Tag Archives: Gottfried Benn

My Home Library: The German Expressionist Poets

It was absolutely normal for me to read “beyond my age”, so to say. When I was seven, I read Oscar Wilde’s tales, Voynich’s Gadfly, and the ancient myths. The book in Russian that you see in the photo was printed in 1990, so it was around the age of 10 that I first read the poems by German Expressionists. Being rather savvy for my age, I knew at least one of them by name: it was Bertolt Brecht, although as we know he did not remain an Expressionist for too long, just as Boris Pasternak moved on from Futurism fairly quickly. Back then I was, erm, thrilled to be able to read certain words that would be considered foul language (I understand now it prepared me for reading Henry Miller on the Moscow Underground a decade later). I remember being particularly impressed by the poetry of Gottfried Benn. However, he wrote truly lyrical poems, as well:
Gottfried Benn – Asters
Asters—sweltering days,
old entreaty, spell,
the gods shed timid rays,
an hour upon the scale.
Once more the golden flocks,
the sky, the light, the veil.
What breeds the familiar flux
of wings before they fail?
Once more now the lust,
the rush of roses, and you—
the summer’s leaned to watch
the swallows skirt the dew,
and once more does not falter,
sure dark precedes new light:
the swallows drink the water
and fade into the night.
Another poet I took a notice of (thanks to a brilliant Russian translation by V. Toporov) was Georg Heym. You can browse his poems in German here.
Georg Heym – Der Hunger
Er fuhr in einen Hund, dem groß er sperrt
Das rote Maul. Die blaue Zunge wirft
Sich lang heraus. Er wälzt im Staub. Er schlürft
Verwelktes Gras, das er dem Sand entzerrt.

Sein leerer Schlund ist wie ein großes Tor,
Drin Feuer sickert, langsam, tropfenweis,
Das ihm den Bauch verbrennt. Dann wäscht mit Eis
Ihm eine Hand das heiße Speiserohr.

Er wankt durch Dampf. Die Sonne ist ein Fleck,
Ein rotes Ofentor. Ein grüner Halbmond führt
Vor seinen Augen Tänze. Er ist weg.

Ein schwarzes Loch gähnt, draus die Kälte stiert.
Er fällt hinab, und fühlt noch, wie der Schreck
Mit Eisenfäusten seine Gurgel schnürt.
Георг Гейм – Голод
Торчит у шавки в горле, точно кость
Кровавая… Синюшным языком
Собака лижет клочья трав с песком,
А голод пробурил ее насквозь.
Разинута, как семивратье, пасть.
Огонь сочится каплями в живот
И жжет его… Покуда пищевод
Как лед не станет, распалившись всласть.
Все как в тумане. Солнце лишь пятно.
Печь пышущая… Квелая луна
Перед глазами пляшет. Надо прочь.
Как чернота, зияет белизна.
Ошейником тоски сдавила ночь
Дыханье. Только сдохнуть суждено.
(Перевод – В. Топоров / Translated into Russian by V. Toporov)