Sunday, March 20, 2016

World’s End

            after Jakob van Hoddis’s expressionist poem

The sharp-headed citizen grasps at his flying headdress.
A hell of a racket is busting out from here to there.
The roofs are too steep for the tilers split asunder.
Watching the news we are rudely confronted by rising seas.

The storm is upon us, demented waves pole-vault
Beaches and thrust inland to take out the dams.
Most of us have runny noses, which goes with the gestalt.
Coal-bearing rails cascade down from railway bridges.

            John Kinsella

Note: Jakob van Hoddis (Hans Davidsohn) was born in 1887 to a German-Jewish family in Berlin and was murdered by the Nazis in 1942. He published one book of poetry during his lifetime, Weltende, in 1918, though his poetry was collected in 1958. He was resident for some years 'in care' (he suffered from schizophrenia) in Tübingen. There are public steps named after him in Tübingen (that were earlier named after a Nazi doctor, but finally renamed in 1992), and also a plaque on a residential building to mark where he lived. It is not far from where we are staying. The 'expressionist' poem 'Weltende' of which I offer a version (above — I have taken great liberties, but it seems such a prescient poem that I think it works as a commentary on human environmental impact), was published in 1911, and had significant influence on innovative German-language poetry of the time. Hoddis was unable to escape Germany with the rest of his family to Tel Aviv in 1933 due to the British authorities refusing him an entry certificate on the grounds of his mental health condition. The German Wikipedia entry carries far more information on him than the English version.

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