The Young Hebbel

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

Translated By Michael Hofmann Read the translator's notes

You carve and sculpt, the deft chisel
in a soft shapely hand.
I beat my head against the marble
to knock it into shape,
my hands work for a living.

I am still a long way from myself,
but I want to become Me!
There is someone deep in my blood
who cries out for homemade
Olympuses and worlds for humans.

My mother is such a poor wretch,
you’d laugh if you saw her,
we live in a tight annex,
built onto the end of the village.

My youth is like a scab:
under it there is a wound
that every day leaks blood.
It disfigures me.

I don’t need sleep,
food just enough to keep from starving.
An implacable struggle
and the world bristling with sword points.
Each one hungers for my heart.
Each one, I, unarmed,
must melt in my blood.

Source: Poetry (November 2009).


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

November 2009

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