Tuesday, September 29, 2015


More Heym

Weirdfictionreview.com’s 101 Weird Writers: #7 – Georg Heym

The Expressionistic Power of Heym and "The Dissection"

This post is part of an ongoing series on 101 weird writers featured in The Weird compendium, the anthology that serves as the inspiration for this site. There is no ranking system; the order is determined by the schedule of posts.
Georg Heym (1887– 1912) was a German poet and playwright who also wrote one novel. Heym believed in the idea of the “demon city,” which symbolized his repudiation of romanticism in the midst of the rise of industrialism and repressive systems. Still, he lived a wild and passionate life, accompanied by depression and restlessness. In 1910 he dreamed of a death by drowning and two years later fell through the ice while skating.
Gio Clairval, the translator of the version of “The Dissection” featured in The Weird (and also recently featured on this site), has written an appreciation of both Heym and his story, by itself and in relation to the rest of his creative work. Despite his brief life, there is much to learn about Heym and his writing, with both full of the kinds of ideas that can invigorate artistic movements and individual authors, even now, 100 years since Heym’s death.
- Adam Mills, editor of “101 Weird Writers”
The Poet Who Dreamed in Light Blue
PART ONE — The Author
Juggler (The Surface and Beneath) by Heather Wilcoxon, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
In cities strange and yet weirdly familiar, women watched by monstrous demons give birth to headless infants, vast gods straddle apartment blocks and gaze balefully out on an urban hell, and the savage giant War dances wildly on the mountains while a mighty city sinks into an abyss. (in Georg Heym’s Poems,bilingual edition, translated from the German by Anthony Hasler, 2006, Northwestern University Press.)
Georg Heym’s works are an enthralling mixture of classical German lyricism and arresting visions of urban dysplastic images à la Metropolis. The city of Berlin, under the domination of the City God (Der Gott der Stadt), is the theater of Gothic horrors — visions of war and death where the romantic macabre walks hand in hand with images taken from Greek myths.  Heym is also known for the formal beauty of his sonnets, which place him amongst the greatest poets of the German tradition. Heym was saluted as the first expressionistic poet, a decade before Expressionism became the dominant artistic trend in post-WWI Germany.

I translated the short-short story “Die Dissektion” — in fact a poem of six hundred words packed with images so strong they hurt — for The Weird, and I fell in love with the author.
Two (very different) innovative authors and their similar upbringing
I recently translated one of Gustave Flaubert’s juvenile short stories, “Quidquid volueris“[1]. As I was trying to establish the first publication date, I found an uncanny resemblance between Flaubert and Heym’s formative years. There is no similarity between the two authors’ works in terms of the aesthetic of their writing, but both Flaubert and Heym tackled themes ahead of their times.
Flaubert unleashed a storm of criticism after the publication of his scandalous (for the time) novel Madame Bovary. The public outrage dragged him to court, and the author was condemned for describing the antics of a young housewife in search of evasion. A long, suggestive scene was censored (a case of too much showing instead of telling). As for Heym, his works were less known outside the literary circles, but had the larger public read about his headless infants and monstrous demons, he would have surely been branded unhinged and dangerous.
Heym was born in 1887, a year before Flaubert died; nevertheless, his family context – upper middle class – resembles Flaubert’s, and both authors received a classical education (high school classical teaching remained consistently the same across Europe until the late twentieth century). I wondered whether these ingredients were needed to obtain an individual who would later bring new themes to literature, breaking with the past.
Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner
Recipe for a Modern Poet (or “Bake Your Own Georg Heym”)
Take a well-to-do but sine nobilitate family and mix with lackluster results in school. Add an authoritarian and irascible father and a loving, sentimental mother. Sprinkle with blank, monochord verses later labeled as “juvenilia.” Encourage the subject to marinate in passionless high-education studies, preferably Law.
Your Heym-dough will seek solace in epic deeds (drinking, dueling, whoring and getting kicked out of several schools), and he will chant the fearless protagonists of past revolutions, thus cutting his poetic teeth on grand plays imbued with classical German lyricism.
Despite the stiff theatrical production produced in this early period, it is crucial that you do not skip this step: later on your poet will have to express his internal turmoil in perfectly formed verses.
At some point, your poet-dough may be exposed to the influence of the Nietzsche yeast. He may write in his diary that he longs to realize the Übermensch ideal in his own person (1906). Do not panic and do not take the dough out of the oven; a story will spurt from this idea: “The Madman,” in which madness is depicted as a form of ultimate salvation. Because madmen are above ordinary laws, insanity entails the most perfect form of freedom, as illustrated by the final image: the madman soaring like a bird high above reality.
If the previous procedure is correctly applied, the blooming author, disappointed with his contemporaries, will join a club of think-alike youths (it will be Der Neue Club, The New Club, in Berlin, 1910). Inspiring meetings will simmer in a café that should preferably sport an ironic name (the Neopathetische Cabaret or Neo-Pathetic Music-Hall). If you keep the fire going, the group leader, Kurt Hiller, will salute your artist as an expressionistic poet, which will brand him a true precursor; Expressionism — a creative movement in pre-WWI Germany fostering the idea that art’s purpose is to express the subjective feelings of artists — will be at its zenith during the 20s.
The baking is going well. You should now be satisfied to see the subject’s first poems appear (the same year, 1910) in the radical magazine Der Demokrat, and the first collection, Der ewige Tag (The Eternal Day), will be published in 1911, to be favorably reviewed by the famous poet Ernst Stadler. Given the positive critiques, your lyrical dough will decide to abandon his career in Law.
Meanwhile, let a resonant, clichéd tragedy, Atalanta, find its way into print (1911) and do not despair but look at your creation through the oven glass: the dough is now golden.
Take your poet out of the oven, for he is baked.
Portrait of Georg Heym
And from now on things become very, very serious, albeit for a very short time.
The new poet displays both an exquisite sensibility and a tormented spirit. A few poems, like his tragedies, are inspired by the French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath, but with more elegant results; others are haunted by classical myths and Gothic tropes; others still, from his later years, are widely considered some of the finest love poems ever written in the German language.
You have in fact created one of the most characteristic voices of German literature.
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:
To Hölderlin
And you, too, you are dead, son of the springtime
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.
One of Hölderin’s poems that influenced Heym:
From “In Lovely Blue” (In lieblicher Blaue)
Translated by by George Kalogeris
Like the stamen inside a flower
The steeple stands in lovely blue
And the day unfolds around its needle;
The flock of swallows that circles the steeple
Flies there each day through the same blue air
That carries their cries from me to you;
We know how high the sun is now
As long as the roof of the steeple glows,
The roof that’s covered with sheets of tin;
Up there in the wind, where the wind is not
Turning the vane of the weathercock,
The weathercock silently crows in the wind.
Hölderlin’s style is more descriptive, more classical, compared with Heym’s verses, but we can recognize the theme that will find an echo in Heym’s formal sonnet “Reverie in Light Blue,” which you will find below, with the original text and my translation.
A collection of poems, Umbra Vitae, is published posthumously (1912), followed by a collection of short stories, Der Dieb (The Thief, 1913, English translation by Susan Bennet: The Thief and Other Stories, 1994, Libris, first published April 1985), and a collection of sonnets, Marathon (1914).

In 1924, Kurt Wolff publishes the collection of poems compiled by Heym’s literary group Der Neue Club: Umbra Vitae, including forty-seven xylographs by Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner.
After the poet’s untimely death, enthusiastic readers will find echoes of cataclysmic prophecies in his work, as in “Mit weissem Haar in den verrufnen Orten” (With White Hair, on Barren Plains), which foreshadows 1917. The poem describes the suffering of the enslaved working class in the mines of cold Russia. When night comes, the slaves dream of a head perched on top of a pole, riding the agitated waters of a “rebellious sea,” and it is the Czar’s head…

The City’s God
Georg Heym expressed the despair and solitude of urban life.
Fascinated by death, he was obsessed with the modern phenomenon of the metropolis: in his view the triumph of technology was destined to explode and unravel into apocalyptic involution. Nothing will change the city’s fate. Living in the city is unnatural.
In “Der Gott der Stadt” (The God of the City), sprawling cities kneel to Baal, who straddles blocks of buildings, his belly glowing red in the setting sun, and millions cower in the streets, booming their music made of praises and terror, while factory fumes and grime of smokestacks rise in the air towards the giant’s feet. And the elements themselves, perverted by the god, stare at the crushed humanity, sending tempests and seas of fire cracking on the asphalt.
We can read here the influence of a Belgian poet, Emile Verhaeren (1855 – 1916), one of the founders of Symbolism. In “L’âme des Ville” (The City’s Soul, in Les villes tentaculaires, Tentacular Cities, 1895), Verhaeren writes:
Un air de soufre et de naphte s’ exhale,
un soleil trouble et monstrueux s’ étale;
l’ esprit soudainement s’ effare
vers l’ impossible et le bizarre;
crime ou vertu, voit-il encor
ce qui se meut en ces décors,
où, devant lui, sur les places, s’ élève
le dressement tout en brouillards
d’ un pilier d’ or ou d’ un fronton blafard
pour il ne sait quel géant rêve?
An air of sulfur and naphtha exhales,
a hazy and monstrous sun expands;
the mind suddenly staggers
towards the impossible and the weird;
crime or virtue, can one still glimpse
something that moves in this decor,
where, right ahead, in each plaza, soars
the blurred height
of a golden pillar or a bleary pediment
for who knows what gigantic dream.
Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis
Verhaeren’s verses — rhymed in the original French — strike me as overwrought and melodramatic. Still, these images inflamed the imaginations and influenced many artists of the time.
In Heym’s poems, however (and it is the difference between mere imagination and genius), the chill, perfectly stylized form frames and contains the vivid images, distancing the reader. The distance and “monumentality”, in John Holfson’s words, quoted by Hasler (ib.) make, by contrast, the excesses of Heym’s apocalyptic visions even more horrific.
Heym was a unique figure in the pre-war poetic landscape. His aggressive images set him apart as more than a mere harbinger of Expressionism. Georg Heym was the first poet to use the stylistic epitomes that would later become the movement’s most characteristic tropes.
Blood Red and Powdery Blue
On one side, the bleeding images of apocalyptic cities, on the other, soft landscapes of waters blending with the sky. Nature, when left to her own devices, embroiders the world with harmony.
Träumerei in Hellblau (Reverie in Light Blue)
Alle Landschaften haben
Sich mit Blau gefüllt.
Alle Büsche und Bäume des Stromes,
Der weit in den Norden schwillt.
Blaue Länder der Wolken,
Weiße Segel dicht,
Die Gestade des Himmels in Fernen
Zergehen in Wind und Licht.
Wenn die Abende sinken
Und wir schlafen ein,
Gehen die Träume, die schönen,
Mit leichten Füßen herein.
Zymbeln lassen sie klingen
In den Händen licht.
Manche flüstern, und halten
Kerzen vor ihr Gesicht.
Here is my take (as usual, not so literal):
All the expanses of land
Are filled with blue as are
All the bushes and trees of the river
That swells in the north afar.
Blue countries of clouds,
Sails scattered white,
The shore of the sky in the distance
Sprinkled in wind and light.
When the evening falls
And we close our eyes,
Lovely dreams tiptoe
With winged feet inside.
The cymbals they let clink
In their hands that glimmer.
Many whispers, and then shadows
Before your face they flicker.
PART II: Translating the Untranslatable
The hardest part of doing this translation
German is such a romantic language. Reading German authors like Heym or Rainer Maria Rilke (although the latter was Bohemian-Austrian), I often wonder if Romanticism, and particularly expressionism as a literary style, could only be invented by author who wrote in that particular language of Gothic ascent. In English, at least contemporary English, an ornate style can easily teeter on the banks of the purple sea, but the best romantic style flows so beautifully in German. As I translated “The Dissection,” I faced the difficulty of dealing with a prose that was so formally perfect in the original that the mere idea of “transporting” it into another system of references seemed iconoclastic to me.
Translating is making decisions, and sometimes the text lures the translator into the easy path, which is the most obvious translation of a word with multiple meanings. It is particularly difficult with German, which is a highly polysemous language. Still, the translator should resist the sirens of “first-level” or “most-common” meaning.
The strongest example of the above, and the most difficult translation decision in this text was the passage:
Die Ärzte traten ein. Ein paar freundliche Männer in weißen Kitteln mit Schmissen und goldenen Zwickern.
The most obvious translation is:
The doctors entered. Several amicable men in white gowns with duelling-scars and gold-rimmed pince-nez.[2]
But I wondered, why the duelling-scars ?
The translator explains in the footnote #5: ’”Schmiss”: “duelling-scar”. Traditionally, many male university students belonged to fraternities known as “Studentenverbin– dungen”. The members of a fraternity usually drink together
and engage in duelling. The scars resulting from the wounds received were considered a sign of bravery and boldness.’
This translation is plausible, given that Heym himself engaged in duels during his university years. Moreover, in one of his diary entries, he used “Schmissen” in a figurative way, referring to his heart with dueling scars.
On the other hand, the structure of the phrase in weißen Kitteln mit Schmissen indicates that “Schmissen” may refer back to “Kitteln” (gown, which I rendered with the more modern “coat”). How did the doctors’ white coats sport dueling scars? Did the frat boys carry out their dueling deeds in their surgeons’ gowns? It seemed more logical, and simpler, to me, to use the other meaning of “Schmiss”: rent, a hole in fabric.
I translated the sentence:
The doctors entered. A few friendly men in white coats with rents and gold-rimmed pince-nez.
Suddenly, the passage made more sense, even though the explanation based on duels was more romantic.
And the final version became:
The doctors entered. A few friendly men in frayed white coats and gold-rimmed pince-nez.
Those who have haunted hospitals wearing white, like I have, will recognize the much-washed coats that fray at the cuffs and hems…
But then again, the author may have wanted to imply both meanings: the down-to-earth frayed coats, and the remainders of ancient duels on the faces of the doctors, now older and wiser (because they wear glasses for near vision).
A short-short, a poem in prose
Translating a very short story is more difficult, given the relative weight of the words. Georg Heym was a poet above everything else, and the first expressionistic poet, at that: the use of images, and particularly colors, as vehicles of emotions is the foundation of the story itself. Colors serve to create similitudes and transitions from the gritty reality of the dissection table to the dream that forms in the dead man’s head, as a resonance of the doctors’ hammering on his skull.
Splendid reds and blues” sprout on the dead man’s body. Why “splendid”?  The colors of decomposing flesh announce new life more than decay, and the wonderful colors foreshadow the explosion of reds in the second part of the story, the memory of a past love in summer: poppy fields; the man’s lover “a flower of flames;” and a billowing dress as a “wave of fire in the setting sun.”
The contrast between the doctors, who were “friendly” a minute before, but now resemble “hideous torturers, blood flowing on their hands as they” dig “ever more deeply into the frigid corpse and” pull “out its innards, like white cooks gutting a goose.”
It is a poem, and every word carries a strong meaning.
Repetition as a style
To get across the author’s intent, I had to keep certain repetitions: in a six-hundred-fifty-seven-word story (a little more than two standard-manuscript pages), there are ten occurrences of the word “white.” It is typical of Heym’s style, as you can see in the poem “Reverie in Pale Blue.” In my translation of the poem I did not keep the repeated words as they did not have the same effect in English, the words being in too close proximity. In “The Dissection,” though, repetition could and was used to render as much as possible of the original style.
In Heym’s work, repetition serves two purposes: first, it creates a contrast, as the same word is used in a gruesome and then a lyrical context; second, repeating a word accentuates the rhythm of a sentence with an obsessive insistence.
In other places, in a variation around the sentence structure, the same word is found in a different position. A paragraph begins with Die Ärzte traten ein. And, in the next paragraph, the beginning is Sie traten an den Toten.
The word “traten” is a counter-example, as I made the decision of using two different translations because the repetition added little in English:
Die Ärzte traten ein. (“Traten” means, generically, “to join,” but the meaning changes in different contexts. The most logical translation was “The doctors entered.”)
Sie traten an den Toten (They stepped up to the dead man.)
How this story influenced me personally
The Dissection” influenced my writing directly. It was one of those famous multiple repetitions that inspired me:
In front of the large window, opened a wide sky filled with small white clouds that swam in the light, in the silent afternoon, like small white gods.
I liked the sound of this sentence so much I used a similar repetition as I was largely rewriting a story that was published in the magazine of my high school when I was fourteen (my first published story ever).  And the restyled story, “The Hand,” appeared in the #358 issue of Weird Tales (August 2011), edited by Ann VanderMeer.

[1] For the anthology edited by Rick Claw, The Apes of Wrath, forthcoming in March 2013 from Tachyon Publications.
[2] Arlene Elizabeth Sture, Georg Heym’s Der Dieh: Ein Novellenbuch. Five Short Stories in English Translation with an Introduction and Commentary, 1-1-1979, McMasters University

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Poemas alemanes para escuchar en alemán aunque no se entiendan!







Needs translation but sounds pretty good!

Träumt er zur Erde, wen
Sagt mir, wen meint er?
Schwillt ihm die Träne, was,
Götter, was weint er?
Bebt er, ihr Schwestern, was,
Redet, erschrickt ihn?
Jauchzt er, o Himmel, was
Ists, was beglückt ihn?

Heinrich von Kleist

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Schiller – Freedom’s Hymn

Schiller – Freedom’s Hymn By

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligthum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng getheilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.


Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder — überm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein,
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja — wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund.


Was den großen Ring bewohnet,
Huldige der Sympathie!
Zu den Sternen leitet sie,
Wo der Unbekannte thronet.
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.


Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn überm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen
Freude heißt die starke Feder
In der ewigen Natur.
Freude, Freude treibt die Räder
In der großen Weltenuhr.
Blumen lockt sie aus den Keimen,
Sonnen aus dem Firmament,
Sphären rollt sie in den Räumen,
Die des Sehers Rohr nicht kennt.


Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmel prächt’gen Plan,
Wandelt, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zu Siegen.
Aus der Wahrheit Feuerspiegel
Lächelt sie den Forscher an.
Zu der Tugend steilem Hügel
Leitet sie des Dulders Bahn.
Auf des Glaubens Sonnenberge
Sieht man ihre Fahnen wehn,
Durch den Riss gesprengter Särge
Sie im Chor der Engel stehn.


Duldet muthig, Millionen!
Duldet für die bessre Welt!
Droben überm Sternenzelt
Wird ein großer Gott belohnen.
Göttern kann man nicht vergelten;
Schön ist’s, ihnen gleich zu sein.
Gram und Armuth soll sich melden,
Mit den Frohen sich erfreun.
Groll und Rache sei vergessen,
Unserm Todfeind sei verziehn.
Keine Thräne soll ihn pressen,
Keine Reue nage ihn.


Unser Schuldbuch sei vernichtet!
Ausgesöhnt die ganze Welt!
Brüder — überm Sternenzelt
Richtet Gott, wie wir gerichtet.
Freude sprudelt in Pokalen,
In der Traube goldnem Blut
Trinken Sanftmuth Kannibalen,
Die Verzweiflung Heldenmuth –
Brüder, fliegt von euren Sitzen,
Wenn der volle Römer kreist,
Laßt den Schaum zum Himmel spritzen:
Dieses Glas dem guten Geist!


Den der Sterne Wirbel loben,
Den des Seraphs Hymne preist,
Dieses Glas dem guten Geist
Überm Sternenzelt dort oben!
Festen Muth in schwerem Leiden,
Hilfe, wo die Unschuld weint,
Ewigkeit geschwornen Eiden,
Wahrheit gegen Freund und Feind,
Männerstolz vor Königsthronen, –
Brüder, gält’ es Gut und Blut –
Dem Verdienste seine Kronen,
Untergang der Lügenbrut!


Schließt den heil’gen Zirkel dichter,
Schwört bei diesem goldnen Wein,
Dem Gelübde treu zu sein,
Schwört es bei dem Sternenrichter!
Rettung von Tyrannenketten,
Großmut auch dem Bösewicht,
Hoffnung auf den Sterbebetten,
Gnade auf dem Hochgericht!
Auch die Toten sollen leben!
Brüder trinkt und stimmet ein,
Allen Sündern soll vergeben,
Und die Hölle nicht mehr sein.


Eine heitere Abscheidsstunde!
Süßen Schlaf im Leichenruch!
Brüder – einen sanften Spruch
Aus des Totenrichters Munde!

Joy, beautiful spark of Gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach, fueled by fire,
Heavenly, your sanctuary,
Your magical powers unify
What custom harshly parts
All men are made brothers
Where your gentle wing spreads.


Be embraced, millions!
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers – over a canopy of stars
Our loving father must dwell.
Whoever has had the great luck,
To know true friendship,
Whoever has found the love of a devoted wife,
Add this to our greater joy!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
Yet those who fail must pull
Tearfully away from this circle.


Those who dwell in the great circle,
Render homage unto compassion!
It guides us to the stars,
Where the Unknown reigns.
The joy which all creatures drink
From nature’s bosom;
All, Just and Unjust,
Follow her rose-strewn path.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proven in death,
Even the worm was given pleasure,
And the Cherub stands before God.


You bow down, millions?
World, can you sense your Creator?
Seek him above the stared canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.
Joy is called the strong motivation
In eternal nature.
Joy, joy turns the wheels
Of the great celestial mechanics
Flowers are summoned forth from their buds,
Suns from the Firmament,
Spheres it moves far out in Space,
Beyond the grasp of our glass.


Joyfully, as His suns spin,
Across the Universe’s grand design,
Run, brothers, run your race,
Joyfully, as a hero going to conquest.
As truth’s fiery reflection
It smiles at the seeker of truth
At virtue’s steep hill
It leads the seeker on.
Atop faith’s lofty summit
Its flags whipped in the wind,
Through the cracks of burst-open coffins,
It stand in the angels’ chorus.


Persist with courage, millions!
Stand firm for a better world!
Over the stars
A great God will reward you.
 Gods one can never requite,
Save in the striving to be like them.
Sorrow and Poverty, come forth
And rejoice with the Joyful ones.
Anger and revenge be dispelled,
Our bitterest enemy be forgiven,
Not one tear shall he shed anymore,
No feeling of loss shall pain him.


The account of our misdeeds be destroyed!
Reconciled the entire world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
God judges as we judge.
Joy is bubbling in the glasses,
Through the grapes’ golden blood
Let Cannibals drink gentleness,
And despair drinks courage–
Brothers, be lifted from your seats,
As the fully charged chalice is passed around,
Let the foam rise up to heaven:
Let this glass charge our spirits.


He whom stars above select,
He whom the Seraphs’ hymn praises,
This glass we raise to Him, the good spirit,
Over the field of stars!
Be resolute and courageous in the face of our plight,
Where the innocent weap, render aid,
Eternally are reckoned all oaths we swear
Truth towards friend and enemy,
Human pride before the thrones of kings–
Brothers, though it cost us life and blood,
Give the crowns to those who earn them,
Defeat to the pack of liars!


Close the holy circle tighter,
Swear by this golden wine:
To remain true to the Oath,
Swear it to He who judge above the stars!
Deliver us from tyrants’ chains,
But show generosity also towards the blaggard,
Hope on the deathbeds,
Mercy from the final judge!
Also the dead shall live!
Brothers, drink and join in,
All sinners shall be forgiven,
And hell shall be no more.


Our serene hour of farewell!
Sweet rest in the shroud!
Brothers–a mild sentence
From the mouth of the judge of the dead!

Friedrich Schiller, Ode an die Freude (1785) in Sämtliche Werke, vol. 1, pp. 133-36 (H. Göpfert ed. 1980)(S.H. transl.)
Listen to a recitation of Schiller’s poem by Anna Thalbach
Listen to Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal realization of the poem in the concluding choral movement of his Ninth Symphony in D Minor, here in a performance with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

In 1753, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote in the Königlich Privilegierte Berlinische Zeitung a brief announcement of the publication of one of the signal works of the Enlightenment and in the process paused to offer one of his more astonishing observations on the study of man. “We can engage the human at the level of the specific or the general,” he wrote. “But what, pray tell, will we learn from the specific? They are such a gallery of rogues and scoundrels… Yet when we turn to the species as a whole, a different story begins to emerge. Does he not slowly reveal greatness and divine origin? Does he not daily extend the limits of his knowledge, does wisdom not slowly come to prevail in his rulemaking, does his ambition not leave behind towering monuments?” This same quiet confidence in humanity, coupled with a burning desire to overcome the obstacles that human superstitution and suspicion place in the way of the unity of the species, is the touchstone of this, the most famous poem of Friedrich Schiller. It is known as the “Ode to Joy” and it is familiar to all peoples of the world through the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Curiously, Schiller was a bit slow to claim his work. He hesitated over its incorporation into his collected works and suggested at points that it was rash, juvenile–not to the standards of his more ponderous philosophical poetry. Surely it is not. But the “Ode to Joy” captured the imagination of Schiller’s contemporaries like no other poetical work, and they associated it with him. News of his fatal illness provoked spontaneous recitations of the poem from Switzerland to Denmark, and in France the great Danton pressed to acclaim Schiller an honorary citizen of the new republic on the strength of this extraordinary poem. But this work is marked by evanescence, by a sort of giddiness–does this suggest lack of seriousness? Could it be simply an occasional piece, an entry in an album for a life-long friend, Christian Gottfried Körner? At one level this certainly was Schiller’s intention. He wrote Körner on August 8, 1787 alluding to the ode and saying “I know no more certain and higher fortune in the world today that the complete enjoyment of our friendship, the wholly indivisible consolidation of our being, our joys and sufferings.”
But this does Schiller no justice. Let us abjure the specific and hold to the general. Schiller’s ode is a salute to humanity’s possibilities, it is giddy, unabashedly so. For Schiller, this euphoria, this insatiable drive for friendship is a saving grace for the species. Reason alone cannot explain it. It is essential if humankind is to overcome its darker moments, including the perilous path that leads to cynicism and nihilism. Friendship is thus an exilir. “For certain humans the power of nature strips away the stupefying limitations of convention,” he tells some friends in Leipzig as he is scribbling on this poem, signaling the refrain that Beethoven will make famous.
But the work is radical and blatantly political in its orientation–it envisions a world without monarchs at a time when the distant colonies of North America alone offered the alternative. It imagines a world whose nations live in peace with one another, embracing the dignity of their species as a fundamental principle, and democracy as the central chord of their organization. Its long appeal to Beethoven lay in just this intensely subversive, revolutionary core. To start with, as Leonard Bernstein reminded his audiences, the poem was originally an “Ode to Freedom” and the word “Joy” (Freude instead of Freiheit, added to the third pillar, Freundschaft) came as a substitute for the more overtly political theme. The transposition is very successful, and it reflects the esthetic theories of Schiller in which humankind’s political aspirations are shown as something ecstatic. The deeper, more political charge of Schiller’s writings appears in the final stanzas, which are not included in the lyrics set by Beethoven–he was at length a court composer, and he lived, wrote and published in a city which, for all its culture and pretension, was a citadel of political repression. Beethoven reckoned, of course, that his audience knew the whole text, just as he knew it, by heart. He was by then a crotchety old man, Beethoven, but he knew the power of a dream, and he inspired millions with it, to the chagrin of his Hapsburg sponsors.
Schiller’s words are perfectly fused with Beethoven’s music. It may indeed be the most successful marriage in the whole shared space of poetry and music. It is a message of striking universality which transcends the boundaries of time and culture. It is well measured in fact to certain turningpoints in the human experience. And one of them occurred in America this week.

Textos sobre Wagner

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Winston Spencer Churchill

Ninguna persona informada puede negar que Winston S. Churchill fue probablemente el “showman” mas espectacular de la historia de la politica britanica, y con toda seguridad “el gran señor” de la retorica honorifica y patriotica de su pais. Pero cuando se va mas alla en cualquier etapa de su carrera, es facil entrar en el terreno de la polemica. Cualquier estudio cuidadoso de su carrera implica generar serias dudas sobre su integridad personal y politica y sobre el valor de su servicio a Inglaterra.
Su carrera politica ya revela la falta de unos firmes principio politicos e ideologicos. Sus tendencias politicas oscilaron desde el conservadurismo al liberalismo y de vuelta al lado de los conservadores. Pronuncio grandes elogios hacia Hitler y Mussolini después de que sus programas de gobierno autoritario estuvieran completamente establecidos y sus ideas fueran bien conocidas. Llego a decir, que si fuera italiano seria fascista, y todavía en 1938, apenas una año antes del inicio de la guerra, que si Inglaterra se encontrara en un estado de postración como en el que estaba Alemania en 1933, rogaria por que su pais encontrara a su “propio Hitler”. El eminente publicista anglo-americano, Francis Neilson, declaro que el elogio de Churchill a Hitler, fue el mayor pronunciado nunca por un hombre de estado ingles hacia un jefe de gobierno extranjero en toda la historia. Cuando su “gran y buen amigo” de dias pasados, Mussolini, fue asesinado por los partisanos comunistas y su cadáver colgado cabeza abajo en Milan, Churchill se apresuro a dirigirse a una cena a la que estaba invitado con las ultimas noticias, y al llegar exclamo, “Ah, la bestia sanguinaria a muerto”. Durante el transcurso de la 2ª Guerra Mundial declaro que la mas importante mision de su vida era destruir a Adolf Hitler y el Nacionalsocialismo.
Los giros de Churchill respecto al comunismo tambien fueron increíbles. Empezo siendo el mas acido de los criticos del Comunismo y de sus lideres, denunciando su “infecta estupidez”, para pasar, durante la guerra , a dirigir unos halagos a Josef Stalin casi tan generosos como los que habia proporcionado antes a Hitler y Mussolini, y después de la guerra, en 1946, pidio el inicio de una “guerra fria” contra el Comunismo.
No hay ninguna prueba convincente de que nada de lo que Churchill hubiera propuesto o apoyado tuviera como intencion primordial un posible efecto beneficioso en Inglaterra o en el mundo. Aparentemente todas sus decisiones se tomaban pensando en su posible efecto sobre su propia carrera politica. Churchill jamas revelaria el mas minimo sentido de “Nobleza”. Su especialidad, pedir mas privilegios y recompensas para el puesto que ocupara. No es una exageración el decir, que probablemene se trate del personaje mas vanidoso de toda la historia de la politica moderna, y ademas fue una rasgo que mantuvo incluso después de su muerte, planeo con años de antelación todos los detalles de su pomposo y dramatico funeral publico.
La integridad estuvo completamente ausente de su carrera politica. No vacilo a la hora de utilizar las mas flagrantes mentiras cuando fue necesario, para promover su carrera o para ocultar sus errores. Fue capaz de engañar al pueblo britanico en asuntos de gran importancia publica, cuando asi era necesario para su propia proteccion. Posiblemente el mejor de los ejemplos de esto sea su informe a la Camara de los Comunes a su regreso de la desastrosa Conferencia de Yalta, donde fue testigo de la duplicidad de Stalin y sus avariciosas mentiras, tal y como habia pasado antes en Teheran y de la rotura de todas las promesas sovieticas sobre el trato que recibiria Polonia a manos de los sovieticos. Pero ante la Camara de los Comunes dijo lo siguiente, “La impresión que traigo de Crimea es que el Mariscal Stalin y los otros lideres sovieticos desean vivir en honorable amistad y democracia con las democracias occidentales. Y creo que este gobierno debe mantenerse firme en lo que respecta a sus obligaciones para con el gobierno de la Rusia Sovietica”.
Es bueno recordar que la actual “buena reputacion” de Churchill como hombre de estado, descansa enteramente sobre los acontecimientos que tuvieron lugar entre Abril de 1940 y Julio de 1945. En 1933, estaba tan desacreditado, que tanto Baldwin como Chamberlain, en sus respectivos gobiernos, consideraron que darle un puesto en el gabinete seria perjudicial para el prestigio y el futuro de los conservadores. Cuando los problemas domesticos volvieron a ocupar la vida politica en 1945, Churchill sufrio una sonora derrota en las elecciones generales de aquel verano. Como gobernante durante la guerra habia mostrado mas su gran energia, que su genio organizativo o de mando. Se distinguio mas por su tenacidad que por su capacidad como estadista, aunque no cabe duda de que fue capaz de animar a los britanicos a unirse y continuar una guerra que no querian contra Hitler. Pero cabe preguntarse si su irreflexiva resistencia contra Hitler después de Dunquerque fue lo mejor para Inglaterra. La mas habitual y efectiva acusacion contra la capacidad como estadista de Churchill es que gano la guerra contra Alemania pero perdio la paz contra la U.R.S.S. y los EE.UU..
Otra gran mentira se refiere a su supuesto “genio militar”, aunque es posible que ningun otro lider britanico haya amado tanto la guerra o trabajado tan duro, dentro de sus posibilidades, para meter a su pais en una. Churchill fue el responsable del desastre de los Dardanelos en 1915, que fue la mas espectacular derrota britanica en la 1ª Guerra Mundial (Si descontamos sus inútiles intentos de romper las lineas de trincheras alemanas). Se ha dicho que era un buen plan pero que estaba “poco trabajado”, pero un plan militar debe funcionar en la practica y no solo en el papel impreso. Tanto Lord Fisher como Lord Kitchener se mostraron contrarios al plan. Como responsable del desastre Churchill fue obligado a dimitir.
En lo que respecta a la 2ª Guerra Mundial los expertos, tanto americanos como ingleses, han indicado que las “interferencias estrategicas” de Churchill muy a menuda tenian resultados desastrosos. El general Albert C. Wedermeyer llego a decir que tanto Churchill como Roosevelt realmente dirigian las operaciones militares “como un par de jefes indios, dirigiendo un ataque a una diligencia”, sin la mas minima consideración a las ultimas consecuencias, tanto militares como politicas. La constante demanda por parte de Churchill de un ataque contra “el blando bajo vientre de Europa” (Italia), una especie de regreso a la fantasia de los Dardanelos, fue apropiadamente desacreditada por la impresionante manera en la que el general Albert Kesserling defendio la “blanda” peninsula italiana, aun con grandes desventajas a todos los niveles, y cuya derrota se debio principalmente a la rendicion de las tropas SS.
Incluso sus mas moderados admiradores nos dicen que al menos hay que reconocer que Chuchill “salvo” a Inglaterra. Pero esto nos lleva a hacernos una pregunta, ¿De quien o de que salvo a Inglaterra?. Hitler le hizo mas la “pelota” a los ingleses que el propio Kaiser, que era pariente del rey ingles, y la piedra angular de su politica exterior pasaba por el entendimiento con Inglaterra. Incluso después de Dunquerque, donde de forma deliberada permitio a los ingleses huir, ofrecio a los ingleses una paz generosa y le dijo a sus generales que estaba dispuesto a poner a los ejercitos alemanes al servicio de Inglaterra, para garantizar la supervivencia del Imperio Britanico. Un autentico estadista hubiera firmado la paz con Alemania durante Junio de 1941, hubiera dejado que Alemania y Rusia se desangraran mutuamente y de ese modo habria eliminado cualquier amenaza de dictadura, tanto de las derechas como de las izquierdas. Y eso fue lo que personajes como Herbert Hoover o Robert A. Taft, recomendaron en aquel momento. Pero Churchill era solo alegria y emocion, “tenemos demasiada diversión” afirmo. Queria convertirse en un activo lider de guerra y nunca considero la posibilidad de retirarse para una posición de simple observador, incluso aunque esa fuera probablemente la unica manera de asegurar la seguridad de Inglaterra y la preservación del imperio. Condeno a Inglaterra a cuatro años de costosa y brutal guerra, fallo a la hora de proteger el centro y el Este de Europa de Rusia y del Comunismo, y provoco la inevitable liquidación del Imperio Britanico.
Churchill fue lider en la denuncia de las supuestas horribles atrocidades y brutalidades de los Nazis, pero su propio “record”, seguro que es mejor. Rechazo la propuesta de Hitler de prohibir el bombardeo de todo objetivo no militar y lanzo su barbara forma de bombardeo el 11 de Mayo de 1940, con su ataque contra la indefensa ciudad universitaria de Friburgo. Anuncio que no se detendria a la hora de usar cualquier forma de brutalidad y terror para destruir a Hitler e hizo honor a su palabra. Dirigio el terrible bombardeo incendiario de Hamburgo y fue el maximo responsable de la inútil destrucción de la hermosa ciudad de Dresden, la mas despiadada, despreciable e indefendible atrocidad de la 2ª Guerra Mundial y que produjo unas perdidas en vidas y propiedades mayores, incluso, que las causadas por las bombas atomicas en Hiroshima o en Nagasaki. Aprobo y ordeno el Plan Lindemann para el bombardeo de saturación sobre Alemania, el cual, en su cruda brutalidad, tanto de concepción como de aplicación, iguala a cualquiera de las supuestas atrocidades Nazis. El plan se basaba en la concentración de los bombardeos britanicos sobre los hogares de obreros y trabajadores, cuyas casas se agolpaban apretujadamente, de modo que un mayor numero de civiles inocentes pudiera ser asesinado por bomba lanzada.
En su discurso en el funeral por Winston Churchill, el ex-presidente Dwight Eisenhower remarco la condicion de Churchill como “amigo de la Paz”. No seria una exageración decir que esa frase suena igual que decir que Al Capone fue “amigo de la Ley”. Incluso sus admiradores britanicos reconocen el desmesurado amor por la guerra que sintio toda su vida. Ninguna otra figura politica trabajo tanto para que su pais entrara en la 1ª Guerra Mundial, cosa que ha sido admitida en el libro “Twelve Days”, del escritor George Malcolm Thomsom, sobre la crisis de 1914. Y es de conocimiento popular que Churchill fue el lider de la de la faccion pro-guerra en Inglaterra de 1936 en adelante. Fue durante ese año que le comento al general Robert E. Wood, “Alemania se esta volviendo demasiado fuerte; debemos destruirla”. No solo colaboro con la faccion pro-guerra britanica si no que tambien fue un cercano colaborador de Bernard Baruch y de los otros miembros de la faccion pro-guerra estadounidense.
Posiblemente la mejor evalucion de la personalidad de Churchill sea la del distinguido publicista britanico, F.S. Oliver:
“Desde su juventud el sr. Churchill ha amado tres cosas con todo su corazon, con toda su mente y con todas sus fuerzas: la guerra, la politica y a si mismo. Ama la guerra por sus peligros y ama a la politica por la misma razon, y siempre se ha amado a si mismo por que sabe lo peligrosa que es su mente; peligrosa para sus enemigos, para sus amigos y para si mismo. No puedo pensar en ningun otro hombre que yo haya conocido, que haya devorado su propio corazon de forma tan rapida y amarga”.
Y la importancia de su carrera para esta y para las futuras generaciones fue admirablemente resumida por el periodico britanico “The Journal”:
“En terminos de éxito personal no hubo carrera con mas fortuna que la de Winston Churchill. En terminos del sufrimiento de millones de personas y la destrucción del noble edificio de la Humanidad no hubo carrera mas desastrosa. Y en esta triste paradoja radica la tragedia de nuestro tiempo”.

"Contemplé tanto la belleza..." Konstantino Kavafis

Contemplé tanto la belleza, que mi visión le pertenece.

Líneas del cuerpo. Labios rojos. Sensuales miembros.
Cabellos como copiados de las estatuas griegas;
hermosos siempre, incluso despeinados.
y caídos apenas, sobre las blancas sienes.
Rostros del amor, tal como los deseaba
mi poesía... en mis noches juveniles,
en mis noches ocultas, encontradas...

Konstantino Kavafis

Leído en Poesías completas, Versión de José María Álvarez, Libros Hiperión, 1976.