Christine Lavant, Two Poems
[Given the current very early winter in Europe, here for my northern hemisphere readers are my translations of two untitled poems by a remarkable German female poet Christine Lavant: 1915-1973, Austrian, ninth child of a miner, never left her village, led a life of poverty, physical and mental suffering, self-educated via local library; some influence of Rilke, Lasker-Schüler, Trakl, Celan; gave up writing because her poetry seemed ‘shameless’, ‘sinful’ and ‘deformed life’ and provided ‘no liberation’ from her ‘muddy and cement-like’ life. The ‘perry’ in the second poem is a cider made from fermented pear juice.]
It smells of snow, the sun apple hangs
so beautiful and red at my window pane;
if I now banish the fever from my claim
it will turn into a weasel the neighbour fangs
and then no one will warm my cold fingers.
Through the village today will stroll star-singers
and arrive for sure at my sisters’ way.
I’m a little sadder than yesterday
but not sad enough by far to be pure.
I would love to take the apple in for sure
and secretly sniff at its peel
just to know how heaven tastes.
The weasel ducks wildly and in fearful haste
will yet perhaps seek the neighbour’s heel
since my heart so narrowly feels.
I don’t know if heaven kneels
when one is too weak to get up there?
Somebody has already taken the apple where…
But actually my room is fine
and probably warmer than a tree full of snow.
Only half of my skull hurts me now
and anyway now in that blood of mine
sleep with a flower walks near and far
and sings for me alone the songs of stars.
O spindle in the moon, take your time!
Count off the clover leaves on weathercock hill,
plant out the roses of wrath the turkey decries
and if you must spin, then spin a rein
for the sou-easter’s wild-donkey wind.
Go now to the village and taste the perry!
This year’s is as strong as Turkish wine,
get drunk, spindle – just let me spin
alone the yarn for my shroud.
You spin much too loosely, you reel too quickly
and often you have to start your weaving
all over again amidst hound howl.
How fed up I am with these knots!
My death shall be as smooth as a plantain leaf
and soft as a cat’s tail.
My field of flax still blooms on earth!
It’s none of your business and you’ll never find it,
you drunken spindle! – I’m up to my knees
in last year’s ailing misery
and my heart could teach you a thing or two, – as smooth
as archangel hair and as strong as its thread.
No, moon wheel, you can’t harm me,
even if, even rounder, you leave the village boundary
and warp everything beyond the apple boughs.