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This poem is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

Six Poems Franz Baermann Steiner

In November of this year, it will be forty years since Franz Steiner died at Oxford. Despite the recognition of his work by fellow writers in his own language, German, and in English, including very eminent ones, much of his poetry remains wholly unpublished and only one of his anthropological works, his Oxford lectures on Taboo, appeared posthumously in book form. With the outstanding exception of Johannes Bobrowski's personal anthology of his favourite poems in German - compiled for his own use and published only after his death - Steiner's poems have been more widely represented in English anthologies of 20th-century German poetry than in German ones.

Ever since I translated Steiner's long poem 'Gebet im Garten' (Prayer in the Garden') in his lifetime, I have regarded Steiner as one of the best German-language poets of his time. For complicated reasons, he did not wish this long poem to be published in English until a selection of shorter and more characteristic poems had appeared. Very belatedly, I have now translated the selection which, I hope, accords with his wish. In an Introduction to those translations, I have tried to explain the long series of accidents, mis-timings and disasters that afflicted this poet and his work. They are also evoked with tenderness and humour in David Wright's poem 'Franz Steiner Remembered'; and Iris Murdoch has recorded her devotion to the man in an interview. It looks as though Steiner's work may be emerging at last from general neglect. M.H.

* * *

RUTHENIAN VILLAGE

The inn's lust-reddened eyes have been extinguished,
The flute of the lonely hill shepherd is silent,
   Wind and his lullaby's softness
   Gently have led him dreamward, flocks are
      asleep at his side.

The faces of the houses were locked by their thatches
From moon to the floor; and beneath every gable
   Girls' voices surge in their singing.
   Slowly each tree in turn entwines with clouds
      and the night.

The sows have been dismissed to their meal all in
      darkness
And wheezing they root up the daytime's remainders,
...


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