Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Heym's Poems in English translation!

Poet à la Mode by Georg Heym 

Autumn is here.
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

Umbra Vitae

The people on the streets draw up and stare,
While overhead huge portents cross the sky;
Round fanglike towers threatening comets flare,
Death-bearing, fiery-snouted where they fly.

On every roof astrologers abound,
enormous tubes thrust heavenward; there are
Magicians springing up from underground,
Aslant in darkness, conjuring to a star.

Through night great hordes of suicides are hurled,
Men seeking on their way the selves they've lost;
Crook-backed they haunt all corners of the world,
And with their arms for brooms they sweep the dust.

They are as dust, keep but a little while;
And as they move their hair drops out. They run,
To hasten their slow dying. Then they fall,
And in the open fields lie prone,

But twitch a little still. Beasts of the field
Stand blindly around them, prod with horns
Their sprawling bodies till at last they yield,
Lie buried by the sage-bush, by the thorns.

But all the seas are stopped. Among the waves
The shops hang rotting, scattered, beyond hope.
No current through the water moves,
And all the courts of heaven are locked up.

Trees do not change, the seasons do not change.
Enclosed in dead finality each stands,
And over broken roads lets frigid range
Its palmless thousand-fingered hands.

They dying man sits up, as if to stand,
Just once more word a moment since he cries,
All at once he's gone. Can life so end?
And crushed to fragments are his glassy eyes.

The secret shadows thicken, darkness breaks;
Behind the speechless doors dreams watch and creep.
Burdened by light of dawn the man that wakes
Must rub from grayish eyelids leaden sleep.

—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton



Torment's curl leaps above his brow,
In which winds and many voices whispering
Swim by like waters flowing.

Yet he runs by his side just like a dog.
And in the mire he picks up everything saying said.
And he weighs it heavily. And it is dead.

Ah gently in the swaying eventide
The Lord walked down over the white fields.
It was him the corn-ears glorified.
His feet were small as flies
In the shrill gleam of golden skies.

—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton


English language copyright (c) 1962 by Christopher Middleton

Fever  Hospital

In January 1912 the young German poet Georg Heym met his untimely death whilst ice-skating. At the time he was trying to rescue his friend, Ernst Balcke, who had disappeared through the ice of the frozen River Havel near Berlin when he also fell into the water and was drowned. There follows a Poet-in-Residence translation of Georg Heym's poem Das Fieberspital.


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:
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.