Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Two Early Poems

My translations of two early poems by German poet Hans-Magnus Enzensberger. I have kept to the original poem’s use of lower case, punctuation and line breaks as much as possible. (A translation of another, middle period, Enzensberger poem can be found in The Jackboot essay posted last December 11.)

Hans-Magnus Enzensberger

(b. 1929, probably Germany’s pre-eminent living poet, original influence of Brecht, Benn, Neruda, e.e. cummings, one of the ‘Angry Young Men’ generation of the late fifties/early sixties, then much involved with the political activism of the 68 generation, especially through his editorship of the political and literary magazine Kursbuch, later distanced himself from these perspectives)

For the Sixth Form Reader

don’t read odes, my son, read time tables:
they’re more exact. unroll the sea charts
before it’s too late. be vigilant, don’t sing.
the day will come they nail lists to the gate
again and paint marks on nay-sayers’
chests. learn to go unrecognised, learn more than I:
how to change your district, passport, face.
be skilled in small betrayals,
the dirt of daily survival. useful
are the encyclicals for making fires,
the manifestos: for wrapping up butter and salt
for the defenceless. anger and patience are needed
to blow into the lungs of power
the fine deadly dust ground
by those who have learned much,
who are fastidious in their ways, by you.

to all telephone subscribers

something that has no colour, something
that smells of nothing, something tenacious
is dripping from the amplifier bureaus,
is hardening into the seams of time
and shoes, something bloated
is issuing from the coke works, is bloating
the dividends and bloody sails
of the hospitals like a wan breeze,
stickily intervening in the elbowing and gossiping
about professorships and primages, flowing,
something tenacious that kills salmon,
into the rivers and leaking, colourlessly,
and killing the flounder on the banks.

the minority has the majority,
the dead are out-voted.

in the state printing shops
deceitful lead is arming itself,
the ministries are haggling, august
smells of phlox and dead resolutions.
the plenum is empty.
in the sky above the radar spider
is writing its tenacious web.

already the tankers on their slipways
know it before the pilot appears
and the embryo darkly knows it
in its warm, throbbing coffin:
something is in the air, sticky
and tenacious, something that has no colour
(only the young shares don’t sense it):
it’s against us, against starfish
and cereals. and we eat of it
and incorporate something tenacious
and sleep during the blooming boom,
the five year plan, sleeping
unsuspecting in burning shirts,
encircled like hostages by a tenacious,
colourless, bloated maw.

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on January 15, 2011.

5 Responses to “Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Two Early Poems”

  1. OH MY GOD! THESE ARE EXCELLENT! So much so, I’m bookmarking the page. This is how I want to write. Thank you so much for sharing these! I’m still trembling on the couch.

  2. I was so excited, I forgot to say, great picture too!

  3. […] -visit two beautiful German poems by Han-Magnus Enzensberger- […]

  4. […] -visit two beautiful German poems by Han-Magnus Enzensberger– […]

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