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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This poem is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Europe James Womack
after the German of Marie Luise Kaschnitz

When at the turn of the year over the beaten down continent,
the homeland of turmoil, of brotherly hatred, of insurgency, of sin,
the homeland of bold thoughts, of burning words, of beauty,
when at the turn of the year the bells ring out, bells that have come home,
have been heaved to the top of failing towers
the great bells –
when the high foehn-driven water roars to fill the space under bridges,
when the trains pipe up and the ships sound their bustling sirens,
when the unknown voice calls Happy New Year up to the silent window,

then a heart will bow to its beloved, will whisper almost silently
Love me for ever, for all the days to come,
and will be snatched away by the bell-wind, storm-wind,
over the boundaries of itself, high over the city,
over the silent countries,

and will hear prayers and many prophecies, which arise
and call out the day when peace will be plenty,
when the righteous man will flourish,
when the outlaw will be gone, his lair impossible to find.
And they speak, of a seed that will grow up golden from the bodies of the dead,
of gardens which flourish without walls and which will bear fruit,
of a single world where no one knows fear,
of eternal peace.

But there is another prediction, taken ancient from Nostradamus,
of horses from Asia going down to drink from the Rhine,
of a bloody river that must flow before the kingdom does come,
of cities that must crumble and fields that must be made desert before the kingdom comes,
of armies that will burst from the east and from the west in fury
and clash like the waves of the spring tide, in violence,
and pull back away from each other like waves of the spring tide.
But where they have been, is dead.
It is steppe, where they have been, bee-buzzing,
no-man’s-land, primeval –

and this is where he aims, the dream wanderer, with the bell-wind, storm-wind,
over the shuddering continent,
the homeland of turmoil, of brotherly hatred, of insurgency, of sin,
the homeland of bold thoughts, of burning words, of beauty.
He tastes again the coasts at Brittany’s margin,
where laurel and rose bend in the Atlantic gales,
down to the waters of the Golden Horn, from Midgard
to the Pillars of Hercules.

And a shape out of time hurtles towards him, nightmare ghosts from the Elbe,
girls with wings like swans, Poseidon’s black steed,
and he sees castles, sees temples and cloisters, vaulted roofs, palaces,
and always the ploughman in the fields at autumn and always
armies on the march, bearing weapons.

And voices rise up to him, fervent choruses,
demanding joy and demanding love and always
and always the same sullen terribly abandoned voice,
the voice of Prometheus.

But then it calms down.
Calm in the moonlight, under broken clouds
there flourish for him once more the sweet things, the saved things –
the marble joys of Vicenza, Roman fountains,
the lovely foolish virgins on Freiburg cathedral,
the Chartres rose and Goethe’s garden by the river Stern.

And he thinks he has never seen it so beautiful, so full of promises.
And he thinks his eyes are brighter than a mourner’s eyes,
and his hands are stronger than a mourner’s hands,
and he thinks his own heart is full of life.

And he wants to cry out, scream into the world, looking for something solid,
so that not for the sake of peace,
not for the sake of one who will come
not for this will they strangle, put out
the happiness of the eyes,
the freedom of the spirit,
the upheaval of the heart,
the same old lonely voice
of the watcher in his tower.

He cries out, he cries out into the world, the dream wanderer,
but no answer sounds back to him. Only the bells,
that sing storm and sing peace,
sing death and sing Noël,
the mysterious inexplicable bells
still call
midnight –

and yet, when he goes home sad and bows once again
and whispers again his Love me for all the days to come,
the heart of his heart has long since stepped over the edge of the year,
eternally consoled
with its small perpetual beating.

This poem is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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