Thursday, March 10, 2016

Expressionist Poetry

FEBRUARY 14, 2012

Georg Heym

Georg Heym [Germany]

Born in Hirschberg, Lower Silesia in 1887, Georg Heym spent much of his short life battling conventional societal behavior. His parents, members of the Wilhemine middle class, were troubled by their son's behavior, and the young poet felt frustrated with the conventionality of their lives. His early influences, which show up in later poems, were figures such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

     In 1900 the Heym family moved to Berlin, where Georg attending several schools before graduating from the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Gymnasium at Neuruppin in Brandenburg. Heym began to write poetry as a student.

     Later he studied law at Würzburg, working in unfulfilling judicial jobs. He also began writing drama, producing Versuch einer neuen Religion in 1909 at the age of 22. He poetry, however, appeared upublishable. A year later Heym met Simon Guttmann, who invited him to the newly founded Neue Club. With members such as Kurt Hiller, Jakob van Hoddis, Erwin Loewenson (Golo Gangi) and regular visitors such as Else Lasker-Schüler, Gottfried Benn, and Karl Kraus, the group was shared objectives of writing works that rebelled against contemporary culture and spoke for political change. The Club also held regular "Neopathetisches Cabarets," meetings in which members presented work. Heym's poetry attracted great praise. And in 1911, publisher Ernst Rowohlt published his first book of poetry, Der ewige Tag, the only book to appear in Heym's own lifetime.

     On January 16, 1912, Heym and a friend, Ernst Balcke, went for a skating party on the Havel river. They never returned, and their bodies were found a few days later. Evidently Balcke had fallen through the ice and Heym and attempted to save him before he also drowned.

     Heym left behind a collection of fiction, Der Deib. Ein Novellenbuch, which was published in English as The Thief and Other Stories in 1994.


Der ewige Tag (Leipzig: E. Rowohlt, 1911); Umbra vitae, nachgelassene Gedichte (1912; München: Kurt Wolff, 1924);Marathon (1914); Dichtungen (1922); Gedicht (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1966); Gedicht (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Bücerei, 1968)


Poems: English & German Selections, trans. by Antony Hasler (London: Libris, 2004)

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