It turns out I have company, and fairly distinguished company at that
I believe my favourite country's German.
I wander in a calm folk-colored daze; the infant
Looks down upon me from his mother's arms
And says - oh, God knows what he says!
It's baby-talk? he's sick? or is it German?
That Nachtigallenchor: does it sing German?
Yoh, yoh: here mice, rats, tables, chairs,
Grossmutter, Kinder, der Herrgott im Himmel,
All, all but I -
all, all but I -
Have you too sometimes, by the fire, at evening,
Wished that you were - whatever you once were?
It is ignorance alone that is enchanting.
Dearer to me than all the treasures of the earth
Is something living, said old Rumpelstiltskin
And hopped home. Charcoal-burners heard him singing
And spoiled it all....And all because -
If only he hadn't known his name!
In German I don't know my name.
I am the log
The fairies left one morning in my place.
- In German I believe in them, in everything:
The world is everything that is the case.
How clever people are! I look on open-mouthed
As Kant reels down the road im Morgenrot
Humming Mir ist so bang, so bang, mein Schatz -
All the nixies set their watches by him
Two hours too fast....
I think, My calendar's
Two centuries too fast, and give a sigh
Of trust. I reach out for the world and ask
The price; it answers, One touch of your finger.
In all my Germany there's no Gesellschaft
But one between eine Katze and ein Maus.
What's business? what's a teaspoon? what's a sidewalk?
Schweig stille, meine Seele! Such things are not for thee.
It is by Trust, and Love, and reading Rilke
Without ein Worterbuch, that man learns German.
The Word rains in upon his blessed head
As glistening from the hand of God
And means - what does it mean? Ah well, it's German.
Glaube, mein Herz! A Feeling in the Dark
Brings worlds, brings words that hard-eyed Industry
And all the schools' dark Learning never knew.
And yet it's hard sometimes, I won't deny it.
Take for example my own favorite daemon,
Dear good great Goethe: ach, what German!
Very idiomatic, very noble; very like a sibyl.
My favourite style is Leopold von Lerchenau's.
I've memorised his da und da und da und da
And whisper it when Life is dark and Death is dark.
There was someone who knew how to speak
To us poor Kinder here im Fremde.
And Heine! At the ninety-sixth mir traumte
I sigh as a poet, but dimple as ein Schuler.
And yet - if it's easy is it German?
And yet, that wunderschone Lindenbaum
Im Mondenscheine! What if it is in Schilda?
It's moonlight, isn't it? Mund, Mond, Herz and Schmerz
Sing round my head, in Zeit and Ewigkeit,
And my heart lightens at each Sorge, each Angst:
I know them well. And Schicksal! Ach, you Norns,
As I read I hear your - what's the word for scissors?
And Katzen have Tatzen - why can't I call someone Kind?
What a speech for Poetry (especially Folk-)!
And yet when, in my dreams, eine schwartzbraune Hexe
(Who mows on the Neckar, reaps upon the Rhine)
Riffles my yellow ringlets through her fingers,
She only asks me questions: What is soap?
I don't know. A suitcase? I don't know. A visit?
I laugh with joy, and try to say like Lehmann:
"Quin-quin, es ist ein Besuch!"
Till the day I die I'll be in love with German
- If only I don't learn German....I can hear my broken
Voice murmuring to der Arzt: "Ich - sterber?"
He answers sympathetically: "Nein - sterbe."
If God gave me the choice - but I stole this from Lessing -
Of German and learning German, I'd say: Keep your German!
The thought of knowing German terrifies me.
- But surely, this way, no one could learn German?
It's difficult; it is impossible?
I'm hopeful that it is, but I can't say
For certain: I don't know enough German.
- Randall Jarrell 'Deutsch Durch Freud'
Meanwhile, right on cue, the New York Review of Books has a Rilke poem:
Komm du, du letzter, den ich anerkenne,Actually, it seems to be the season for dead poets. Over at Blackbird, there's a newly discovered Plath poem. Ach, du.
heilloser Schmerz im leiblichen Geweb:
wie ich im Geiste brannte, sieh, ich brenne
in dir; das Holz hat lange widerstrebt,
der Flamme, die du loderst, zuzustimmen,
nun aber nähr' ich dich und brenn in dir.
Mein hiesig Mildsein wird in deinem Grimmen
ein Grimm der Hölle nicht von hier.
Ganz rein, ganz planlos frei von Zukunft stieg
ich auf des Leidens wirren Scheiterhaufen,
so sicher nirgend Künftiges zu kaufen
um dieses Herz, darin der Vorrat schwieg.
Bin ich es noch, der da unkenntlich brennt?
Erinnerungen reiß ich nicht herein.
O Leben, Leben: Draußensein.
Und ich in Lohe. Niemand der mich kennt.
- Rainer Maria Rilke 
Come, then, my last and latest acceptation,
pain in this fleshly web beyond all cure:
as once in mind, see now my conflagration
in you; the wood no longer can abjure
agreement with that flame which you're outthrowing:
I feed you now and burn in you as well.
My earth-born mildness in your fury's growing
a fury not of earth but hell.
So pure, so planless-free from all to-come,
I climbed this dizzy faggot-pile of pain,
so sure I'd nowhere sacrifice, to gain
a future, all this heart's uncounted sum.
Am I still that, unrecognisably
consumed? I snatch no memories inside.
O living, living: being outside.
And I in flame. And no one knowing me.