Käthe Kollwitz

         1
Held between wars
my lifetime
                  among wars, the big hands of the world of death
my lifetime
listens to yours.

The faces of the sufferers
in the street, in dailiness,
their lives showing
through their bodies
a look as of music
the revolutionary look
that says    I am in the world
to change the world
my lifetime
is to love to endure to suffer the music
to set its portrait
up as a sheet of the world
the most moving the most alive
Easter and bone
and Faust walking among flowers of the world
and the child alive within the living woman, music of man,
and death holding my lifetime between great hands
the hands of enduring life
that suffers the gifts and madness of full life, on earth, in
         our time,
and through my life, through my eyes, through my arms
        and hands
may give the face of this music in portrait waiting for
the unknown person
held in the two hands, you.

         2
Woman as gates, saying:
"The process is after all like music,
like the development of a piece of music.
The fugues come back and
                                               again and again
interweave.
A theme may seem to have been put aside,
but it keeps returning—
the same thing modulated,
somewhat changed in form.
Usually richer.
And it is very good that this is so."

A woman pouring her opposites.
"After all there are happy things in life too.
Why do you show only the dark side?"
"I could not answer this. But I know—
in the beginning my impulse to know
the working life
                              had little to do with
pity or sympathy.
                               I simply felt
that the life of the workers was beautiful."

She said, "I am groping in the dark."

She said, "When the door opens, of sensuality,
then you will understand it too. The struggle begins.
Never again to be free of it,
often you will feel it to be your enemy.
Sometimes
you will almost suffocate,
such joy it brings."

Saying of her husband: "My wish
is to die after Karl.
I know no person who can love as he can,
with his whole soul.
But often too it has made me
so terribly happy."

She said: "We rowed over to Carrara at dawn,
climbed up to the marble quarries
and rowed back at night. The drops of water
fell like guttering stars
from our oars."

She said: "As a matter of fact,
I believe
                that bisexuality
is almost    a necessary factor
in artistic production; at any rate,
the tinge of masculinity within me
helped me
                  in my work."

She said: "The only technique I can still manage.
It's hardly a technique at all, lithography.
In it
        only the essentials count."

A tight-lipped man in a restaurant last night saying to me:
"Kollwitz?     She's too black-and-white."

         3
Held among wars, watching
     all of them
     all these people
     weavers,
     Carmagnole

Looking at
     all of them
     death, the children
     patients in waiting-rooms
     famine
     the street

A woman seeing
     the violent, inexorable
     movement of nakedness
     and the confession of No
     the confession of great weakness, war,
     all streaming to one son killed, Peter;
     even the son left living; repeated,
     the father, the mother; the grandson
     another Peter killed in another war; firestorm;
     dark, light, as two hands,
     this pole and that pole as the gates.

What would happen if one woman told the truth about
        her life?
     The world would split open

         4   Song : The Calling-Up
Rumor, stir of ripeness
rising within this girl
sensual blossoming
of meaning, its light and form.

The birth-cry summoning
out of the male, the father
from the warm woman
a mother in response.

The word of death
calls up the fight with stone
wrestle with grief with time
from the material make
an art harder than bronze.

         5   Self-Portrait 
Mouth looking directly at you
eyes in their inwardness looking
directly at you
half light    half darkness
woman, strong, German, young artist
flows into
wide sensual mouth meditating
looking right at you
eyes shadowed with brave hand
looking deep at you
flows into
wounded brave mouth
grieving and hooded eyes
alive, German, in her first War
flows into
strength of the worn face
a skein of lines
broods, flows into
mothers among the war graves
bent over death
facing the father
stubborn upon the field
flows into
the marks of her knowing—
Nie Wieder Krieg
repeated in the eyes
flows into
"Seedcorn must not be ground"
and the grooved cheek
lips drawn fine
the down-drawn grief
face of our age
flows into
Pieta, mother and
between her knees
life as her son in death
pouring from the sky of
one more war
flows into
face almost obliterated
hand over the mouth forever
hand over one eye now
the other great eye
closed

Muriel Rukeyser, "Käthe Kollwitz" from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser. Copyright © 2006 by Muriel Rukeyser. Reprinted by permission of International Creative Management.
Source: The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)
More Poems by Muriel Rukeyser