Sunday, May 11, 2014

Game Paths by Günther Eich

A poem written in 1961 and dedicated to the Jewish (!) poet and Nobel-Prize winner Nelly Sachs comes closest to a confession. It also clearly develops Eich’s aims as a writer:

Game Paths

for Nelly Sachs

Don’t mention the hunters!
I sat by their fires,
I understood their language.
They know the world from the beginning
and do not question the woods.
You nod to their answers,
the smoke of their fires, too, affirms them,
and they are practiced
not to hear the scream
which annuls all world orders.

No, we want to be alien
and be astounded at death,
collect the breaths of the uncomforted,
cut across the tracks
and deflect the barrels of the rifles.

(translation Axel Vieregg)

After World War II the German language, distorted by propaganda and shattered by lies, seemed lost as a vehicle for literary expression. It was Gunter Eich, a soldier and prisoner of war, who most of all among his generation began to resurrect his native tongue as a language for poetry. He accomplished this through an honesty and simplicity that developed into increasingly complex poetic structures and the prose poems, "moles," of his old age.
This volume, published in 1981, was the first to bring Germany's most important postwar poet to the attention of English-speaking readers. It belongs in the library of anyone who cares about modern and postmodern poetry.

And let the snow
come through the door-cracks,
the wind blows, that's his job.
And let Lena be forgotten,
the girl who drank
the spirits from the lamp.
Went into the il-
lustrations of Meyer's Lexicon,
Brehm's Wildlife.
Intestines, mountainranges, beach carrion,
and let the snow
come through the door-cracks
up to the bed, up to the spleen,
where the memory sits,
where Lena sits,
the leopard, the feverish gull,
arithmetic puzzles in yellow
wrappers, by subscription.
And let the wind blow
because that's all he can do
and don't begrudge Lena
one more swig from the lamp
and let the snow
come through the door-cracks.

--Gunter Eich
translated by David Young

Copyright c 1981 by Oberlin College. May not be reproduced without permission.

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