They Are Human After All

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

Translated By Michael Hofmann Read the translator's notes

They are human after all, you think,
as the waiter steps up to a table
out of sight of you,
reserved, corner table—
they too are thin-skinned and pleasure-seeking,
with their own feelings and their own sufferings.

You’re not so all alone
in your mess, your restlessness, your shakes,
they too will be full of doubt, dither, shilly-shallying,
even if it’s all about making deals,
the universal-human
albeit in its commercial manifestations,
but present there too.

Truly, the grief of hearts is ubiquitous
and unending,
but whether they were ever in love
(outwith the awful wedded bed)
burning, athirst, desert-parched
for the nectar of a faraway
mouth,
sinking, drowning
in the impossibility of a union of souls—

you won’t know, nor can you
ask the waiter,
who’s just ringing up
another bock,
always avid for coupons
to quench a thirst of another nature,
though also deep.

Source: Poetry (November 2009).

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This poem originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2009

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