Poet à la Mode by Georg Heym
The autumn poet creeps
through the red land
enshrouded in his heavy cloak,
its draping folds a poem to the eye.
And with face drear enough to die
he takes with white and slender hand
the golden pencil from
behind his ear.
Then he sits down in the damp grass -
certainly not, he mustn't let
his patent-leather shoes get wet.
No, huddled on a bench,
he shivers at the pinch
of winter's chill approach,
and watches the dead-weary sun
limping towards its tomb;
at last he scrawls his drivel down
on paper from Japan
stinking of the roses' latest bloom,
not seeing that the children
flying their kites
high in the blue autumn day
are vying with my dear old sun
to mock the wretched parasite.
· Translated by Anthony Hasler From The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems (edited by Michael Hofmann), published on October 6
Round fanglike towers threatening comets flare,
Death-bearing, fiery-snouted where they fly.
Magicians springing up from underground,
Aslant in darkness, conjuring to a star.
Crook-backed they haunt all corners of the world,
And with their arms for brooms they sweep the dust.
To hasten their slow dying. Then they fall,
And in the open fields lie prone,
Their sprawling bodies till at last they yield,
Lie buried by the sage-bush, by the thorns.
No current through the water moves,
And all the courts of heaven are locked up.
And over broken roads lets frigid range
Its palmless thousand-fingered hands.
All at once he's gone. Can life so end?
And crushed to fragments are his glassy eyes.
Burdened by light of dawn the man that wakes
Must rub from grayish eyelids leaden sleep.
Swim by like waters flowing.
And he weighs it heavily. And it is dead.
It was him the corn-ears glorified.
His feet were small as flies
In the shrill gleam of golden skies.
The pale screen on which the many beds
blur is a bare wall in the hospital ward.
The patients, thin marionettes, walk
in the aisles. One of their number
has all the illnesses. And with white chalk
his suffering is cleanly noted.
The fever thunders. Their innards
are burning mountains. Their eyes stare
at the ceiling and two enormous spiders
pull long threads from their stomachs.
They sit up in their cold linen sheets
and their sweats with pulled-up knees.
They bite on the nails of their hands.
Their brows glow red lights
in grey and furrowed fields
on which death's early sunrise blooms.
They extend their white arms, tremble
from cold and are dumb with horror.
Black from ear to ear their brains whirl
their fast and monstrous spinning waltzes.
The black space yawns behind their backs
and from the whitewashed walls
there reaches out the arm to clench the throat
and slowly close its hard and bony hand.
Georg Heym (1887-1912)and
Gwilym Williams (Feb 2009)
Too soon did he go
In contrast with his morbid visions, Georg Heym is known for his exuberant good health and stocky appearance. A friend says Georg makes him think of a butcher boy, and everyone thinks our romantic author a force of nature. But Heym dies young, at twenty-four years of age. In 1910, he had noted down a dream in which he advanced hesitantly across a kind of thin “stone slab,” which turned out to be a sheet of ice (Hasler, op. cit.). Uncannily, Heym drowns during a skating expedition on the ice of the Havel River, in 1912. At his funeral, friends dance around his casket, declaiming Hölderlin (a major German poet, 1770 – 1843).
I do not know which verses were chosen to bid the young poet adieu, but here is a poem Georg wrote in 1905, in memory of Hölderlin:
You, whose life only resembled
blazes shining in the night’s basements
where men forever look for
conclusion and liberty.
You are dead. For they have foolishly reached
for your pure flame
to put it out. For these beasts have always
hated the sublime.
And, as the Moirai
plunged into infinite pain
your spirit which faintly trembled,
God wrapped into a cloth of darkness
his virtuous son’s tortured head.
The steeple stands in lovely blue
And the day unfolds around its needle;
Flies there each day through the same blue air
That carries their cries from me to you;
As long as the roof of the steeple glows,
The roof that’s covered with sheets of tin;
Turning the vane of the weathercock,
The weathercock silently crows in the wind.