unexpected space where the godlike youth had been:
the pioneering notes of a pained harmony that can delight and comfort and help.

Commentary :

When I started this I knew hardly a word of German. I did have in mind what Ezra Pound did in his versions of Old English and Latin, though I did not go as far as Pound’s extremes in his 20th century equivalent of Propertius. I do subscribe to Pound’s notion of translation as creative criticism. This version took over a year. The commentary that follows is an attempt to present an edited version of some of the thought processes.

The first word? Should we begin with Who – the most common translation? How this word has echoed down through the 20th century in thousands of readings, passing through many languages. The first stirrings of consciousness, of self-consciousness. Who am I? Who is out there? Who might affirm my own presence? Or a more phonetic rendering of the original through Where? Instead, the original is echoed later in this first line. And to scream instead of the usual cry, to echo the German schriee.

The angel problem arises early on. It emerges out of the original and into the light of the new poem, newly born, unsure, and falls flat on its face. The decision was to go for those up above instead of angel. Some readers might be offended, but the connotations of angel make it an untouchable here, and indeed elsewhere. The modern English poem can’t stomach it. At least there is still the implied sense of hierarchies.

The translator’s problem is that, when recreating this poem, the term angel must take on its own meaning throughout the sequence. It must come into being as something other than what most people think of when they hear the word, but this is impossible when the translation is re-making the poem and the subtleties of the later descriptions have yet to come into being. No, the angels of this poem are terrifying for the translator and their very mention is enough to destroy the work. They will only exist in the margins, between the lines, in the wing-beat of enjambment.

The idea of angel is hinted at in the next line with: under their wing. More interestingly is the end of the next line. First of all I wrote, flounder in the depths of their being, but then I remembered Ezra Pound’s translation of The Seafarer. I considered a phonological approximation of the original stärkeren Dasein. I decided to try the term stark design. It took its place fairly and squarely in the poem.

There are other phonetic equivalents in these lines. For example, zerstören calls to mind the English destroy. The ghost of the sound of the original haunts this poem like the ghost of iambic pentameter haunts Eliot’s free verse.

But the next hurdle was the iconic line: Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

While it seemed impossible not to include the word angel here, it occurred to me to give the line a jolt with all the connotations and perhaps a certain immediacy that come with the word terrorist. It is only the proximity of this term and the savour of paradox here that allows the admission of the word angel. And terror rather than terrorist? The history of France and Russia and the founding of just about every modern state swirls around this word.

The real trouble in this section is to be had with the German schone. The are two options. Either the line should be paraphrased or the literal translation, the word beauty, has to be avoided. Especially with the appearance in the same line of another abstract noun. The angel of the elegies is, to my mind, more akin to Blake’s mythological characters than to the traditions of organised religion. The word ideal is an attempt to generalize. I hold my hands up here. I hit a brick wall and this fudge of a word might be the only way around it. It is less of a crime than some of the printed translations.

Gass’s book should be required reading for anyone engaging with Rilke’s poem. But there are places where his reasoning is suspect. For example, where he castigates Leishman’s translation for his wrestlerish angel but then goes on to write of the angels’s grip in his own version.

Gass only comments on his translation of the first page. I would have liked to hear him justify his next line which includes, There’ve been stars to solicit your seeing. As ‘translatory’ as it gets! There is a fake book online that purports to be a translation of Rilke by robots. But many of the official translations sound like they’ve been done by robots.

Here’s the dilemma for any translator of the elegies. For the next passage might seem like a kind of rest, a prosaic interlude. Does one translate as literally as possible or summarise to get it out of the way quickly? We want only the fireworks.

It took a long time to decide between mission, calling or vocation for auftrag. Calling sends us back to the first line. For the poet, the calling is a calling out.

Next l take Leishman’s line: with all those great strange thoughts going in and out and often staying overnight. I’ve abbreviated it to lucubrations, a rare example of a long latinate word in this version but I felt that it captured the sense of the lines succinctly.

A note on the overall style of this version. Various translations exist which make Rilke sound like staccato histrionics. To my mind, the rhetorical flourishes and the existential meditations can only work in a more laconic style, though this perhaps betrays my own failings more than anything else. I wanted it to sound as, much as possible, like it had been written in English, even if I did, at times, employ everything from William Gass to Google translation.

The next lines I have tried to keep as simple as possible. The distinction is made clearly between lovers and heroes and the former are given embodiment in the name Gaspara Stampa. I would even consider getting rid of this name as I have done with the names of the Italian places a few lines later but it carried too much weight in the original and readers will have to do some work here.

I had a lot of trouble with the aphoristic, Denn bleiben ist nirgends. For the last word I decided on inertia for the sound as well as the sense. Bleiben is translated as staying in Leishman and Gass but this word didn’t seem to have the same force as, I presumed, the original. I considered the staying put but it sounded awkward. Biding seemed closer to the original sound but didn’t fit with the rest of line even with the definite article before it. The answer lay in going back to the previous lines about the arrow released from the string and finding the opposite in the holding on, which also has echoes of lovers desperately trying to maintain a relationship, albeit with the unfortunate echoes of a certain pop ballad. It also conjures up the image of the arrow frozen at the moment before release and stuck in time.

I start the next section with soundings instead of the usual translation of voices, partly because of the similarity to the original stimmen, but also with the added meaning of sounding out. I change saint to prophet, again playing down, if only slightly, the religious connotations.

Not much later comes a passage that is at the heart of this elegy but which hasn’t been done justice in any translation I’ve read. My first version, which is close to previous ones, began with

To be in this state is laborious,
full of the little gatherings needed
to retrieve something of eternity.

 But the problem here is what sort of gatherings, or as Leishman calls it, retrieving, or as Gass writes, all that catching up, can lead, in Rilke’s terms to a hint of eternity for the newly dead?

In a letter from 1920, Rilke wrote: ‘Only … when death is not accepted as an extinction but imagined as an altogether surpassing intensity, I believe, is it possible to do justice to love’. The retrieving can be imagined as the same process that the living go through when remembering those who’ve passed away. Tennyson writes of something similar in his In Memoriam: the only immortality is the memories of others. Can we imagine the dead gleaning an altogether different kind of consciousness? This mirroring of the grieving process and the newly dead state is confirmed afterwards with the blurring of the distinctions.

Might it be too much to see this as a sort of reawakening? This nachholn is a coming round, or as I finally settled on, a stirring. Perhaps also with a sense of steeling oneself.

The paradox of Rilke’s ideas about death are inherent in one of the last lines of the elegy when he says, konnten wir sein hone sie? Both Leishman and Gass render it as, could we survive/exist without them? That last word, them, of course, is the dead who have just weaned themselves off the earth. But this rendering leaves open the misreading (to my mind) of: can we go on living after loved ones have passed away? But Rilke seems to be asking the opposite question. He’s asking here whether living is possible without death. The word, them, is so far removed from what it refers to, across several lines, as to cause unnecessary confusion. So my version avoids this for the sake of clarity and also to try to keep the sharp metallic taste of Rilke’s paradox.

I decided to shape the lines in a kind of free verse, allowing the phrasing to suggest, as naturally as I could, their own endings, but in other places the lines seem to sweep onward. They fill themselves to the brim with their own longing. The ending, for example.

Stephen Brown     June 2011

Loneliness I

My pores suck it up
until it’s evenly distributed
throughout my body

Days ceaselessly tattoo
lines upon my cheeks
signs none but the sibyl
can interpret

My friends are sewn up
their breath inaccessible
upon their lips there hangs a colourless flag:
a frosty smile

When I turn around
I see footprints
trailing away in the sand

The windmill on the horizon
moves its sails in time
to a lullaby
It’s time
to put an end to solitude
with bed and sleep

            Rose Ausländer    (translation by Vincent Homolka)

Einsamkeit I

Die Poren saugen sie auf
bis sie im ganzen Körper
gleichmäßig verteilt ist

Tage tätowieren
unablässig Linien
in die Wange
Zeichen die nur die Sibylle
deuten kann

Die Freunde sind zugenäht
man kommt nicht heran an ihren Atem
auf ihren Lippen hängt eine farblose Fahne:
frostiges Lächeln

Wenn man sich umwendet
sieht man Fußspuren die
sich verlaufen im Sand

Die Mühle am Horizont
bewegt die Arme nach dem Pulsschlag eines
Wiegenlieds
Es ist Zeit
dem Alleinsein ein Ende zu bereiten
und schlafen zu gehn

              Rose Ausländer

Visionary Movement

Oh the black angel who stepped softly from the
heart of the tree

Through their long hair rolls
A fiery wheel, the round day
Earth agony without end.

Moon, as though a dead one
Stepped from a blue cavern

The sun has sunk in black linen; forever
This bygone evening returns

And angels step softly from the blue
Eyes of lovers who more calmly bear their torment

When in sleep he descended the darkening spiral stair
When stonily he launched himself before black horses galloping

Softly sinks on stark walls the olive trees blue stillness
From which at times a gentle animal steps and slowly lowers heavy lids

Heavenly to lurch drunkenly through the dusking wood
Figures stride wax-stiffened through embers and smoke

A red wolf which an angel is strangling
A heart stiffens in snowy silence

Oh my brother, our blind hour hands climb towards midnight

Georg Trakl  translated by Will Stone

THE ANATOMY OF MOVEMENT IN GEORG TRAKL’S POETRY

My aim here is to attempt to illuminate a little of what for want of a better phrase one might call ‘the anatomy of movement’ in Trakl’s vision, to try to identify perhaps the most crucial strand leading to the infection of images that lends his work an unrivalled visionary intensity and singularity in modern European poetry. If we wish to take a conventional approach we might say something like ‘There is in the work of Trakl a muscular, highly elastic imagery, encompassing complex fusions of dream-like visions and the memory of real events and experiences propelled by an ever deepening morbid anxiety. This language of the imagination is the consummation of a visionary impulse born of chronic despair and longed for transcendence from an almost impossibly deranged and precarious existence.’ But what does such a pronouncement really tell us? One could say the same of a good number of poète maudit cases, or those possessing a visionary faculty.

Let us first identify what exactly constitutes the visionary image. I shall take an excerpt from Coleridge’s famous poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by way of example. By examining a section of the Coleridge poem it gives an idea of what one in fact means by the visionary image and how through the combination of a series of movements both real and dream-like it acts powerfully on the reader’s own imagination to produce the feeling of having shared in the poet’s image design and furthermore maintains the image for the reader as something fluid and without boundaries, a living vision which can be extended by the individual imagination, a baton passed on.

From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part III

The western wave was all a flame,
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;

When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.
And straight the Sun was fleck’d with bars
(heaven’s mother send us grace)

As if thro’ a dungeon grate he peer’d
With broad and burning face.
Alas (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nere’s and nere’!

Are those her Sails that glance in the Sun
Like restless goassameres?
Are those her naked ribs, which fleck’d
The Sun that did behind them peer?

And are these two all, all the crew,
That woman and her fleshless Pheere?

Coleridge’s memorable image of the sun above the surface of the sea being transformed into a ‘broad and burning face’ peering as if through a ‘dungeon’s grate’ when the ‘naked ribs’ of the ghost ship pass between it and the viewer has all the hallmarks of the visionary about it. There is not only the poet’s transfiguration of the sun into a  being with a face, but the fact that this being is incarcerated, trapped behind the bars of a prison cell and is peering through towards the onlooker, perhaps in the hope of escape or sympathy, in rage either impotent or menacing, or none of these. Although the idea of the sun having a face and being an entity like the moon is hardly original, even by Coleridge’s time, it doesn’t seem to matter here. The face image retains impact because of the artful melding of ship and sun, a poetic double act, the way these two entities interact through movement. The ability of the poet to endow objects with a supernatural meaning, indeed with any meaning at all is what elevates the scene to visionary status. Coleridge confirms towards the end of the sequence that indeed this is the timber carcass of the ghost ship, ‘the naked ribs’, passing spectre-like before a sun just resting over the ocean’s surface. This motion of ship against sun enables a temporary juxtaposition of objects to form which gives rise to the original image. The poet ensures the reader knows how that image came into being but waits for six or seven lines before an explanation. This gives the image space to ripen in the individual imagination, to plant a root but not be entirely without mystery or enquiry. However, by the time the reader reaches the explanatory line about the ‘naked ribs’ the image has already anchored in the reader’s imagination and the mind raced through the options of how to perceive it. Once it has the comfort of the ribs so to speak, the reader’s imagination is secure and is ready to embellish the image, reinforce it, frame it.

Coleridge’s genius like Trakl’s, lies in the creation of images which are the product of a mind unable or unwilling to accept reality and therefore in order to exist must find alternative realities which for them are more valid. Such a path leads to a kind of momentary truth nourished by its brief exposure and ephemeral nature, captured subconsciously at the heart of the image making process. The poet is saying ‘I had the means to feel this. I sensed the sun become an incarcerated being at that moment the ship passed before it. I give you a truth which came from feeling whether it be coaxed out by opium, dream or madness. I invite you to join me and perhaps even go further than I, to extend the image.’

In the case of this example by Coleridge and in Trakl as we shall soon see, movement is the key, both of the ship itself and the surface of the sun. The gradual grafting of the ghost ship’s timber skeleton onto the contrasting so very much alive inferno behind it causes a kind of quivering derangement, the strange notion of that broad flaming face of the sun peering through the bars. This is what attracts the sympathetic reader and infects them. They see the masts and ribs of the ship with the sun reaching round them. They sense the gliding movement of the ship, the silhouette of the timbers passing over the sun like a feeble eclipse, the metamorphosis of a burning sun’s face suddenly confronted by ‘bars’. This is an unforeseen apparition, temporary, product of a procession of movements, seized before fading completely and transmogrified into the permanence of poetry.

II

Like Coleridge, Trakl employs the visionary image as the principle means to express himself, but unlike Coleridge and other romantics with a visionary capacity who interspersed their visions with a framing language to support their occasional images, a narrative, political anxieties, awed wonder/fear at natural surroundings or despair of mankind’s folly etc, there is no space in Trakl’s work for such conscious construction in the traditional way a poem evolves. For Trakl the imagery has become the entire poem, or the world of Trakl is one long uninterrupted visionary image, cut and pasted into individual poems. All Trakl’s existential concerns become an essential part of this new language and cannot be separated from it. Nowhere does Trakl break out from the image world and show himself, nowhere does he weaken the bond which he has with this powerful unconscious. This is but one important factor which contributes to the feeling of total sacrifice, almost a martyrdom to the visionary element and a sense of greatness resulting from the uncompromising nature of Trakl’s vision. Although we hear Trakl loud and clear in his torment and despair at the fallen state of mankind, the message is filtered through the imagery he has initiated to deal with its pressure on his psyche and so comes at us in pictorially created fashion, that is to say those concerns are sieved through a series of images onto our minds via the dream-like, hallucinatory scenes and settings of his poems rather than through mere telling. Although all great visionary poetry has something of this faculty, in Trakl’s case the process is I believe strengthened by the continual provision of a dream-like setting, the uncanny, eerily beautiful and often obscure story which unfolds in the Trakl poem and seduces or unsettles the reader very quickly and often from the first line. ‘Shepherds buried the sun in the bare forest’ ‘Oh, the dark angel which stepped from the tree…’ ‘With dead hero forms, moon you are filling’ ‘I sing you wild fissure in the night storm’. These do not appear to be the standard fare of opening lines. There is no lead in, no preparation. One is immediately plunged into the image landscape like a parachutist falling from the sky into the unknown. The rate of images like that of Coleridge’s ghost ship, is in the work of Trakl increased ten fold.

Certain images often appear to have no connection to those that follow or precede them, so to some people reading Trakl for the first time it may appear to be a random display, seemingly incoherent, colours thrown in at will, delirious gestures and schizoid ravings with no real meaning beyond their shock impact. But on closer reading one soon realises that there is a distinct pattern. This is usually primed in the setting of the poem which although in a dream state, will have recognisable features as well. For example the chant like opening lines of De Profundis. ‘There is a stubble field where a black rain falls, there is a tree which brown stands lonely here.’ immediately evokes a scene which anyone can tell is going to be a melancholy one. We recognise the dreary field and the empty huts wreathed by a hissing wind. Trakl has the reader primed. He has introduced a landscape which mirrors his own despair. After the landscape is set the poem plunges suddenly into the scene that culminates with shepherds finding the orphan child’s ‘sweet remains rotting in the thorn bush’. No sooner have we absorbed this powerful image than we are faced with an abrupt change of pace and a solemn pronouncement on alienation with ‘a shadow I am far from darkened villages’ followed by the morbid terror of ‘onto my brow cold metal steps, spiders seek my heart’ and ending with the arresting yet perplexing ‘In the hazel copse crystal angels have chimed again’. Although these different parts of the poem seem adrift from each other they produce a seductive almost mantra-like effect as they drop down into each other, bearing little relation and yet somehow sitting comfortably alongside each other. This peculiar but effective combining of hermetic image clusters to produce a poem’s definitive picture is repeated throughout Trakl’s work.

The repetition of colour and its ambiguities has been much discussed elsewhere resulting in something of a quagmire, but little thought appears to have been given to the question of movement in all its variations. In Trakl’s poetry there is a glut of walking, falling, stepping and sinking. Climbing, bending, leaping, stirring, gliding, floating and leaning follow close behind. This tapestry of movement is carefully positioned in the poems to create an effect which emphasises the dominant theme wishing to be expressed, habitually that of melancholy or decline, but it is done in such a way that the tonal qualities of the poem are profoundly enhanced. As indicated before, the visionary power of the image is increased by the state of flux suggested by actions such as walking, sinking or stepping as well as the drawn out nature of such an act as sinking for example. The image is stretched by the movement, lengthened, giving the individual’s imagination almost a slow dance of gestures and actions within an enclosure of silence as in a dream. This idea of a detached landscape of imagery existing within a reality which is unable to grasp it is embodied in a statement by the poet Rilke, a contemporary of Trakl who was also a sensitive admirer of his poetry. ‘I imagine that even one who stands close by must experience such spectacles and perceptions as though pressed, an exile, against a pane of glass: for Trakl’s life passes as if through the images of a mirror and fills its entire space, which cannot be entered, like the space of the mirror itself.’

The variations in movement suggest a change of pace. The image of sinking, falling and inclining slows events down, suggesting reflection, melancholy, extinction, whilst conversely the image of leaping, striding or dancing creates an atmosphere of freedom, spontaneity, or madness. In the poem ‘To The boy Elis’ there are several incidences of this movement mosaic. ‘Your body is a hyacinth into which a monk dips his waxen fingers’, ‘you walk with soft steps into the night which is heavy with purple grapes and move your arms more beautifully in the blue’. Then later, ‘our silence is a black cavern from which at times a gentle animal steps and slowly lowers heavy lids’. One notes that a substantial part of this poem is based on dream movements. In another instance Trakl uses a real movement in a poem such as the line ‘heavenly it is to lurch drunkenly through the dusking wood’ from ‘My Heart towards Evening’ but on the whole the images have the elusive ethereal dream quality I have described. As if that were not enough the poem has myriad subsidiary actions going on as well. ‘the blackbird calls’, ‘your lips drink’, ‘your brow bleeds’, ‘a thorn bush sounds’, ‘black dew drips’. The poem is seething with action and motion, with beginning and completion, with unresolved gesture. The narrator talking to Elis, describes his visionary universe. Everything flows on a current of individual movement and yet as in De Profundis, the subject of each stanza has little relation to the one before or after it, like those in ‘Birth’ which contains the unfathomable lines ‘A pale thing wakes in a musty room. Two moons. The eyes of the old stone woman are shining’. In Trakl’s poetry one action seems to lead languidly into another as if there could be no other way. In ‘To the Boy Elis’ for example, the monk has only just dipped his waxen fingers when the gentle animal steps from a black cavern. Separate and unaware of each other’s existence, they yet combine to create a story which only has meaning within the poem’s solitary and detached landscape. These otherworldly beings and beasts carrying the colour assigned to them who step gently from one place to another have holiness and purity about them, a sure purpose and inner certainty alien to mankind. Theirs is a world which as Rilke says we cannot enter but only gaze at as if trapped behind glass. It is pure, unsullied and easily extinguished.

Trakl is leading us somewhere he does not know himself. The image is a lure only, asking to be followed, nothing is definitive. The Trakl line gives us so much to interpret and absorb because in its visionary state it throws up a bewildering range of ambiguities and possibilities. We see the image not as a dead thing, a finite picture but perhaps more as a cinematic image lacking a definable boundary, forever replayed in our minds. The desperate search for a bearable reality through poetic remoulding of existence creates, in Trakl’s eyes, a need for purification of some kind from what he sees as the pestilence of mankind. The awareness that this transcendence may only be achieved through the extinguishing of the body becomes more insistent as time passes, resulting in the forceful visions of annihilation characteristic of the later poems.

‘Beautiful is man and emerging in darkness, when marvelling he moves his limbs and silently his eyes roll in crimson hollows’ By way of conclusion this excerpt from the poem Helian shows the highly effective mix of movement in the Trakl poem and the possibilities of interpretation for the reader. The image successfully marries normal anatomical movement with delirious fantasy, a scene given credence through movement, the core of the image sequence, which binds the elements together and justifies its survival. Just a handful of such images would have meant that Trakl did not suffer his arduous existence in vain but to have such a prodigious supply of them is nothing short of a miracle. Trakl is the supreme modern exponent of the visionary impulse. Through him we have arrived at a place in poetry where it seems impossible to go any further, at least in the one direction he steered in. He got further down that road than anyone else, before or since, but when he finally broke down no-one could reach him.

Note : Will Stone is the author of  To The Silenced : Selected poems of Georg Trakl Arc Publications (2005)  (S.H.)

Many poets live in  exile, severed from the cultural roots of their writing and needing to find new sources for their writing. In the case of poets from the former German Democratic Republic of communist East Germany these roots became peculiarly distorted and invalidated by the catastrophes of the 20th century: WW1 followed by the great Depression; the subversion of all cultural life by the Nazi regime; WW11 and the firebombing that reduced many cities to stone-age conditions and which could not be mourned due to the felt complicity of the population at large; the Russian occupation followed by the totalitarian communist regime; finally the propulsion into late 20th century consumer capitalism. In West Germany over a long period of the mid 20th century there was a reckoning and continuing struggle to come to terms with the Nazi past and degrees of complicity in it which shaped radically West German society and its culture. But not in East Germany where Nazism was interpreted simply as a violent consequence of capitalism.

The collapse of the GDR regime and communism generally led to a widespread view that those forty-five years or so of history had been a history of failure and invalidity. The result was, for many people and poets especially, an immense hole in the fabric of their culture and cultural memory. Furthermore the devastation of the immediate post-war was met by a great silence in German literature, as the writer W.G. Sebald has explored in his essay: ‘ Between History and Natural History: on the literary description of total destruction’. This silence was partly due to the impossibility of comprehending what had happened and partly to the sense that they, the people, were complicit in their own downfall. Thus it was to take a long time before people could speak of such horrors as the firebombing of, for example, Dresden. What kind of terrain was this for the poet?

The poems of Günter Eich, Heinz Czechowski and Durs Grünbein, poets all born in East Germany and overlapping chronologically,  illustrate the very different ways poets may survive the assaults on the histories and purposes of their homelands and consequent sense of alienation and homelessness, barely alleviated by the subsequent freedoms of the West. Each developed a particular strategy to create a home for and in poetry. Günter Eich experienced the Third Reich, the army and being a prisoner of war; but he died before the liberation of the GDR. Heinz Czechowski was born in Dresden and aged ten experienced its destruction; he travelled in the West before and after the liberation ands died there. Durs Grünbein was also born in Dresden in 1962 and has subsequently travelled and lived in the West.

Durs Grünbein  1962 was born in Dresden and studied natural sciences thinking to become a vet; although he changed his mind, his studies sparked an enduring fascination with creatures generally. He’s the most recent and most celebrated of the three poets– highly lauded,  a real star in the German poetry scene for his youth, brilliance, knowledge and scope; but above all perhaps for his participation in the modern zeitgeist: streetwise, ironic, and witty style and take on the world; part of that zeitgeist is the sense of ‘ get-over-it, move-on’ and his poetic style exemplifies that attitude. Already celebrated, his liberation from DDR led to continual travel and poetic material. His ironic tone appears  at first to reveal little of the emotional  homelessness of the other two. The rubble and ruin of the Germany the other two experienced nevertheless became a theme, a  starting point for seeing rubble and ruin across the world in the distant past and everywhere in the present. His response to the triumphal shine of the West was largely sceptical as the first two poems show. Nevertheless he spent 10 years composing a collection  of 49 traditionally formed 10-line poems dedicated to the once incredibly beautiful city of Dresden and of that city’s destruction. However the first two poems here – though ironic, witty cool etc. nevertheless reveal a similar disorientation, distance and a sense of death and the ephemeral as those of Czechowski:

Arcadia for Everyone

It’s not just the city centre, deserted Sunday morning,
the letters marked unknown at this address.
In the sea-shell sound on the phone the quiet Who’s there?
not the thousands of cars abandoned at the roadside
nor the stolen poetry on hoardings no one reads,
scrawlings on busts of schoolbook worthies in the parks —
it’s all of this and more you gladly shut your eyes to
feeding just one suspicion: swollen up to a metropolis
so this is how place looks where they buried the god like a dog.
Arcadia, graveyard of the heavenly, like any city
where death enters and leaves, life’s on privatised grounds.
So much for the idyllic, the happy lands, the rustic
Hideaways. Whatever shepherds sang to, travellers ever dreamed of.
This is the showcase: City and gorod, metropolis or ville.
It’s here you pass, your own spirit, beneath stoical trees
sleepless glass person, reflected in too-much-of-everything.
Glances set the beat, reflections urbane, no eclogues
In which Daphne flirts, Milon and Lakon watch out for each other.
Your vertebrae vibrate with the arches of the bridge,
you sense your skeleton, your face gets lost,
dazzled by the metallic glare of puddles; and yet
there’s nowhere else so homely. It was first here that,
in an accustomed exile, where nights you’d crawl
into your mouse-hole, were crumbs of happiness.
Where else, but in heavy traffic aimless,
Was one ever so alive, was one ever so removed
From lazy posthumous peace.

ARKADIEN :

Nicht nur das Zentrum, menschenleer am Sonntagvormittag,
Die briefe, gestempelt mit dem Vermerk Empfänger unbekannt.
Das Meeresrauschen am Telephon, in die Stille das‚ Bitte?’
Die tausenden Autos, von den Besitzern verlassen am Strassenrand,
Auch die Reklametafeln mit den Dichterplagiaten, die keiner liest,
In den Parks, grell beschmiert, die Monumente der Schulbuchidole,
Diesa alles und mances, wovor man die Augen gern schliesst,
Nährt den einen Verdacht. So also sieht, aufgeschwollen zur metropole,
Der ort aus, an dem man den Gott einst begrub wie einen Hund.
Arkadien, Friedhof der Himmlischen,ihm gleicht jede Stadt,
Wo der Tod ein-und ausgeht, das Leben auf privatisiertem Grund.
Von wegen Idylle, Landschaft  der Seligen, bukolisches Reservat.
Was immer Hirten besangen, wovon die Reisenden träumten –
Dies ist der Schauplatz.  City und gorod, metropolis oder ville.
Hier geht man, sein eigener Geist, unter stoischen Bäumen,
Ein gläserner Mensch, schlaflos, sich spiegelnd im Vielzuviel.
Den Takt geben Blicke, urbane Reflexe, nicht die Eklogen,
In denen Daphnis flirtete, Milon un Lakon einander beschützten.
Man spürt sein Skelett, Vertebrat im Vibrato der Brückenbogen,
Verliert das Gesicht, geblender vom metallischen Glanz der Pfützen,
Und ist doch nirgends so heimisch. Erst hier, im gewohnten Exil,
Wo man nachts in sein Mauseloch kroch, gab es Krümel bom Glück.
Wann sonst, wenn nicht im dichten Verkehr, untewegs ohne Ziel,
War man je so vital, so dem faulen, posthumen Frieden entrückt?

Durs Grünbein

Many poets live in  exile, severed from the cultural roots of their writing and needing to find new sources for their writing. In the case of poets from the former German Democratic Republic of communist East Germany these roots became peculiarly distorted and invalidated by the catastrophes of the 20th century: WW1 followed by the great Depression; the subversion of all cultural life by the Nazi regime; WW11 and the firebombing that reduced many cities to stone-age conditions and which could not be mourned due to the felt complicity of the population at large; the Russian occupation followed by the totalitarian communist regime; finally the propulsion into late 20th century consumer capitalism. In West Germany over a long period of the mid 20th century there was a reckoning and continuing struggle to come to terms with the Nazi past and degrees of complicity in it which shaped radically West German society and its culture. But not in East Germany where Nazism was interpreted simply as a violent consequence of capitalism.

The collapse of the GDR regime and communism generally led to a widespread view that those forty-five years or so of history had been a history of failure and invalidity. The result was, for many people and poets especially, an immense hole in the fabric of their culture and cultural memory. Furthermore the devastation of the immediate post-war was met by a great silence in German literature, as the writer W.G. Sebald has explored in his essay: ‘ Between History and Natural History: on the literary description of total destruction’. This silence was partly due to the impossibility of comprehending what had happened and partly to the sense that they, the people, were complicit in their own downfall. Thus it was to take a long time before people could speak of such horrors as the firebombing of, for example, Dresden. What kind of terrain was this for the poet?

The poems of Günter Eich, Heinz Czechowski and Durs Grünbein, poets all born in East Germany and overlapping chronologically,  illustrate the very different ways poets may survive the assaults on the histories and purposes of their homelands and consequent sense of alienation and homelessness, barely alleviated by the subsequent freedoms of the West. Each developed a particular strategy to create a home for and in poetry. Günter Eich experienced the Third Reich, the army and being a prisoner of war; but he died before the liberation of the GDR. Heinz Czechowski was born in Dresden and aged ten experienced its destruction; he travelled in the West before and after the liberation ands died there. Durs Grünbein was also born in Dresden in 1962 and has subsequently travelled and lived in the West.

The following poems are chosen to illustrate these different strategies.

Heinz Czechowski  1935 -2009

Born in Dresden he survived, aged 10, the firebombing and destruction of the city. He published poetry in the GDR was recognised and prized in both East and West Germany and was able to travel on literary visits before the regime collapsed. However of all three poets he expresses most directly the spiritual and psychological homelessness that emerged from the apocalyptic changes of his lifetime, although he could not experience directly the ‘complicity’ that Gunter Eich will have experienced. His poetry has been described as a ‘journey home to strangeness.’ His poetic strategy was rooted in nostalgia, a mourning for another world – the recall of early childhood and childhood places infused with that melancholy which itself is often envisaged as a wasteland. His personality was depressive anyway and last year he died in an institution sick and cut off. He more than the other two expresses a profound sense of disorientation and pessimism and there’s little of the harsh irony informing the triumphal passage to freedom which featured so much post-war writing–his elegiac tone feels a more honest response to history.

I AM WHERE I AM

I am where I am,
and there’s nothing
to indicate that I
could ever be anywhere else
at any rate, in foreseeable time.
Even yesterday I saw
The little villages between Kamenz and Dresden.
Marked by the East, not spared
I went back, there
Where nowadays I am at home.
I saw the beloved in front of her house,
The distant past
Was close again
In the lowlands around Leipzig
I am, at any rate, where I am
Unredeemed and without prospect.

In me
There lives, again lives what died
Yet still ever, and ever again
Reaches me.

 

ICH BIN, WO ICH BIN, UND NICHTS

Deutet darauf hin, dass ich
Je woanders sein könnte, in
Absehbarer Zeit jedenfalls. Gestern noch
Sah ich die kleinen
Dörfer  zwischen Kamenz und Dresden.
Östlich geprägt und nicht verschont
Fuhr ich zurück, dort hin,
Wo ich jetzt zu Haus bin. Die Liebste
Sah ich vor ihrem Haus,
Die ferne Vergangenheit
War wieder nah
Im Flachland bei Leipzig: Ich jedenfalls
Bin, wo ich bin, unerlöst
Und ohne Aussicht. In mir
Lebt und lebt,was gestorben ist,und mich doch
Immer and immer wieder

 

In the poem published in 1988 he refers to the great post-war silence ‘what should have been said, was not said’ ; and beyond history he looks around and sees that power and force only change their names as he returns again and again to remembered familiar scenes:

 

FORTY YEARS AGO

Films underexposed: the pictures move on at a gentle pace,
Always the same landscape: the city
Surrounded by hills where barracks
Emerge and re-emerge.
What’s left is what I see today:
Tinder, in it the treads of tyres
On which we road towards the Elbe
Fish-tackle in our pockets.

The new age couldn’t arise
With all that concrete by the woods.
Behind the blacked-out window
Of the unfamiliar house
I played, forty years ago, with tin soldiers
Marching in step with the generations,
That moved back into the  barracks,
I’ve lost my innocence, what’s remained is force,
Only its names have changed.

I see the faces, overexposed in the floodlights
Of the conference. What, forty years ago
Should have been said
Has not been said, so
I’m returning to my childhood
Unenlightened by history
That draws back into itself
The monstrous
Whose beginning took place
Well before I was a child.

Vor Vierzig Jahren

Unterbelichtete Filme: im Zuckeltrab
Bewegen sich Bilder, immer
Die gleiche Landschaft: die Stadt,
Umgeben von Hügeln, auf denen
Kaserned stehn und
Neue entstehen. Was
Davon übrigblieb, sehe ich heute:
Zunder, darin
Die Profile der Reifen,
Auf denen wir elbwärts fuhren,
AngelschnureIn unseren Taschen

Die neue ZeitKonnte nicht aufkommen
Gegen all den Beton neben den Wäldern.
Hinter den erblindeten Fenstern
Des ausgewohnten Hauses
Spielt ich vor vierzig Jahren
Mit Zinnsoldaten. Im Marschtritt
Der Generationen,
Die einrückten in die Kasernen,
Habe ich meine Unschuld verloren, geblieben
Ist die Gewalt
Nur ihre Namen haben gewechselt.

Ich sehe die Gesichter,
Überbelichtet vom Scheinwerferlicht
Der Kongresse: Was vor Vierzig Jahren
Hatte gesagt werden müssen,
Ist nicht gesagt worden, so
Kehre ich wieder
In meine Kindheit zurück, unbelehrt
Von der Geschichte
Die in sich zurücknimmt
Das Ungeheure, das
Seinen Anfang nahm,
Schon lange bevor ich ein Kind war.

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