Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two by Randall Jarrell

"Deutsch durch Freud"

I believe my favorite country’s German.

I wander in a calm folk-colored daze; the infant
Looks down upon me from his mother’s arms
And says—oh, God knows what he says!
It’s baby-talk? he’s sick? or is it German?
That Nachtigallenchor: does it sing German?
Yoh, yoh: here mice, rats, tables, chairs,
Grossmütter, Kinder, der Herrgott im Himmel,
All, all but I—
all, all but I—
speak German.

Have you too sometimes, by the fire, at evening,
Wished that you were—whatever you once were?
It is ignorance alone that is enchanting.
Dearer to me than all the treasures of the earth
Is something living, said old Rumpelstiltskin
And hopped home. Charcoal-burners heard him singing
And spoiled it all… And all because—
If only he hadn’t known his name!

In German I don’t know my name.
I am the log
The fairies left one morning in my place.
—In German I believe in them, in everything:
The world is everything that is the case.
How clever people are! I look on open-mouthed
As Kant reels down the road im Morgenrot
Humming Mir is so bang, so bang mein Schatz
All the nixies set their watches by him
Two hours too fast…
I think, My calendar’s
Two centuries too fast, and give a sigh
Of trust. I reach out for the world and ask
The price; it answers, One touch of your finger.

In all my Germany there’s no Gesellschaft
But one between eine Katze and ein Maus.
What’s business? what’s a teaspoon? what’s a sidewalk?
Schweig stille, meine Seele! Such things are not for thee!
It is by Trust, and Love, and reading Rilke
Without ein Wörterbuch, that man learns German.
The Word rains in upon his blessed head
As glistening as from the hand of God
And means—what does it mean? Ah well, it’s German.
Glaube, mein herz! A Feeling in the Dark
Brings worlds, brings words that hard-eyed Industry
And all the schools’ dark Learning never knew.

And yet it’s hard sometimes, I won’t deny it.
Take for example my own favorite daemon,
Dear good great Goethe: ach, what German!
Very idiomatic, very noble; very like a sibyl.
My favorite style is Leupold von Lerchnau’s.
I’ve memorized his da und da und da und da
And whisper it when Life is dark and Death is dark.
There was someone who knew how to speak
To us poor Kinder here im Fremde.
And Heine! At the ninety-sixth mir traümte
I sigh as a poet, but dimple as ein Schuler.
And yet—if it’s easy is it German?
And yet, that wunderschöne Lindenbaum
Im Mondenscheine! What if it is in Schilda?
It's moonlight, isn't it? Mund, Mond, Herz, and Schmerz
Sing round my head, in Zeit and Ewigkeit,
And my heart lightens at each Sorge, each Angst:
I know them well. And Schiksal! Ach, you Norns,
As I read I hear your—what's the word for scissors?
And Katzen have Tatzen—why can't I call someone Kind?
What a speech for Poetry (especially Folk-)!

And yet when, in my dreams, eine schwartzbraune Hexe
(Who mows on the Neckar, reaps upon the Rhine)
Riffles my yellow ringlets through her fingers,
She only asks me questions: What is soap?
I don't know. A suitcase? I don't know. A visit?
I laugh with joy, and try to say like Lehmann:
"Quin-quin, es ist ein Besuch!"
Ah, German!
Till the day I die I'll be in love with German
—If only I don't learn German&hellips;I can hear my broken
Voice murmuring to der Arzt: "Ich—sterber?"
He answers sympathetically: "Nein—sterbe."

If God gave me the choice—but I stole this from Lessing—
Of German and learning German, I'd say: Keep your German!

The thought of knowing German terrifies me.
—But surely, this way, no one could learn German
And yet&hellips;
It's difficult; is it impossible?
I'm hopeful that it is, but I can't say
For certain: I don't know enough German.

Each day brings its toad, each night its dragon.
Der heilige Hieronymus—his lion is at the zoo—
Listens listens. All the long, soft, summer day
Dreams affright his couch, the deep boils like a pot.
As the sun sets, the last patient rises,
Says to him, Father; trembles, turns away.

Often, to the lion, the saint said, Son.
To the man the saint says—but the man is gone.
Under a plaque of Gradiva, at gloaming,
The old man boils an egg. When he has eaten
He listens a while. The patients have not stopped.
At midnight, he lies down where his patients lay.

All night the old man whispers to the night.
It listens evenly. The great armored paws
Of its forelegs put together in reflection,
It thinks: Where Ego was, there Id shall be.
The world wrestles with it and is changed into it
And after a long time changes it. The dragon

Listens as the old man says, at dawn: I see
—There is an old man, naked, in a desert, by a cliff.
He has set out his books, his hat, his ink, his shears
Among scorpions, toads, the wild beasts of the desert.
I lie beside him—I am a lion.
He kneels listening. He holds in his left hand
The stone with which he beats his breast, and holds
In his right hand, the pen with which he puts
Into his book, the words of the angel:
The angel up into whose face he looks.
But the angel does not speak. He looks into the face
Of the night, and the night says—but the night is gone.

He has slept&hellips; At morning, when man's flesh is young
And man's soul thankful for it knows not what,
The air is washed, and smells of boiling coffee,
And the sun lights it. The old man walks placidly
To the grocer's; walks on, under leaves, in light,
To a lynx, a leopard—he has come:

The man holds out a lump of liver to the lion,
And the lion licks the man's hand with his tongue.

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