By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

Translated By Michael Hofmann


"—science per se—"
my God, when I hear them on the radio saying that,   
it slays me.   
Is there a science that's not per se?   
I don't get out much, rarely get to see any lakes,   
gardens only sporadically and then behind fences,   
or in allotments, that's about the size of it,   
I rely on ersatz:   
radio, newspaper, magazines—
so how can people say such things to me?

It makes you wonder   
whether there are any surrogates for hollyhocks,   
for warm life, French kisses, hanky-panky,   
all those things that make existence a little luxurious,   
and all of them somehow of a piece!

No, all this cerebration is not my cup of tea,   
but there are sometimes hours on end   
where there's no woman on any wavelength   
(I receive medium-wave, short-, long-, and VHF),   
no voice saying, "first you say no, then   
                                                                              maybe, then yes,"   
nothing but these opinionated pedagogues,   
it seems that everything the West thinks of as its   
higher product is produced by the seated male—
as I say, give me the hanky-panky any day!

"—the last vestiges of the ancient culture would have completely disappeared—"   
(well, and what if)   
"—a sonorous past—"   
"—in villages in New Mexico   
farmers still bless their fields and livestock   
with these songs—"   
(very nice, I'm sure,   
but I don't get out of Brandenburg much).

We hear Professor Salem Aleikum,   
the reporter still slavering over him:   
"the professor is lying on the porch of his house   
with his lute cradled in his arm   
singing the old ballads"—
probably on an ottoman,   
with a carafe of ice water at his side,   
rejecting old hypotheses, putting out new ones—

the great rivers of the world   
the Nile, the Brahmaputra, or what the hell do I know   
wouldn't be enough to drown all those professors—

don't have any acreage, don't have any livestock,   
nothing blesses me, life is one continuous affliction,   
but nothing like those professors   
teach, teach, teach,   
from every pore,   
who turn everything into illustrated lecture (with slides).

Source: Poetry (October 2006).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 2006

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