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Long Poems; Punctuation Marks; Early Winter

Translated from German by Michael Hofmann

Long Poems

Normal

Tell him
to hold the fork in his left hand
and the knife in his right.
No accommodation for hemiplegics.

Caution

The chestnuts are flowering.
I take cognizance of the fact,
but refrain from expressing an opinion.

Sanguine

I have a reader
in Salonika,
and another in Bad Nauheim.
That makes two already.

Chinese Whispers for Each Year

I’ll whisper the first of January in your ear.
Pass it on, I’ll wait.
Provisional Downgrading of Certain Pitiable Trees
Acacias are not contemporary.
Acacias are negligible in sociological terms.
Acacias are not acacias.

Paper Age

The paterfamilias
keeps documents and watercolors
in cardboard rolls.
A lucky chance, in the view of future scholars,
but it was simple prudence.

Contribution to the Dante Anniversary

Chandler is dead
and so is Dashiell Hammett.
I’d sooner not
binge
on evil
and read Dante.

Ode to Nature

We have our suspicions
on the subject of trout, winter,
and the speed of gravity.

Hart Crane

I am persuaded
by the thin soles, the
simple stride past government grants
and ship’s rails.

Punctuation Marks

Are gone,
gone like the birds—
who walked, who flew,
comma, chickens,
waders, who’s gone?

Are gone,
swum like the chickens—
liverish yellow, downstream,
who went, who swam,
fishes, furrin’ fishes,
semicolon, who’s gone?

Are gone,
flown like the fishes,
who went, who swam,
who died,
chickens, rum customers,
question mark,
walking gentleman, who’s gone?

Early Winter

Take a rest
after your hot milk
and the fresh snowfall.
There’s printed matter that needs your attention.

Pastureland, riddled with cats’ graves.
My little girl is waiting for winter,
she is growing out of her skis.
My postbox is too big for my needs.

Tomorrow I will start taking piano lessons;
they say it’s never too late.
The jolly countryman
is making tracks in the snow.

Günter Eich (1907-72) was a leading German poet and radio dramatist of the post-war period. He won the principal German awards in both forms: the Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden (in 1953) and the Büchnerpreis (1959).

Michael Hofmann is a poet and translator from the German. He teaches at the University of Florida in Gainesville. His Selected Poems came out from Farrar, Straus in 2009; Angina Days, his translations from Eich, will appear next spring from Princeton University Press.