?From the great beyond into the present? ? an interview with Jo Lendle

Hanser publisher Jo Lendle talks about gentle adjustments of languages and marketing strategies.... more more

GoetheInstitute

11/07/2006

Robert Gernhardt's last call

A selection of poems and drawings by the late Robert Gernhardt.

Robert Gernhardt, one of Germany's most-loved poets, died in Frankfurt at the end of June. Born in 1937 in Reval in Estonia, Gernhardt studied painting and German in Stuttgart and Berlin. From 1964 until his death he lived in Frankfurt, where he worked as writer, painter and caricaturist. His lively cross-genre publishing activities soon made him the leading figure of the "New Frankfurt School" of writers and artists behind the satirical magazine Pardon in the 1960s and 70s and after 1979, Titanic. Here is a small selection of his poems translated into English by Ursula Runde, some of which have appeared in Poetry Magazine, and sketches from Gernhardt's "German Readers" series.

All about the artist | Always | Reflections on an obscene drawing (as seen on the walls the adult education centre) | Ballad of Depicting the Light | Not really, no | Guarding my Body | Last Call



All about the artist
(Alles über den Künstler. In Lichte Gedichte, p. 87)

The artist skates on ice that's thin:
Creating art – straight for the bin?

The artist to his fate is blind:
Will he gain glory? Lose his mind?

The artist falls with end unknown.
Soared like a star? Dropped like a stone?


Always
(Immer)

Always someone swifter than you

You crawl
He walks
You walk
He runs
You run
He flies:

There's always someone still swifter than you.

Always someone more gifted than you

You read
He learns
You learn
He seeks
You seek
He finds out:

There's always someone still more gifted than you.

Always someone more famous than you

You're in the papers
He's in the encyclopedia
You're in the encyclopedia
He's in Who’s Who
You're in Who’s Who
He's a monument:

There's always someone still more famous than you.

Always someone richer than you

Your book is reviewed
His is read
Your book is read
His is devoured
Yours is treasured
His is bought:

There's always someone still richer than you.

Always someone more popular than you

You are praised
He is loved
You are honoured
He is adored
They lie at your feet
They chair him on their shoulders

There's always someone still more popular than you.

Always someone better than you

You are ailing
He languishes
You die
He passes away
You are judged
He is redeemed

There's always someone still better than you
Always
Always
Always


Reflections on an obscene drawing (as seen on the walls the adult education centre)
(Obszöne Zeichnung am Volksbildungsheim)

Prick on the wall –
standing proud, standing tall.

Painted it myself
once on this partition,
when my own appendage was
still in prime condition.

Captured it with felt-tip pen
during daylight hours,
cupped it tenderly at night,
marvelled at its powers.

That this is all so long ago
does not make me sad.
That hands still decorate these walls
is reason to be glad.

Even if no prick of mine
serves as inspiration,
there'll always be one standing up
symbolic of creation.

Rising to a mighty height
from balls both tight and tender,
spurting out the juice of life,
a tribute to its gender.

Prick on the wall,
taking the piss.
We think it's ours,
in fact we are HIS.


Ballad of Depicting the Light
(Ballade von der Lichtmalerei. Lichte Gedichte, p. 116)

Put some things in the light and watch
what the light will do to such things.
If you think you’ll be busy all morning and noon,
just see what the evening brings.

If to watch the light shifting will not suffice
but you want to catch it as well,
you’ll be joining the torchlight procession of those
who know light is heaven and hell.

The torch has passed through many a hand,
from van Eyck to de Hooch and Vermeer.
It shed light on Kersting and Eckersberg
and also forced Hopper's sad tear.

The torch bearer's moments are precious but brief,
as his own life will soon flicker low.
But even when darkness descends upon him
the torch will continue to glow.

It will glow for as long as someone will take things
and watch as they go dark and bright.
It will glow for as long as someone will catch
what happens to things in the light.


Not really, no
(Eigentlich nicht, Lichte Gedichte, p. 15)

It's not really a process of looking
when someone knows where something is.

It's not really a process of finding
when you find something you didn’t miss.

It's not really a process of loving
when you're holding to ransom your love.

It's not really a process of holding
when you drop her as push comes to shove.


Guarding my Body
(Siebenmal mein Körper)

My body is without defence,
how lucky it's got me.
I keep it warm in woollen cloth,
it gets it all for free.

My body's well provided for
with bread and wine and stews.
It never seems to get enough
and afterwards it spews.

My body does not what it's told,
it does what I may not.
I'm fond of pictures, music, words,
it just finds bodies hot.

My body turns out lots of things
like blood and sweat and tears.
I wash it, dry it, keep it neat
from toenails to the ears.

My body knows no common sense,
just greed and sloth and lust.
I watch it as it falls apart
and mend it in good trust.

My body hasn't thanked me yet,
it’s often hurting me.
I move it up the hill and down
and drive it to the sea.

My body never talks to me,
it has no social skill.
I pander to its slightest whim,
it’s waiting for the kill.


Last Call
(Ach. Lichte Gedichte, p. 206)

Right up to my final hour
I'll be obliging and polite.
Should I hear Death firmly knocking
I'll shout at once: come in! Alright?

What’s on the schedule? Is it dying?
Well, that’s something rather new.
But I’m sure that we can swing it,
showing them a thing or two.

What is this? Your hour glass?
Interesting! And good to grasp.
And the scythe is for grim reaping,
did you say? I’d thought I’d ask.

Which way should I turn from here?
To the left? From where you stand?
Well, alright then. To the graveyard?
Where I take my final hand?

Yes, the glass is out of sand now.
Oh, I see, you want it back.
May I ask you where you got it?
So unusual, all in black.

Is it antique? Oh well, whatever.
I only meant to ask, old chap –
What? No questions? No more talking?
That's fine by me. I'll shut my -


*

Robert Gernhardt's poems are published in German by Fischer Verlag. The "German Readers" sketches are published in "Vom Schönen, Guten, Baren" by Diana Verlag.

All poems translated by from the German by Ursula Runde

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

No one is indestructible

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TeaserPicA precision engineer of the emotions, Peter Nadas traces the European upheavals of the past century in his colossal and epic novel "Parallel Stories", which was published in English in December. The core and epicentre of the novel is the body, which bears the marks of history and trauma. In his seemingly chaotic intertwining of lives and stories, Nadas penetrates the depths of the human animal with unique insight. A review by Joachim Sartorius
read more

Road tripping across the ideological divide

Wednesday 1 February, 2012

TeaserPicThe USA and the USSR should not simply be thought of as arch enemies of the Cold War. Beyond ideology, the two nations were deeply interested in one another. Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov were thrilled by the American Way of Life in 1935/6, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa praised the sheer vitality of the Russian people in 1947. Historian Karl Schlögel reviews a perfect pair of travel journals. Photo by Ilf and Petrov.
read more

Language without a childhood

Monday 23 January 2012

TeaserPicTurkish-born author, actor and director Emine Sevgi Özdamar was recently awarded the Alice Salomon Prize for Poetics. Coming to West Berlin in 1965, Özdamar first learned German at the age of 19. After stage school she went on to become the directorial assistant to Benno Besson and Matthias Langhoff at the Volksbühne in East Berlin while still living in West Berlin. Harald Jähner warmly lauds the author's uniquely visual sense of her acquired language and her ability to overcome the seemingly insurmountable dividing line through the city.
read more

Friendship in the time of terror

Monday 9 January 2012

Nadezhda Mandelstam's personal memories of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her intimate friend, offer a unique and moving testimony to friendship and resistance over decades of persecution. Published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the text is still unavailable in English but has recently been translated into German. A unique historical document, celebrating an intellectual icon in an age of horror. Portrait of Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
read more

Just one drop of forgetfulness

Thursday 8 December, 2011

TeaserPicThis year is the 200th anniversary of the death of German writer Heinrich von Kleist. The author Gertrud Leutenegger has a very Kleistian afternoon on Elba, when she encounters the Marquise von O in the waiting room of a very strange eye doctor.
read more

German Book Prize 2011 - the short list

Tuesday 4 October, 2011

TeaserPicEugen Ruge has won the German Book Prize with his novel "In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts" (In times of fading light), an autobiographical story of an East German family. The award is presented to the best German-language novel just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here we present this year's six shortlisted authors and exclusive English translations of excerpts from their novels.

read more

Torment and blessing

Wednesday 28 September, 2011

Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu escaped into exile in Germany in July this year. His new book about his life in Chongqing prison has just been published in German as "Für Ein Lied und Hundert Lieder". Both book and author have a life-threatening odyssey behind them. I am overjoyed that Liao Yiwu is here with us and not at home in prison. By Herta Müller
read more

In the vortex of congealed time

Monday 12 September, 2011

No other European city suffered more in World War II than Leningrad under siege, when over a million people lost their lives. Russian literature delivers a rich testimony of the events which have been all but forgotten by the West. Only a few works, though, also do the disaster aesthetic justice. By Oleg Yuriev
read more

My unrelenting vice

Tuesday 6 September 2011

In this apology for the vice of reading, Bora Cosic describes the magnificent and fantastic discoveries of one of its practitioners – revealing how texts contain what we bring to them, how we sometimes read without reading and how books are not only found in books but many other places. 
read more

Potential market, no buyers

Monday 4 July, 2011

The most successful Croatian book of 2008 sold exactly 1,904 copies. Not what one could really call a market, although together the successor republics represent a single language community. A look at the situation of publishers and authors in the former Yugoslavia. By Norbert Mappes-Niediek.
read more

Head versus hand

Monday 27 June, 2011

TeaserPicThis year's German International Literature Award goes to "Venushaar", a Russian novel that starts out as a dialogue between an asylum seeker and an immigration officer, and opens into a vast choir of voices. A conversation with its author Mikhail Shishkin, a literary giant in his own country, and his German translator Andreas Tretner. By Ekkehard Knörer. (Image: Mikhail Shishkin © Yvonne Böhler)
read more

Cry for life

Monday 20 May, 2011

Algeria's youth: Frustrated, isolated and in the stranglehold of clandestine political structures. Young Algerians are rebelling against being locked in traditional political and social structures, but have no chance of a national uprising like that in Tunisia, says Algerian author Boualem Sansal. An interview with Reiner Wandler.
read more

Witness to intellectual suicide

Tuesday 3 May, 2011

TeaserPicOn what would have been Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran's 100th birthday, Suhrkamp has published a volume of his essays from the 1930s, "Über Deutschland". Effervescing with enthusiasm for Hitler and fascist ideas, they cast a dark shadow over his later writing. Fritz Raddatz wishes he'd never had to read such abominations and bids a former companion a bitter farewell. Photo: E.M. Cioran © Surhrkamp Verlag
read more

RIP Andre Müller

Wednesday 13 April, 2011

TeaserPicAndre Müller Germany's most insightful and most feared interviewer is dead. Elfriede Jelinek said of him in her obituary: "Andre Müller goes all the way into people and then he makes them into language, and only then do they become themselves." Read his interviews with Ingmar Bergman and Hitler's sculptor Arno Breker in English. Photo courtesy Bibliothek der Provinz
read more

A country on the edge of time

Monday 4 April, 2011

TeaserPicSerbia was the country in focus at this year's Leipzig Book Fair – its extensive literature seems to be bound up in the straitjacket of politics. Serbia is having a hard time with Europe, and Europe is having a hard time with Serbia. Although there are signs of a softening stance, the country is still locked up in the self-imposed nationalist isolation into which it manoeuvred itself as the aggressor in the Yugoslavian war of secession. A visit there inspires mixed feelings. By Jörg Plath
Photo: Sreten Ugricic
read more