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This poem is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

Four Poems (translated by Teresa Iverson) Gottfried Benn


Gottfried Benn (1886-1956) is considered one of Germany's greatest twentieth-century poets.

'Creation' (1928), the earliest poem in this selection and the predecessor by thirteen years of Benn's famous 'A Word', highlights in brief quatrains the poetic act, one of his most constant themes. The word that arises out of 'empty space' in the creative act was more potent for Benn than the 'Fiat lux' of Genesis since it persists as nothing else in the world of becoming.

One hallmark of Benn's lyric shorthand is contradiction: 'love and ruin', 'sink and rise' in two phrases from 'Once More' (1935). His is a poetry of dark joy, with the emphasis typically descending toward the darker of his oppositions.

'Partly' (1954) and 'No Mourning' (1956) date from Benn's last two years. The autobiographical focus in 'Partly', largely missing from earlier work, becomes more characteristic in his late poems.

To the end, Benn affirms a greater-than-human, although strange and distant, presence. Whereas in 'Once More' and elsewhere he had referred to 'the gods', this presence becomes an abstract 'nameless wave... an over-earthly thing'. The 'weeping' of the earlier poem culminates in 'no mourning', and finally even the empty space around ego and word is less monstrous: 'agitated bed and tears - go to sleep!'


Creation

From jungles, crocodile-muddied,
six days who remembers, knows the spot -,
after all the gulp- and shout-bedamned:
the first ego, the first word.

A word, ego, a bit of fluff, a fire,
a torchlight's blue, a star's stripe
from where, to where - into the monster
of empty space around the word, round I.


Once More

Once more to weep - and die
with you: the dark meaning
of love and ruin,
for the strange distant gods.
...


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