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This poem is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

Poems from the Microscripts (translated by Christopher Middleton) Robert Walser

During the mid-1920s Robert Walser (1878-1956) took to writing in a microscopic hand, in pencil, on salvaged scraps of paper - letters of rejection, tax papers, bills, proof sheets, and the like. It was poverty that forced him to be sparing: thrift regulated his means of production. Finished poems published in journals during the Swiss writer's 'sane' lifetime (up till 1933) appear in his Sämtliche Werke, 1985-6; poems unpublished and exclusively in microscript appeared only in 2000, having been deciphered by the ever-patient and scrupulous archivists Werner Morlang and Berhard Echte. They are included in Volume VI of the series Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet (Suhrkamp Verlag, to whom grateful acknowledgment is made). Of the 166 texts - or drafts - many are rhymed so finically, puckishly, or wilfully, that it would take a second Thomas Hood to cope with translating them. I have not skimped the task entirely, but selected (for translation with precious few liberties) texts which convey plainly some of the bizarre beauties of the poet's inventions as he approached, and passed, the age of fifty. Readers new to the Walser phenomenon can consult Selected Stories and Jakob von Gunten, also Susan Bernofsky's translations, Masquerade and (most recently) The Robber.

I have lived in rooms
where I could hear myself
sniffle with the glooms,
for apparently the rooms
to which I then was fated
would contract and expand
like living creatures, and
inside of them I drowned
or had been suffocated.
                Then again
some rooms gyrated round me
as if in fairystory rings,
galleries and towers, so
high they gave me vertigo.
Once I had a place
...


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