By a fraction of an hair, Gottfried Benn’s shocking collection of verses would have never been published and maybe Gottfried Benn would have stayed a doctor and pathologist in one of the many Berlin hospitals, becoming more and more misanthropic. The one- man publisher Alfred Richard Meyer was close to throw away the manuscript handed in by Gottfried Benn in 1912. But in the very last second he discovered the „Morgue-Zyklus“ attached on the document. These verses tell in a drastic language and hardly to overbid way of unadorned intensity from the work in the morgue as well as from every day hospital life, where especially the poor suffered from today nearly unknown diseases. But Gottfried Benn was not only the enfant terrible of the German literary scene but a great writer of love poems and deeply in love with Else Lasker-Schüler. They both became the great provocateurs of sudden plunging statements and provoked the world they lived in till this world fell apart. Benn fancied with the power of the National-Socialist movement till in 1938 he himself were overruled by the power and was not longer allowed to site or to publish. Now, Faber brings into English the work of one of the most touching and most unsettling poets of the 20th century. Michael Hofmann, himself poet and translator, offers a biographical introduction covering under the term „Doppelleben“, the many aspects of the poets life. The wide range of poems selected by Hofmann and translated both close to the rhythms of Benn’s very own language and with an intense precision,which illuminates the directness, the tenderness, the suffering, the search for meaning, the loss of god and the hope for love in Gottfried Benn’s work.
Gottfried Benn, Impromptus, Selected Poems, translated by Michael Hofman, Faber and Faber, 2014, £ 14.99.
Gottfried Benn: Tracing
And in the rain falling on the leaves
I hear an old song-
of forests once crossed
and revisited, but not
the hall where they were singing
the keys were silent
the hands were resting somewhere
apart from the hands that held me
moved me to tears
hands from the eastern steppes
long since trampled and bloody-
only their singing
in the rain
dark days of spring everlasting steppes
translated by Michael Hofman.