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This article is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

The Return of the Prodigal Gert Hofmann

Having just arrived in Riga by ship from Lübeck on the morning of 23 July 1779, the poet Jacob Michael Reinhold Lenz proceeds to the house of his father, followed by two sailors - he still owes three ducats for the crossing. His father, who has just been appointed General-Superintendant of Livonia, and is completely occupied with moving into his new house and with a celebration arranged for the evening, is in the first-floor drawing-room. He has not seen his son for eleven years, and was not expecting his return. Out of breath and completely covered with dust, Lenz steps inside. 'Father!' And, with his tangled fair curls tumbling into his pale childlike face, he immediately runs up to his father, immediately throws himself at his feet. 'I have come', he cries, '. . . to kiss your hands. To tell you that now . . . I am back! The lame crane looks about him to see where he may set his foot.' And, as the astonished parent does not yield his hand to be kissed, he quickly presses his lips to his father's brilliantly polished lace-up boots: it was difficult to find one's way back into ruptured circumstances. He would need time and indulgence before he could communicate himself, open himself to him. And finally after a pause, 'Well, don't you even want to know what my journey was like?' All that he had seen and enjoyed and suffered. 'I had', he then says without being asked ...


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