Enzensberger, Titanic I

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[My contribution to the US elections tomorrow. ‘The beginning of the end/is always discreet’. A translation of the great German poet Hans-Magnus Enzensberger’s The Sinking of the Titanic, a long poem he started writing while staying in Havana in the late 1960s, as a then leftist becoming disillusioned with the Cuban reality under Castro. This is the first Canto of the suite.]

Hans-Magnus Enzensberger: The Sinking of the Titanic (First Canto)

Translated by Peter Lach-Newinsky

Someone is listening. He is waiting. He is holding
his breath, very close by,
here. He says: the person speaking there, that’s me.

Never again, he says,
will it be as quiet,
as dry and warm as now.

He hears himself
in his droning head.
There is no one there except for him

who says: that must be me.
I wait, hold my breath.
Listen. The distant noise

in my ears, these antennae
of soft flesh, means nothing.
It’s only the blood

beating in my veins.
I have been waiting a long time,
breath held.

White noise in the earphones
of my time machine.
Mute cosmic static.

No knocking on the wall. No scream for help.
No radio signal, nothing.
Either it’s all over,

I tell myself, or it has
not yet begun.
But now! Now

a scraping sound. A creaking. A crack.
This is it. An icy fingernail
scratching at the door, stalling.

Something is tearing.
An endless length of canvas,
a snow white strip of linen

first slowly,
then faster and ever faster,
is rent in two, hissing.

This is the beginning.
Listen. Don’t you hear it?
Hang on tight!

Then it’s quiet again.
Only in the cupboards
a thin tinkle

a trembling of crystal
becoming weaker,
dying away.

That was it.
Was that it? Yes,
that must have been it.

That was the beginning.
The beginning of the end
is always discreet.

It is eleven forty
on board. The steel skin
under the waterline gapes

two hundred metres long
slit open
by an unimaginable knife.

The water is shooting into the bulkheads.
Past the glittering hull
glides, thirty metres

above sea level, black
and silent, the iceberg,
and is left behind in the dark.

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 8, 2016.

One Response to “Enzensberger, Titanic I”

  1. hang on tight is right !

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