Erich Fried, Four Poems

[My translations of four poems by Erich Fried: 1921-1988; Austrian Jew; after his father was arrested in 1938 emigrated to London where he stayed and worked for the BBC; did admired translations of Shakespeare; much engaged in the political activism of the 68 generation; his poetry books still sell in the thousands annually]

Homecoming

What have you seen?
A king on a heath
in a storm

What have you seen?
A child in the well,
its mother at a dance

What else have you seen?
Bodies
fattened with hunger

What else have you seen?
A cloud
on a town

Who was powerful?
The king was powerful with impotence
The child was mighty in its mother
The dance was mighty in the tavern beside the well
The hunger was mighty in its fattened bodies
The storm was mighty, the cloud and its town

Which of them do you love?
The king, the storm and the heath
the child and the mother
the bodies fattened by hunger
the well, the tavern, the dance
the cloud and its town

Good: you can die.

Longing for Home

On the mountain stands my house
easy to see from the sea
Its walls are wounds

On the mountain stands my house
on the mountain without a well
without drink for thirst
Its windows are the eyes of fever

On the mountain stands my house
a flag in the land
but spindly, but sick
Its windows are thirsty eyes
Its stairs are drumming pulses

On the mountain stands my house
in the angry sun
When the wind bears sparks
it must burn down
When the wind bears flakes
it must freeze to death
A sick flag
my house on the mountain

On the mountain stands my house
that I see
Drumming pulses are its stairs
that I do not climb
Thirsty eyes are its windows
that I do not open

When the wind bears flakes
I feel myself freeze
When the wind bears sparks
I feel myself burn
easy to see from the sea
sick a spindly flag
in my house on the mountain
where I am not

Reasons

‘Because all that won’t help
They do what they want anyway

Because I don’t want
to get burned again

Because there’ll just be laughter:
You’re just the one they’ve been waiting for

And why always me?
Nobody will thank me for it

Because nobody understands it anymore
but at best will go even more to pieces

Because every bad
maybe has a good side

Because it’s a matter of opinion
and anyway who should you believe?

Because the other side
can’t work miracles either

Because I’d rather
leave that to more knowledgeable people

Because you never know
how that could harm you

Because it’s not worth the effort
because they’re all not worth it’

Those are causes of death
to write on our graves

which will be dug no longer
if those are the causes

The Execution

Three trees were
found guilty by court of law
of providing shelter
with their leaves to the strangers

The verdict was executed
in front of the gathered people
the children at the front
with their teachers according to school

The trees were
first robbed of their leaves
then hung by their branches
so they swung when the wind came

The children sang
the song about sylvan solitude
and pressed leaves in textbooks
as a warning

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 7, 2011.

2 Responses to “Erich Fried, Four Poems”

  1. Thank you again for providing English readers with fine German poems. I would recommend that with your translations you provide the German text along side your translation through a two column document.

    Best wishes in your endeavours.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jim, much appreciated. I agree with you that having the original language texts next to translations is a great idea in principle. Unfortunately digging up the original German poems, then transcribing them and then also changing to a two column wordpress theme would involve a huge amount of time that I just don’t have at the moment. All the best, P.

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