Tracing

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann Read the translator's notes

                                i

O those years! The green light of morning
and the still unswept pavements of pleasure—
summer yelled from every surface of the city
and supped at a horn
refilled from above.

Silent hour. Watery colors
of a pale green eye’s diluted stream
pictures in that magic green, glass dances,
shepherds and streams, a dome, pigeons—
woven, dispatched, shining, faded—
mutable clouds of happiness!

So you faced the day: the font
without bubbles, dawdling
buildings and staircases; the houses
locked up, it was for you to create
the morning, early jasmine,
its yelps, its incipient aboriginal
stream—still without end—O those years!

Something unquenchable in the heart,
complement to heaven and earth;
playing to you from reeds and gardens,
evening storms
drenched the brassy umbels,
darkly they burst, taut with seeds,
and sea and strands,
wimpled with tents,
full of burning sand,
weeks bronzing, tanning everything
to pelts for kisses landing
indiscriminately like cloudbursts
and soon over!

Even then
a weight overhead
grapes bunching
you pulled down the boughs and let them bounce up,
only a few berries
if you wanted
first—

not yet so bulging and overhung with
plate-sized fruit,
old heavy grape flesh—

O those years!

                                ii

Dark days of spring,
unyielding murk in the leaves;
drooping lilacs, barely looking up
narcissus color, and smelling strongly of death,
loss of content,
untriumphant sadness of the unfulfilled.

And in the rain
falling on the leaves,
I hear an old forest song,
from forests I crossed
and saw again, but I didn’t return
to the hall where they were singing,
the keys were silent,
the hands were resting somewhere
apart from the arms that held me,
moved me to tears,
hands from the eastern steppes,
long since trampled and bloody—
only the forest song
in the rain
dark days of spring
the everlasting steppes.

Source: Poetry (March 2011).

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2011

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