Jena

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

Translated By Michael Hofmann Read the translator's notes

“Jena before us in the lovely valley”
thus my mother on a postcard
from a walking holiday on the banks of the Saale,
she was spending a week at the spa of Kosen;
long forgotten now, the ancestor no more,
her script a subject for graphology,
years of becoming, years of illusion,
only those words I’ll never forget.

It wasn’t a great picture, no class,
there was not enough blossom
to justify lovely, poor paper, no pulp-free mass,
also the hills weren’t green with vineyards,
but she was from back-country hovels,
so the valleys probably did strike her as lovely,
she didn’t need laid paper or four-color print,
she supposed others would see what she had seen.

It was something said at a venture,
an exaltation had prompted it,
the landscape had moved her,
so she asked the waiter for a postcard,
and yet—vide supra—the ancestor went on,
as will we all, including even those—
years of becoming, years of illusion—
who see the town in the valley today.

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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