People Met

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

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

I have met people who,
asked after their names,
shyly—as if they had no title
to an appellation all to themselves—
replied “Fräulein Christian” and added:
“like the first name,” they wanted to make it easy for the other,
not a difficult name like “Popiol” or “Babendererde”—
“like the first name”—please, don’t burden your memory overmuch!

I have met people who
grew up in a single room with their parents
and four brothers and sisters, and studied at night
with their fingers in their ears at the kitchen table,
and grew up to be beautiful and self-possessed as duchesses—
and innerly gentle and hard-working as Nausicaa,
clear-browed as angels.

I have often asked myself and never found an answer
whence kindness and gentleness come,
I don’t know it to this day, and now must go myself.

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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