Evenings of Certain Lives

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

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


                                                  I

You don’t need always to be scrubbing the tiles, Hendrickje,
my eye drinks itself,
drinks itself to death—
but other drink is in short supply—
the little Buddha there,
Chinese grove god
in exchange for a ladleful of Hulstkamp,
please!

Never painted anything
in frost-white or ice-skater blue
or that Irish green
in which the purple shimmers through—
always my own monotone,
my compulsion to shadows—
not pleasant
to pursue that path so clearly.

Greatness—where?
I pick up the slate-pencil and certain things appear
on paper or canvas
or whatever the heck else—
result: Buddha bronze hocked for booze—
but I draw the line at homage under ornamental plants,
banquet of the painters’ guild—
something for the boardroom!

...Creaking,
little sheep squeaking, chromotypes
Flemish, Rubensish—
for the grandchildren
(same idiots!)
Ah—Hulstkamp,
hits the spot,
midpoint of colors,
my shadow brown,
stubble aura around heart and eye—


                                                 II
The blocked chimney smokes
—the Swan of Avon blows his nose—
the tree stumps are wet,
clammy night, emptiness mingled with draft—
enough characters,
the world is overpopulated as it is,
plentiful peach-fall, four rosebuds
per annum—
asperged,
set to tread the boards
by this hand,
grown wrinkled
and with sluggish veins!

All the Juliets and Ophelias,
wreathed, silvered, sometimes murderous—
all the soft mouths, the sighs
I extracted from them—
the original actresses long since turned to smoke,
rust, leeched dry, rats’ pudding—
Ariel too, away with the elements.

The age takes off its frockcoat.
These lousy skulls of lords,
their trains of thought
that I pushed into extremes—
my lords makers of history
all of them crowned and sceptered illiterates,
great powers of the cosmos—
yes, like so many bats or kites!

Sir Goon wrote to me lately:
“the rest is silence”—
I think that’s one of mine,
could only be mine,
Dante dead—lacuna
of centuries
to my logomachic quotes—

what if they didn’t exist,
the booty never brought to light,
the booths, the scaffolds, the cymbals
never clashed—
gaps? Gap teeth maybe,
but the great monkey jaws
would grind on
emptiness, mingled with draft—
the tree stumps are wet
and the butler snores in porter dreams.


Source: Poetry (March 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2012

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