Left the House

By Gottfried Benn Gottfried Benn

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


Left the house shattered, it hurt so bad,
so many years as a man, compromise,
in spite of partial success in intellectual tussle
he was never anyone of Olympian allure.

He walked slowly through the dreamscape
of the late autumn day, barely distinguishable
from early spring, with young willows
and a patch of waste ground where blue jays screamed.

Dreamy exposure to phenomena
that to nature in its administration
of various cycles—young and old alike—
are inseparably part of a single order—:

so he drank his gin and accepted a dish
of sausage soup, free on Thursdays
with a beverage and so found the Olympian balance
of sorrow and pleasure.

He had been reading on the park bench
and stared into the gray of the last roses,
there were no titans, just shrubs
thinned out by fall.

He put down his book. It was a day like any other
and the people were like all people everywhere,
that was how it would always be, at least
this mixture of death and laughter would persist.

A scent is enough to change things,
even small flowers stand in some relation to a cedar of Lebanon,
then he walked on and saw the windows of the furriers
were full of warm things for the winter ahead.

All very well, a gin and a few minutes
in the park at noon, with the sun shining,
but what when the landlord comes by, there are problems
with your tax return, and the girlfriend’s in tears?

Shattered: how far are you allowed to push your I,
and see peculiar things as somehow symptomatic?
Shattered: to what extent are you obliged to play by the rules—
as far as a Ludwig Richter canvas?

Shattered: no one knows. Shattered and you turn
equally pained to singular and universal—
your little experiment with destiny will end
gloriously and forever, but quite alone.

Damned evergreens! Vinyl whines!
Gin, sun, cedars—what use are they
to help the self reconcile landlord, God, and dream—
voices warble and words mock—
left the house and closed his reverie.

Source: Poetry (March 2012).


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

March 2012

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