Twentieth-Century German Poetry: An Anthology

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9780374105358: Twentieth-Century German Poetry: An Anthology
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This groundbreaking anthology will serve as the standard for years to come. Editor Michael Hofmann has assembled brilliant translations of the major German poets, from Rilke and Brecht to Durs Grunbein and Jan Wagner, in an approachable, readable, and endlessly interesting collection. Here we find poetry as a living counter-force to socio-political reality; poetry of dissent and fear and protest; poetry of private griefs and musics. From the subtlety and elegance of Brecht, to the extraordinary jargon-glooms of Gottfried Benn, to the oblique and straightforward responses to the country's villainous history, to the bitter, cleansed, and haunted poetry of the postwar years, the anthology ends with a reunified country looking at itself and its neighbors in new ways. This is an essential and timely collection of verse from a tumultuous, violent, tragic, and hopeful century, written in the language of those who were at the heart of the matter.

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About the Author:

The noted poet Michael Hofmann has translated many German-language authors, among them Ernst Junger, Franz Kafka, Wolfgang Koeppen, and Joseph Roth. Ashes for Breakfast, a translation of Durs Grunbein, was published by FSG in 2005. He lives in London.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

TWENTIETH-CENTURY

GERMAN POETRY

ELSE LASKER-SCHÜLER, 1869-1945

George Grosz

Manchmal spielen bunte Tränen

In seinen äschernen Augen.

Aber immer begegnen ihm Totenwagen,

Die verscheuchen seine Libellen.

Er ist abergläubig—

—Ward unter einem bösen Stern geboren—

Seine Schrift regnet,

Seine Zeichnung: Trüber Buchstabe.

Wie lange im Fluß gelegen

Blähen seine Menschen sich auf,

Mysteriöse Verlorene mit Quabbenmäulern

Und verfaulten Seelen.

Fünf träumende Totenfahrer

Sind seine silbernen Finger.

Aber nirgendwo ein Licht im verirrten Märchen

Und doch ist er ein Kind,

Der Held aus dem Lederstrumpf;

Mit dem Indianerstamm auf Duzfuß.

Sonst haßt er alle Menschen,

Sie bringen ihm Unglück.

Aber George Grosz liebt sein Mißgeschick

Wie einen anhänglichen Feind.

Sometimes coloured tears play

In his ashen eyes.

He is forever encountering funeral processions Which scatter his dragonflies.

He is superstitious—

Born under a bad star—

His writing rains,

His drawings: gloomy alphabets.

His people are bloated,

As though they’d long lain in rivers,

Mysterious missing persons with fish-mouths

And mouldering souls.

His silver fingers

Are five dreamy undertakers.

Nowhere is there a light in his lost Märchen,

But he remains a boy at heart,

A Fenimore Cooper hero;

On first-name terms with a tribe of Indians.

Apart from them, he hates everyone,

They bring him bad luck.

But George Grosz loves his fate

Like a trusty enemy.

Und seine Traurigkeit ist dionysisch, Schwarzer Champagner seine Klage.

Kein Mensch weiß, wo er herkam;

Ich weiß, wo er landet.

Er ist ein Meer mit verhängtem Mond, Sein Gott ist nur scheintot.

And his sadness is Dionysian,

Black champagne his plaints.

No one knows where he came from;

I know where he ends up.

He is a sea with a dim moon above it, His god is only playing dead.

Michael Hofmann

RAINER MARIA RILKE, 1875-1926

Herbsttag

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.

Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,

und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;

gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,

dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage

die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,

wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben

und wird in den Alleen hin und her

unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Autumn Day

Lord, it is time. The summer was too long.

Lay now thy shadow over the sundials,

and on the meadows let the winds blow strong.

Bid the last fruit to ripen on the vine;

allow them still two friendly southern days

to bring them to perfection and to force

the final sweetness in the heavy wine.

Who has no house now will not build him one.

Who is alone now will be long alone,

will waken, read, and write long letters

and through the barren pathways up and down

restlessly wander when dead leaves are blown.

C. F. MacIntyre

Spanische Tänzerin

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzündholz, weiß,

eh es zur Flamme kommt, nach allen Seiten

zuckende Zungen streckt—: beginnt im Kreis

naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiß

ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plötzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar

und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst

ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,

aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,

die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als würde ihr das Feuer knapp,

nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab

sehr herrisch, mit hochmütiger Gebärde

und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde

und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht—. Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem süßen

grüßenden Lächeln hebt sie ihr Gesicht

und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Füßen.

The Spanish Dancer

The audience in the cup of her hand,

she is a struck match: sparks,

darting tongues, and then the white flare

of phosphorus and the dance ignites

a charm of fire, uncoiling, spreading fast.

And suddenly she is all flame.

She is brazen: glancing round and shamelessly

setting her hair alight, turning her dress

to a seething inferno, from which she stretches

long white arms, and castanets, like rattlesnakes woken, startled to their ratcheting and clack.

And just as quick, as if constricted

by the sheath of fire, she gathers it up

and casts it off in one high gesture,

and looks down: it lies there raging on the ground,

shed flame stubbornly alive.

Radiant, chin tilted in salute, she dispatches it

with a steely fusillade of feet:

stamps it, pounds it, stamps it out.

RAINER MARIA RILKE

Blaue Hortensie

So wie das letzte Grün in Farbentiegeln

sind diese Blätter, trocken, stumpf und rauh,

hinter den Blütendolden, die ein Blau

nicht auf sich tragen, nur von ferne spiegeln.

Sie spiegeln es verweint und ungenau,

als wollten sie es wiederum verlieren,

und wie in alten blauen Briefpapieren

ist Gelb in ihnen, Violett und Grau;

Verwaschnes wie an einer Kinderschürze, Nichtmehrgetragnes, dem nichts mehr geschieht:

wie fühlt man eines kleinen Lebens Kürze.

Doch plötzlich scheint das Blau sich zu verneuen

in einer von den Dolden, und man sieht

ein rührend Blaues sich vor Grünem freuen.

rainer maria rilke

Excerpted from Twentieth-Century German Poetry by Michael Hofmann.
Copyright 2005 by Michael Hofmann.
Published in First American edition, 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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