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This poem is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

Poems Alfred Lichtenstein

Alfred Lichtenstein exploded onto the literary scene in Berlin in 1911, at the age of 21, with his poem Die Dämmerung (Dusk) - an attempt to show the 'effect' of a particular time of day on things as different as a pool and a pram, to render the 'reflexes' of phenomena without superfluous 'reflections' ('Lichtenstein knows … that it is not the pram that is bawling but rather the baby inside. But, as he only sees the pram, he writes: a pram begins to bawl', as he put it later). Although he also takes this 'disorienting' approach in other of his roughly 100 mature poems (in Recital for instance), Lichtenstein's oeuvre has a protean, even Pessoan quality: he is capable of Futurist rhapsodies (Ecstasy), whimsical grotesques (The Athlete), uncanny reportage (Trip to an Asylum II) and even - hidden behind the self-ironic persona of the helpless hunchback Kuno Kohn - of plangent romanticism (Walk). The author joined a Bavarian infantry regiment for a year's military service in October 1913 and was sent to the front as soon as the Great War broke out. The alienation from late Wilhelmine society, evident in a good deal of the pre-war poetry, is no less conspicuous during his brief spell as a war poet: where Rilke, a noncombatant, welcomed 'War' in hymnic, indeed sub-Holderlinian strain in Fün! Gesänge ('At last a God'), his younger contemporary continued (for example in Shell) to explore the 'reflexes' of phenomena. He died of wounds sustained in Flanders in September 1914, having lived just five weeks longer than he had predicted he would in Farewell.

* * *

A podgy boy is playing with a pool.
The wind's up there, entangled in a tree.
The sky looks seedy, pallid as a ghoul,
As though it needed more rouge desperately.

Bent over endless crutches, more than crooked,
Two cripples creep across the field, discourse.
A fair-haired poet's maybe going mad.
A lady's stumbled over by a horse.

A fat man's splat on a window for his sins.
A stripling wants a soft girl he holds dear.
A grey clown's pulling on his wellingtons.
And, as a pram begins to bawl, dogs swear.


The bare chairs strain their ears, appear to be

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