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This poem is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Anecdotes and Stories Translated by Nicholas Jacobs Heinrich von Kleist
From Werke und Briefe, Aufbau, Berlin, 1978 (all page references below). Thanks to Fred Bridgham for encouragement and essential improvements. Dedicated to Stephen Vicinczey, who spoke the first and last word on Kleist nearly forty years ago.


Events of the Day (p. 341)

A labourer called Brietz, caught in a storm on the New Promenade, told a Captain von Bürger, from the former Tauentzien Regiment, that the tree under which they were both standing was surely too small for the two of them, and would he please move to another. Captain Bürger, being a quiet and modest man, did just that – whereupon Herr Brietz was immediately struck by lightning and killed.


French Propriety (p. 341)
(worth setting in bronze)

During the war, a citizen of –– approached the French General Hulin and reported as rightful booty, at the enemy’s expense, a number of tree-trunks lying by a bridge. The General, who was getting dressed at the time, said: ‘No, my friend, we cannot take those tree-trunks.’ ‘Why not?’ asked our citizen – ‘they belong to the king.’ ‘And that’s precisely why we cannot,’ said the General, giving him a fleeting glance. ‘The King of Prussia needs tree-trunks like that from which to hang rascals like you.’


An Embarrassed Magistrate (p. 342)
An Anecdote

Not very long ago in H—, a soldier of that town left his guard-post without his officer’s permission. According to a very old law, such a crime – because of its great importance at a time of marauding nobility – was in theory punishable by death. However, without the law having been actually abolished, this punishment had not been invoked for many years. So much was this the case that anyone thus found guilty, instead of facing the death penalty, according to long-standing custom, found himself merely having to pay a fine into the town coffers.

However, the said soldier, for whom it was plainly no pleasure to pay out his money, declared – to the great consternation of the magistrate – that, because it was what the law actually demanded, he wanted to die. Assuming a misunderstanding, the magistrate sent one of his deputies to the fellow to make it clear to him how much better it would be for him to pay out a few guilders than to find his death at the end of an arquebus. However, the man insisted that he was tired of life and wanted to die. So insistent was he that the magistrate, who did not want blood on the floor, had no alternative but to spare the rascal from his fine – and was even happy when the man declared that in that case he would rather remain alive.


i>The Hand of God (p. 342)

In Poland, there was once a Countess von P—, an elderly woman who had led a very bad life, who had particularly tortured her servants by her meanness and cruelty. As this woman lay dying, she left her fortune to a convent, which had granted her absolution, in exchange for which the convent set her a splendid headstone in the cemetery, cast in bronze, on which the circumstances of all this were told with much pomp on the tomb. The following day, lightning struck, melting the bronze of the headstone, leaving nothing but a number of letters which, taken together, read: ‘She is condemned.’

This incident (it is up to the scholars to explain it) is well founded. The headstone is still in existence, and there are men in the town that have seen its famous inscription.


Heavenly Mischief (p. 345)
An Anecdote

In Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, where he owned an infantry regiment, the late General Dieringshofen, a man of strong and upright character, though not without peculiarities and eccentricities, expressed – as he lay dying in high old age of a long illness – his aversion to falling into the hands of the lay-out women. He gave strict instructions that on no account, without exception, was anyone to touch his body, and that he was to be laid out in his coffin and buried exactly in the state in which he died, with the night-cap, trousers and nightshirt he was wearing. And he asked the current padre of his regiment, Herr P—, a family friend, to take responsibility for carrying out these, his last wishes. The padre promised, and committed himself – to prevent any accident before the funeral – not to leave his side from the time of his death until his burial. In due course, after the elapse of several weeks, a servant came into the padre’s house early one morning when he was asleep and told him that the General had already
died, quietly and peacefully as foreseen, around midnight. True to his word, the padre got dressed immediately and went to the General’s house. But what did he find there? The General’s corpse, already lathered for shaving, sitting on a stool. The servant, who knew nothing of the previous instructions, had sent for a barber to shave off his beard, to give him a more fitting appearance when laid out. What was the padre to do under such strange circumstances? He cursed the servant for not calling him earlier, dismissed the barber, who was now holding the General by the nose, and – because there was no alternative – had him, still lathered and with half his beard, put in the coffin and buried just as he found him.    
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