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This poem is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

Casper Hauser David Constantine

The First Canto and Parts I-IV of the Second appeared in PN Review 92. The facts of Caspar Hauser's story which matter for my poem are as follows. Incarcerated for most of his childhood and adolescence he appeared in Nuremberg at Whitsuntide 1828, able to write his name and say, without understanding it, one sentence: 'I want to be a rider like my father was.' The city fathers put him into the charge of a retired school teacher called Georg Friedrich Daumer, and it was in Daumer's house, in October 1829, that an unknown assailant struck him across the forehead with a heavy razor. Daumer, an invalid, soon afterwards asked to be relieved of the responsibility of looking after him, and Caspar moved in with Clara and Johann Christian Biberbach - but only for a few months. Clara conceived a passion for him, which he did not reciprocate, and he was moved into the safer keeping of Gottlieb von Tucher, still in Nuremberg. Then the eccentric Lord Stanhope appeared on the scene and made Caspar his ward, removing him to the town of Ansbach in December 1831 and lodging him with another schoolmaster, one less humane than Daumer, a man by the name of Johann Georg Meyer. Stanhope himself, having shown great fondness for the boy, went travelling, and after January 1832 never saw him again. Caspar was murdered just before Christmas 1833. Why he was confined, let out, assaulted, murdered, has never been quite explained. Probably - as the jurist Anselm von Feuerbach believed - he had a claim to the throne of Baden; but because of his innocence and the extraordinary reactions of his untried nervous system to a life in the daylight, people at once invested more than a dynastic, political, worldly interest in him. He was an enigma, and excited all kinds of hopes and longings.

In Germany there is a vast literature on Caspar Hauser. I have read a good deal of it, but experts will soon see that I have taken many liberties in the pursuit of my own conception of the subject.

In six of the nine Cantos I imagine Daumer, Clara Biberbach and Lord Stanhope, each near death, reflecting on their dealings with Caspar. It will help in reading the poem if the names of German people and places (except Nuremberg) are pronounced in the German way.

Second Canto
V
Poor Daumer. He was reckoning without
Terror. He knew from literature
That where the tight earth split

At Delphi, say, or Cuma, the truth was cold
And anyone drinking it was riddled with shock for days
And floes of it jostled

Among the corpuscles thereafter
Never quite melting. Did he suppose
It would be warmer in his reasonable house,

Mother there, a sister playing Schubert,
A title before his name, the century
Getting on nicely into modern times? In May
...


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