A Poem by Ernst Stadler

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…

             and condense.

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.)

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 26, 2010.

7 Responses to “A Poem by Ernst Stadler”

  1. Lovely words and pictures, from a fellow railfan fellow maybe?

    • Thanks for the comment, Jools. Use and like trains but no special interest or knowledge of them. Can still remember steam trains with affection. This one’s more for the poetry. P.

  2. Wonderful to find a translation of this poem by this great poet whose death as a soldier in 1914. He was to have taken up a lectureship in Toronto but for the war.

    Thank you for this translation and I hope you are encouraged to work on others by Ernst Stadler (1883-1914).

    A Canadian reader.

  3. Thank you for the translation. Think the original is a kind of exploded petrarchan sonnet. Mind-blowing!

  4. Thanks for your translation. I first became aware of Stadler by way of Edward Hirsch’s book that had the Berg loose ‘translation’ of “The Saying.” Hope you’ll have a chance to translate that one, too. I’d be curious to see it in a different manner from Berg’s, which I like. Makes me wish I understood German. Also enjoyed some of your aphorisms, especially the computer one. –Michael

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