Alfred Lichtenstein, Four Poems

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Soldier

My translations of four poems by German expressionist Alfred Lichtenstein:

The Twilight

A fat boy is playing with a pond.
The wind has caught itself in a tree.
The sky looks dissolute and pale
As if it had run out of rouge.

Leaning down on long crutches
And gossiping two cripples are crawling on the field.
A blond poet is perhaps going insane.
A little horse trips over a lady.

At a window a fat man is stuck.
A youth is coming to visit a soft woman.
A grey clown is putting on his boots.
A pram is screaming and dogs cursing.


A fog has destroyed the world so softly.
Bloodless trees dissolve in smoke.
And shadows hover where screams are heard.
Burning brutes melt away like breath.

The gas lamps are captive flies.
And each flickers to still escape.
Lurking sideways gleaming high and distant
The toxic moon, the fat fog spider.

But we who, infamous, are fit for death,
Gnash and trample this desolate splendour.
And dumbly stick our white despondent eyes
Like spears into the bloated night.


Like old bones the damned streets
lie in the pot of noon.
It’s been a long time since I saw you.
A boy pulls at a girl’s plait.

And a few dogs roll about in the dirt.
I’d like to walk with you on my arm.
The sky is grey packing paper,
The sun stuck on – a butter stain.

The Battle near Saarburg

The earth’s getting mouldy in the fog.
The evening weighs like lead.
Round about ring electric explosions
and, whimpering, everything breaks in two.

Like old rags the villages
smoulder on the horizon.
I lie God-forlorn
in the cackling frontline.

Many little copper birds from the enemy
Swirl round heart and head.
I brace hard against the grey
And face death squarely.

[Alfred Lichtenstein 1889- 1914, with Heym, Hoddis and Stadler the most influential early German expressionist, ‘The Twilight’ was the second expressionist poem to appear in print, died at the front in September 1914; the ‘Battle near Saarburg’ was his last poem]


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on September 1, 2010.

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