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Two Poems


Can Be No Sorrow

That narrow cot, hardly any bigger than a child's, is where
    Droste-Hülshoff died
(it's there in her museum in Meersburg),
on that sofa Hölderlin in his tower room at the carpenter's,
Rilke and George in hospital beds presumably, in Switzerland,
in Weimar, Nietzsche's great black eyes
rested on white pillows
till they looked their last—
all of it junk now, or no longer extant,
unattributable, anonymous
in its insentient and continual disintegration.

We bear within us the seeds of all the gods,
the gene of death and the gene of love—
who separated them, the words and the things,
who blended them, the torments and the place where they
    come to an end,
the few laths and the floods of tears,
home for a few wretched hours.

Can be no sorrow. Too distant, too remote,
bed and tears too impalpable,
no No, no Yes,
birth and bodily pain and faith
an undefinable surge, a lurch,
an unearthly stirring in sleep
moved bed and tears—
sleep well!

                                               JANUARY 6, 1956

      (Text of the poem in the original German)
 

Devastations

Devastations—
but where there's nothing more to devastate,
even the ruins are mellowing,
chicory and plantain sprouting
from tumps of rubble
smooshed to humus—

devastations—
still proclaim: here were once
mass, construction, foundations—
proud word
evocative of
plenitude
and acres of home—

devastations—
gray Rip Van Winkle word
with clouds, showers, gloomy leafshadow,
and all of long duration—
where summer should have been,
with fruit punch,
dishes of ice cream beaded on the outside,
and beach parties in the white nights.

      (Text of the poem in the original German)


Gottfried Benn

Impromptus: Selected Poems and Some Prose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux


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