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This review is taken from PN Review 5, Volume 5 Number 1, October - December 1978.

A HIDDEN SENSE Johannes Bobrowski, From The Rivers, translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead, Anvil Press, £1.50.

Ruth and Matthew Mead's translations of Bobrowski, readily available in the Penguin European Poets series, and in Michael Hamburger's East German Poetry (Carcanet, 1972), continue with this collection of fifty-two poems. Without introduction or notes it seems to be aimed at readers who already know Bobrowski's work; those who do not will need to read Matthew Mead's introduction to the Penguin volume, or some other source with notes, such as B. Keith-Smith's short book (Wolff, 1970), for without such help it is easy to assume, for example, that 'Donelaitis' in the poem 'Tolmingkehmen Village' is a pagan god, rather than an eighteenth-century Lithuanian poet. Perhaps it was felt that such confusions would not matter, and that Bobrowski's work speaks for itself. Certainly these translations read as excellent English, and have some of the qualities of poems, though it would be unwise to claim any further without the corroboration of the German original. Even so, it is possible to make out Bobrowski's concerns.

In 'Language', three very spare stanzas depict the relationship between landscape-the shape of the land-and language.


The tree
greater than the night
with the breath of the valley-lakes
with the whisper above
the stillness

The stones
Beneath the feet
the shining veins
long in the dust
for ever

Language
worn out
by the weary mouth
on the endless road
to the neighbour's house
...


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