A Poem by Ernst Stadler
(1883-1914; university literary academic and critic, Oxford Rhodes scholar, early Expressionist influenced by Whitman, killed in battle near Ypres in October 1914. The poem is my translation of the original German.)
Journey Over the Cologne Rhine Bridge at Night
The express train gropes its way and shoves along the darkness.
No star wants to step forward. The whole world is just a narrow mineshaft railed
around by night
Where now and then work sites made of blue light rip sudden horizons: fire wheel
Of light globes, roofs, stacks, steaming, rushing… only for seconds…
And again all is black. As if heading to our shift through the entrails of night.
Now lights come reeling … lost, inconsolably isolated … more … and accumulate…
Skeletons of grey facades lie exposed, blanching in the twilight, dead – something
must be coming…oh, I can feel it heavy
In my brain. A constriction is singing in my blood. Then suddenly the ground
roars like an ocean:
We are flying, uplifted, regally through air seized from night, high above the river.
O curve of a million lights, silent sentinel
Before whose shining parade the heavy waters roll down.
Endless row posted in greeting by night!
Storming like torches! Such joy! Ships’ salutes over blue seas! Starry festival!
Teeming, pushed there with clear eyes! Till where the city with its last houses
dismisses its guest.
And then the long lonelinesses. Bare banks. Stillness. Night. Reflection.
Contemplation. Communion. And glow and urge to the last things, the
blessings. To the feast of conception. To lust. To prayer. To ocean. To
(The top photo shows the main Cologne Bridge in 1947, the bottom today.)