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This review is taken from PN Review 172, Volume 33 Number 2, November - December 2006.

BLOOD-SOAKED PASTORAL THOMAS BERNHARD, In Hora Mortis / Under the Iron of the Moon, translated by James Reidel (Princeton University Press) £ 22.95 (hb) £ 9.95 (pb)

This is the first volume of Thomas Bernhard's poetry to be translated into English. His novels have gained notoriety for their fugue-like monologues of disgust, failure and the agony of a disillusion which has failed to pull life under entirely, so that life remains compelled to speak its survival in tones George Steiner has described as 'automatically black'. Bernhard's first three books, however, were poetry collections, the second and third of which, both appearing in 1958, are the two titles which Reidel has brought together in this facing-page translation. This is early work, a chance to extend our idea of Bernhard.

In Hora Mortis presents a long sequence of untitled addresses to God, 'Herr / mein Gott'. These are prayers or plaints, angry and unconsoled, 'Your voice will be my voice / in bitterness' begins one poem. The title, as Reidel reminds us, is from the closing line of the Hail Mary, 'nunc et in hora mortis nostrae', now and at the hour of our death. Reidel translates the lines as plainly as possible, trying to avoid the hint of absurdity that the hysterical tone strikes in English. In this light it is interesting that translations of In Hora Mortis were first taken up in Iberia, Bernhard as pilgrim in mysteries. The poet's rage at the world is presented as an external blossoming:

The flower of my anger grows wild
and everyone sees its thorn
piercing the sky
so that ...


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