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This poem is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Europe Nineteenhundredandsad (translated by Nicholas Jacobs) Peter Huchel

April opens
ice on the Havel, a croak in the toad.
Remains of snow still scored the sky,
I entered the world in quiet rain
on the third night of April.
Mother's milk tasted good,
the birch-bush grew, I didn't stay young.
Servant-girls took me in care.
I live without giving a damn.

Same thing in prose: Peter H., Potsdam, was born the child of a peasant mother and soldier father. From a Saxon sheep-farming family, to which a church altar had been enfeoffed by a clerical court in Harbke in 1546, and who - in the worst turn of fortune - had lost house and mill to the local count's family, his father had married a wealthy farmer's daughter as a sergeant in the Uhlans during summer manoeuvres near Alt-Langewiesch.

Their son's birth took place at the time of the first attempts to fly and the spread of electricity. However, he would breathe in the smell of April grass, fields and cows, rather than the metal dust of advancing industry. As his tubercular mother had to enter a sanatorium, the child was given up to his grandparents in the country at the age of four. He was spoilt with fresh milk and air. His grandfather had land, crops and meadows. Unfortunately, that didn't mean he was a farmer. He left the running of the farm to his wife, trained his dog, secretly started a library in the hayloft, and wrote poetry in a blue notebook, which glorified Napoleon and Garibaldi and drove the village pastor crazy. He didn't believe in God, more in the invocation of cows. In this way he influenced the boy so that he too only looked inwards. He started not to be able to cope with life when young, and a few years later was also writing poetry in a blue notebook.

The rural idyll and sylvan years of childhood came to an end. The boy returned to the city. School taught him to devalue quotidian things - the workers, the back-yard. Thus, he soon took on conventional views and paid more attention to the weekly photograph of the Kaiser in the newspaper than the filling of his lunch-roll, which was often wrapped up in it.

The war started for him like this: he was hammering the piano as loudly as possible, using the pedals as stirrups, playing the accompaniment to 'Morgenrot, Morgenrot', listening to the ever-louder sobbing of the estate paymaster's wife in the basement. This gave him war-fever.

War years. For him, too, the years increasingly meant asking for daily rations, consisting of potato and corn-chaff. His request was heard by the daughter of a village baker, who came to town twice a week. He helped her steer her cart through the streets, and on the way home - through the moonlit wood - eased her through the first onset of puberty.

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