Monday, May 26, 2008

Yet more Benn

And this - variations on Benn's famous 'Gesange' (umlaut walkabout alert), specifically of Babette Deutsch's famous translation (which I won't post here as it is so widely available):

Variations on a Form by Gottfried Benn

O that we were our Tsarist predecessors.
A little clump of dimwits in a country house.
Then life and death, and tea and cards and talk
would still be something really very nice.

A landlord’s agent or a simple dunce,
wig-wearing, plump, yet strong-toothed like a vice.
A peck of grain, a goose, an evening with a girl —
help yourself, old boy, we’d chortle; don’t think twice!

Despicable, the sergeants and the commissars.
Preferment, justice, farming, all are vile.
We are such effective bureaucrats,
but write off-duty ditties in a lumpen style.

The arctic inlet. The woods’ darkling cries.
The grave stars, huge on the rumbling tanks.
The submarine rises soundlessly from the lake.
And the shore is bleak. And always Joseph rants. —

O that we were the pioneers of English botany.
A scene of livewires in the Civil War.
Then wort and reed and buttockspur and clod
might be our contribution to the lore.

A leaf of alga or a massive fungal bloom,
piquant and swollen like my lady’s womb.
Angel’s-wing or fly’s-head orchid; name
and name and name. But still the sense of doom.

Despicable, the walkers and the lists,
taxa, knowledge, hybrids in a vial.
It makes me sick: we play too much the gods
yet my heart stops at the sun on a sundial.

Standing water. The yet unsurveyed wood.
Tiny stars among the flowering snowdrops.
The bug squats nameless on the tree’s bark.
I pin it in a drawer. And there it stops. —

O that we wear our Primal Scream t-shirts.
A little line of speed in a pub bog.
Then drink and sex, and pregnancy and birth
would matter less than our next trip to Prague.

A Rizla paper or a simple pint,
gassy and full in my rooted clutch.
Gulls alongside the boat, a schoolgirl giving head.
I learn ‘a coffee shop’ in Dutch.

Desirable, the lovers and the mockers,
daring, longing, hopefully we smile.
We are such sickly, such corrupted gods.
One of us vomits halfway down the aisle.

The gentle harbour. The lack of dreams.
The pop stars, transient as summer snow.
We shuffle blearily towards the waiting coach
and we’re ashore. And off to buy some blow. —

O that we were our primate ancestors.
A little bunch of apes at the forest’s edge.
Then life and death, and pregnancy and birth
would mean chewing constantly on roots of sedge.

A life as alpha or a simpering runt,
airborne yet tethered by its four-limbed clutch.
Swinging a handy rock, smashing in a head
would be our culture, thank you very much. —

Disposable, romantic love, ideals.
Opinions, voting, principles, in vain.
We shun the sick, and let corruption grow
yet flatter ourselves with more than monkey-brains.

Banana splits. The forest’s frenzied dreams.
The distant stars in their grand inscrutable shapes.
The shadows leap wordlessly through the trees.
Our wide eyes stare. And we are also apes. —

Odette, we were in our prime. Alan says so.
A little club of two in a warm bed.
Then life handed us a permanent breach
via that plump nymph you’d asked me not to wed.

I leave for Calgary or somewhere soon.
When safely out I’ll make for you. I clutch
a girl on a swing, it’s what I reckon by.
But we’re altered long ago, and stuff. Your touch —

Dispensed my uppers and my downers,
a spare, long without hope, forlorn, I
prepare such sick, such abrupt words.
I’ve lived my life backwards, I realise.

Gently I replace the handset. An answering machine.
The grave stares. You bother me no more.
In my pants I sleep through the sound of the trees,
sure that this is me always. And then old Alan calls. —



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