Durs Grünbein, Three Poems

[My translations of three poems by German poet Durs Grünbein: b. 1962; first collection written mid-eighties in GDR; several prestigious prizes; Professor of Poetics in Düsseldorf since 2005; ‘[poetry] seems to be immediately connected with every landscape: as if through air roots in the pull of all the specific features of flora and fauna, all ways of speaking, perspectives, taxa of the living and the dead. In poetry the different regions seem to come closer: the visual cortex here touches the language centre, the auditory area borders on the centres for movement and rhythm, and everything together is rooted as if over a limbic nerve plexus in the precognitive animal regions, closer to fear, lust, aggression. And now and again poetry looks out with the great eyes of the beast…Unheard of is its gestural wealth, unforeseeable its choreography of rhetorical figures. Long before the introduction of computers and any neuro-romanticism poetry was at home in the virtual world, only every fish soup, every hair, every grain of sand shall always continue to return unharmed from the vasts of its lexical space’]

For an Okapi in the Munich Zoo

That a steel door should open and a beast of fable
Enter its last cage because it’s time to feed,
Because the warden wants home and the audience is laughing,
Is not recorded in any unicorn legend. Okapi ‒
A word from the jungle languages no one speaks anymore.
Too short for the savannahs, its patient, rust brown neck
Has deserved the straw bale, the barred pen.
For the deforested world would be alien for it, as alien
As a combined animal for the distracted visitor,
Half giraffe, half zebra, and equally distant
From childhood’s shadows, the picture book silhouettes of both.
Another ruminant of forgotten times, a guard
Installed at the zoological wayside like a warning
Of the exotic nature of the survivors, lonely in their ways.

Complaint of a Legionary, from Germanicus’ Campaign to the Elbe

Nothing is worse than this deadly way back
After a battle, and thinking about it
Weeks before the enemy has shown himself.
The General’s face is sombre,
The troops exhausted, no forced march now possible.
Behind their shields, bathed in sweat, their feet raw,
The rest of the still unwounded walk. In the permanent rain
The roads have sunk in mud, the woods
One great ambush and the barbarians in packs
Are biting bits out of our backs, the wolves.
Whoever was not drowned in the northern sea, far from home,
Is swallowed by the swamps, far from Rome.
Night time the morass holds the whole legion,
Day time it’s the rotten levees, broken ladders,
From the edges of which the soldier slips,
Fingers broken. The land lies in fog
Like a group of islands in the sea…Germania Magna,
Where the forests are still dense, no tree
Floats on the ocean as a galley bench
Or burning rump. Hopeless
The war for provinces big as a continent,
For regions that can’t be held
Except by new wars. In the forest depths
Triumph is lost, the Latin order.
And when you, years older, finally come home,
The Teuton is standing at your door, and your
Wife’s straw-blond child waves to you.

Comma and Colon

Must always go out, raw the air, only then,
From ambush walls, breaks the familiar tone.
Front city: no one, no one does she really regard,
She who, shattered, imperturbably is there enthroned.
Did not, from the first day, grit rub at the gums?
Double grows the ground for all who live here.

As relaxed as are the skies, so cramped deep the ground.
The Brandenburg Gate stands in a sea of noise.
This the place where words (read: Mein Kampf)
Became deeds under Thor’s iron hammer.
No, no bunker’s flue, a drain is steaming.
Still can’t say what I lost here.

Evening papers whirl, hard as glue the street’s edge.
Bare the lime trees, spared the goosestep.
From blockades we learn: save yourself, the devil take the hindmost.
Am only comma here, colon cutting frosty air.
Join, invisible, posterity’s everyday.
The ear, posthumously, is used to this roar.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on June 15, 2012.

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