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To the boy Elis
by Georg Trakl
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Elis, when the blackbird cries from the black forest,
it announces your downfall.
Your lips sip the rock-spring's blue coolness.

Your brow sweats blood
recalling ancient myths
and dark interpretations of birds' flight.

Yet you enter the night with soft footfalls;
the ripe purple grapes hang suspended
as you wave your arms more beautifully in the blueness.

A thornbush crackles;
where now are your moonlike eyes?
How long, oh Elis, have you been dead?

A monk dips waxed fingers
into your body's hyacinth;
Our silence is a black abyss

from which sometimes a docile animal emerges
slowly lowering its heavy lids.
A black dew drips from your temples:

the lost gold of vanished stars.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: I believe that in the second stanza the blood on Elis's forehead may be a reference to the apprehensive ****** sweat of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. If my interpretation is correct, Elis hears the blackbird's cries, anticipates the danger represented by a harbinger of death, but elects to continue rather than turn back. From what I have been able to gather, the color blue had a special significance for Georg Trakl: it symbolized longing and perhaps a longing for death. The colors blue, purple and black may represent a progression toward death in the poem. Keywords/Tags: Georg Trakl, translation, German, Elis, blackbird, black forest, birds, brow, blood, grapes, monk, body, dew, stars
To the boy Elis
by Georg Trakl
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Elis, when the blackbird cries from the black forest,
it announces your downfall.
Your lips sip the rock-spring's blue coolness.

Your brow sweats blood
recalling ancient myths
and dark interpretations of birds' flight.

Yet you enter the night with soft footfalls;
the ripe purple grapes hang suspended
as you wave your arms more beautifully in the blueness.

A thornbush crackles;
where now are your moonlike eyes?
How long, oh Elis, have you been dead?

A monk dips waxed fingers
into your body's hyacinth;
Our silence is a black abyss

from which sometimes a docile animal emerges
slowly lowering its heavy lids.
A black dew drips from your temples:

the lost gold of vanished stars.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: I believe that in the second stanza the blood on Elis's forehead may be a reference to the apprehensive ****** sweat of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. If my interpretation is correct, Elis hears the blackbird's cries, anticipates the danger represented by a harbinger of death, but elects to continue rather than turn back. From what I have been able to gather, the color blue had a special significance for Georg Trakl: it symbolized longing and perhaps a longing for death. The colors blue, purple and black may represent a progression toward death in the poem. Keywords/Tags: Georg Trakl, translation, German, Elis, blackbird, black forest, birds, brow, blood, grapes, monk, body, dew, stars
Die Maske des Bösen (“The Mask of Evil”)
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A Japanese woodcarving hangs on my wall—
the mask of an ancient demon, limned with golden lacquer.
Not unsympathetically, I observe
the forehead’s bulging veins,
the strain
such malevolence requires.

Original German text:

Die Maske des Bösen

An meiner Wand hängt ein japanisches Holzwerk
Maske eines bösen Dämons, bemalt mit Goldlack.
Mitfühlend sehe ich
Die geschwollenen Stirnadern, andeutend
Wie anstrengend es ist, böse zu sein.

Bertolt Brecht [1898-1956] was a major German poet, playwright, novelist, humorist, essayist, theater director and songwriter. Brecht fled Germany in 1933, when ****** assumed power. A number of Brecht's poems were written from the perspective of a man who sees his country becoming increasingly fascist, xenophobic and militaristic. Keywords/Tags: Bertolt Brecht, German, translation, Holocaust, poem, Japanese, carving, mask, demon, evil, malevolence, sympathy, compassion, understanding, feeling, forehead, veins, swollen, bulging, effort, strain, exhausting, concentration, suggest, suggesting, suggestive, demonstrating, revealing, showing, wall, gold, golden, lacquer, paint, woodwork, totem, malice, hatred, enmity, spite, spitefulness, animosity, anger, maliciousness, malignancy, venom, spleen, viciousness
Bertolt, Brecht, German, translation, Holocaust, poem, Japanese, carving, mask, demon, evil, malevolence
You Were My Death
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You were my death;
I could hold you
when everything abandoned me—
even breath.

Paul Celan (1920-1970) was a Romanian Jew who wrote poems in German. He survived the Holocaust, despite the loss of his mother and father, to become one of the major German-language poets of the post–World War II era. His parents' deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust have been called the "defining forces" in Celan's poetry.

Keywords/Tags: Paul Celan, Holocaust poems, Holocaust poetry, Shoah, German, translation, death, breath, abandoned, abandonment, hold, holding, Germany, racism, antisemitism, injustice, brutality, genocide, ethnic cleansing, World War II, world conflicts
O, Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, little root of a dream
you enmire me here;
I’m undermined by blood―
made invisible,
death's possession.

Touch the curve of my face,
that there may yet be an earthly language of ardor,
that someone else’s eyes
may somehow still see me,
though I’m blind,

here where you
deny me voice.

Paul Celan (1920-1970) was a Romanian Jew who wrote poems in German. He survived the Holocaust, despite the loss of his mother and father, to become one of the major German-language poets of the post–World War II era. His parents' deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust have been called the "defining forces" in Celan's poetry.

Keywords/Tags: Paul Celan, Holocaust poems, Holocaust poetry, Shoah, German, translation, root, dream, blood, death, face, eyes, blind, sight, seeing, vision, voice, voiceless, silent, silenced, ardor, love, passion, desire, Germany, abandoned, racism, antisemitism, injustice, brutality, genocide, ethnic cleansing, World War II, world conflicts
Todesfugue ("Death Fugue")
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
We’re digging a grave like a hole in the sky;
there’s sufficient room to lie there.
The man of the house plays with vipers; he writes
in the Teutonic darkness, “Your golden hair Margarete...”
He composes by starlight, whistles hounds to stand by,
whistles Jews to dig graves, where together they’ll lie.
He commands us to strike up bright tunes for the dance!

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come dawn, come midday, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house plays with serpents; he writes...
he writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...”
We are digging dark graves where there’s more room, on high.
His screams, “Hey you, dig there!” and “Hey you, sing and dance!”
He grabs his black nightstick, his eyes pallid blue,
screaming, “Hey you―dig deeper! You others―sing, dance!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house writes, “Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...” as he cultivates snakes.
He screams, “Play Death more sweetly! Death’s the master of Germany!”
He cries, “Scrape those dark strings, soon like black smoke you’ll rise
to your graves in the skies; there’s sufficient room for Jews there!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come midnight;
we drink you come midday; Death’s the master of Germany!
We drink you come dusk; we drink you and drink you...
He’s a master of Death, his pale eyes deathly blue.
He fires leaden slugs, his aim level and true.
He writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete...”
He unleashes his hounds, grants us graves in the skies.
He plays with his serpents; Death’s the master of Germany...

“Your golden hair Margarete...
your ashen hair Shulamith...”

Paul Celan (1920-1970) was a Romanian Jew who wrote poems in German. He survived the Holocaust, despite the loss of his mother and father, to become one of the major German-language poets of the post–World War II era. His parents' deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust have been called the "defining forces" in Celan's poetry.

Keywords/Tags: Paul Celan, Holocaust poems, Holocaust poetry, Shoah, German, translation, black, milk, drink, vipers, serpents, hounds, grave, graves, golden, hair, Margarete, Shulamith, sing, dance, Death, master, Germany, Nazis, racism, antisemitism, injustice, brutality, genocide, ethnic cleansing, World War II, world conflicts
The Mask of Evil
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A Japanese carving hangs on my wall –
the mask of an ancient demon, limned with golden lacquer.
Not altogether unsympathetically, I observe
its forehead’s bulging veins, noting
the tremendous effort such malevolence requires.

Keywords/Tags: Bertolt Brecht, German, translation, Holocaust poem, mask, evil, Japanese, carving, demon, totem, forehead, veins, bulging, effort, concentration, focus, malevolence, malice, hatred, enmity, spite, spitefulness, animosity, maliciousness, malignance, venom, spleen, viciousness
Radio Poem
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You, little box, held tightly
to me,
while escaping,
so that your delicate tubes do not break;
carried from house to house, from ship to train,
so that my enemies may continue communicating with me
on land and at sea
and even in my bed, to my pain;
the last thing I hear at night, the first thing when I awake,
recounting their many conquests and my cares,
promise me not to go silent all of a sudden,
unawares.

Keywords/Tags: Bertolt Brecht, German, translation, Holocaust, poem, radio, tubes, valves, transmission, communicate, communication, communicating, land, sea, bed, night, sleep, dawn, morning, awake, awakening, conquests, victories, triumphs, cares, losses, silence, silent
Der Abschied (“The Parting”)
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We embrace;
my fingers trace
rich cloth
while yours encounter only moth-
eaten fabric.
A quick hug:
you were invited to the gay soiree
while the minions of the "law" relentlessly pursue me.
We talk about the weather
and our eternal friendship's magic.
Anything else would be too bitter,
too tragic.

German text:

Der Abschied

Wir umarmen uns.
Ich fasse reichen Stoff
Du fassest armen.
Die Umarmung ist schnell
Du gehst zu einem Mahl
Hinter mir sind die Schergen.
Wir sprechen vom Wetter und von unserer
Dauernden Freundschaft. Alles andere
Wäre zu bitter.

Published by Poetry on Demand, The HyperTexts and Ghani Project

Keywords/Tags: Bertolt Brecht, German, translation, parting, farewell, ****, law, minions, henchmen, thugs, pursuit, chase, embrace, hug, rich, cloth, threadbare, soiree, dinner, meal, event, eternal, friendship, bitter, weather, exile
Die Bücherverbrennung ("The Burning of the Books")
by Bertolt Brecht
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When the Regime
commanded the unlawful books to be burned,
teams of dull oxen hauled huge cartloads to the bonfires.

Then a banished writer, one of the best,
scanning the list of excommunicated texts,
became enraged: he’d been excluded!

He rushed to his desk, full of contemptuous wrath,
to write fiery letters to the incompetents in power —
Burn me! he wrote with his blazing pen —
Haven’t I always reported the truth?
Now here you are, treating me like a liar!
Burn me!

German text:

Die Bücherverbrennung

Als das Regime befahl, Bücher mit schädlichem Wissen
Öffentlich zu verbrennen, und allenthalben
Ochsen gezwungen wurden, Karren mit Büchern
Zu den Scheiterhaufen zu ziehen, entdeckte
Ein verjagter Dichter, einer der besten, die Liste der
Verbrannten studierend, entsetzt, daß seine
Bücher vergessen waren. Er eilte zum Schreibtisch
Zornbeflügelt, und schrieb einen Brief an die Machthaber.
Verbrennt mich! schrieb er mit fliegender Feder, verbrennt mich!
Tut mir das nicht an! Laßt mich nicht übrig! Habe ich nicht
Immer die Wahrheit berichtet in meinen Büchern? Und jetzt
Werd ich von euch wie ein Lügner behandelt! Ich befehle euch:
Verbrennt mich!

Published by Poetry Super Highway, The Hindu, The Tory, Chicago Sun-Times (excerpt), Poemist, Poetry on Demand and Convivium

Keywords/Tags: Bertolt Brecht, German, translation, burning, books, banned, harmful, unlawful, ****, regime, fires, bonfires, oxen, carts, cartloads, Adolph ******, writer, writers, excommunicated, exiled, burn, truth, pen, blazing, fiery, liar
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