Two Poems

Christine Lavant
Translated from the German by David Chorlton

[I was never inside your temple.]I was never inside your temple.But you allowed meto sell dovesfor several moonsin the forecourt.My red, red doves!There were wild ones among themand some with yellow beaks.A few even cried a littlebefore they were sacrificed inside.But most of them were gladand before they died, they placedthe gentle scrolls with their messagefull of tenderness on your lap.O my red, red doves!How good that none returnto count the scars the whip lefton my arms and shoulders.For it would have been difficult for them to understandhow from gently swaying ribbonssuch instruments of torture can be made. [Nie war ich in deinem Tempel]Nie war ich in deinem Tempel.Aber du ließest micheinige Mondeim Vorhof draußenTauben verkaufen.Meine roten, roten Tauben!Auch wilde waren darunterund solche mit gelben Schnäbeln.Manche haben wohl ein wenig geweint,ehe sie drinnen geopfert wurden.Aber die meisten waren frohund legten, ehe sie starben,die zärtlichen Spruchbänder ihrer Botschaftvoll Sanftmut auf deine Kniee.O meine roten, roten Tauben!Wie gut, daß keine zurückkommt,um auf meinen Armen und Schulterndie Geißelstriche zu zählen.Denn sie könnten nur schwer begreifen,wie aus den zärtlich wehenden Bändernsolch Marterriemen sich drehen ließ.


[Even deathly tired, the sun]Even deathly tired, the sunalways finds the right positionto rise above the mountains.Sharply, the olive wind splitsthe foliage of alien trees.At night, all-knowing luminous angelspull the birdswarms aheadbetween moon and waters.Everything in Heaven, on Earth,receives and obeys a wisdomsecretly conveyed.Why not my heart, my brain and my sleep?Why not my presumptuous tongue,too short to say your name,too long for silence.Why does my heart not know out and not in,why does my brain always think in circles?Why does my sleep pass by yourswith the emperor-moths?Why is the tongue too short and too long?Bitterly it maims the sweetest nameand never climbs above sobbing’slowest point to words of the heart. [Auch die schon tödlich erschöpfte Sonne]Auch die schon tödlich erschöpfte Sonnefindet noch immer die richtige Stelle,um übers Gebirge zu kommen.Richtig scheitelt der Ölbaumwindden fremden Bäumen das Laub.Nachts ziehen erzkluge Strahlenengelden Vogelschwärmen voranzwischen Mond und Gewässer.Alles am Himmel, auf Erdenempfängt und befolgt eine Weisunggeheim übermittelt.Warum nicht mein Herz, mein Hirn und mein Schlaf?Warum nicht meine vermessene Zunge,die zu kurz ist, deinen Namen zu sagen,und zu lang, um zu schweigen.Warum weiß mein Herz nicht aus und nicht ein,warum denkt mein Hirn nur immer im Kreis?Warum geht mein Schlaf mit den Nachtpfauenaugenvorbei an deinem?Warum ist die Zunge zu kurz und zu lang?Sie verstümmelt bitter den süßesten Namenund kommt nie über die niedrigste Stelledes Schluchzens zum Herzwort.

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Christine Lavant (1915–1973) was an Austrian poet and novelist. She was the ninth child of a miner and his wife, and grew up in poverty. While the poetry she was later to write contained the language of spirituality, the pain she described in it came from actual conditions which she suffered: scrofula and tuberculosis of the lungs. Being disadvantaged in health also meant she could not complete her education as intended. Unable to do hard physical work, she earned a living with knitting and weaving until she gained a reputation as a writer.

David Chorlton is the author of several poetry collections, including The Lost River (Ronald Wardall Award, Rain Mountain Press) and Selected Poems (Future Cycle Press). He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

“As with Rilke and Dickinson, Lavant addresses herself only to the highest tribunal. In her dark night, she lays bare what is most essential and most human…. Lavant continues to accompany us with her fierce interrogations—which will also endure long after us—in these elegant translations by David Chorlton.”
—Ellen Hinsey

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