Wednesday, 11 April 2018

More on Johannes Bobrowski -Gertrud Kolmar



     Johannes Bobrowski's tribute to Gertud Kolmar ( Gertrud Kathe Chodziesner )         



                                   Plaque dedicated to Gertud Kolmar, in Berlin, in 1993 courtesy Wikipedia

                            I have  previously posted about  Johannes Bobrowski  ( 1917- 1965) - and recently went back to 'Shadowlands', the 1966 translation of his work from German by Ruth and Mathew Meads, which was republished in 1984 .  After being accepted in his native DDR as a rehabilitated Soviet Prisoner of War  and a respected poet, Bobrowski was gradually getting noticed in the West from around 1960 onward. And the East German regime were prepared to grant him some  permission to travel.

'Shadowlands' included a poem titled 'Gerturd Kolmar'  :  Certainly strange to have Bobrowski, a former German soldier  writing a tribute to a Jewish woman poet who didn't survive the holocaust.  The poem was first published in a collected  titled 'Shadowland Rivers' from 1962, which also contains two poems  ' Else Lasker-Schuler ' ( 1869-1945) and 'To Nelly Sachs' (1891- 1970) , who were both German women of Jewish descent.

 An ode Bobrowski wrote about Thomas Chatterton ( 1752- 1770), the forerunner of the English  Romantic poets, is a surprising choice .Though Bobrowski shared a huge reverence for Nature with the Romantics, his poetry was largely quite clipped and sparse in its use of words, perhaps having more in common with early 20th century Imagism.



 'Gerturd Kolmar'

Beech, bloody in leaf,
in smoking depth bitter
the shadows, the door above
of shouting magpies.

There a girl walked,
a girl with smooth hair,
the plain under her lids
glanced up, her step
was lost in the marches.

But the dark time
is not dead, my speech
wanders and is
rusty with blood.

Were I to remember you;
I stepped in front of the beech,
I have commanded the magpie:
Be silent, they come, who were
here-if I remembered:
We shall not die, we shall
be girded about with towers."

Johannes Bobrowski ( from 'Shadowlands)

      Gertrud Kathe Chodziesner/Gertrud Kolmar   ( 10th December 1894- deported March 1943) 


                      Gertrud Kolmar's legacy of 450 poems, two short stories, and three plays. Personal papers and other works were destroyed at the time of her arrest.  Her literary career had a promising start with her first collection published in 1917, and was frequent published throughout the 1920's, and a second collection appeared in 1934. But a third volume of poetry was suppressed by the Nazi regime in 1938, and in 1941 Gertud Kolmar became a forced labourer in the armaments industry. On 27th February 1943, Gertud was arrested by the SS and deported to Auschwitz on 2nd March 1943, her exact date of death is not known.  Interest has steadily grown in her work.

I am not sure of the date that 'The Female Poet' was written. I think that appeared from 1936 -1938 .
The incredible sense of being helpless against the course of history -'My heart beats like a frightened little bird's' and ' whispering to the wind' /'This shall not be' is so brilliantly . Or perhaps the poet is simply referring to being overwhelmed by a love affair. And the closing line " You hear me speak/But do you hear me feel ? " is spoken thinly to a party that is just not interested.


The Female Poet (  'Die Dichterin ' )

You hold me now completely in your hands.

My heart beats like a frightened little bird's
Against your palm. Take heed! You do not think
A person lives within the page you thumb.
To you this book is paper, cloth, and ink,

Some binding thread and glue, and thus is dumb,
And cannot touch you (though the gaze be great
That seeks you from the printed marks inside),
And is an object with an object's fate.

And yet it has been veiled like a bride,
Adorned with gems, made ready to be loved,
Who asks you bashfully to change your mind,
To wake yourself, and feel, and to be moved.

But still she trembles, whispering to the wind:
"This shall not be." And smiles as if she knew.
Yet she must hope. A woman always tries,
Her very life is but a single "You . . ."

With her black flowers and her painted eyes,
With silver chains and silks of spangled blue.
She knew more beauty when a child and free,
But now forgets the better words she knew.

A man is so much cleverer than we,
Conversing with himself of truth and lie,
Of death and spring and iron-work and time.
But I say "you" and always "you and I."

This book is but a girl's dress in rhyme,
Which can be rich and red, or poor and pale,
Which may be wrinkled, but with gentle hands,
And only may be torn by loving nails.

So then, to tell my story, here I stand.
The dress's tint, though bleached in bitter lye,
Has not all washed away. It still is real.
I call then with a thin, ethereal cry.

You hear me speak. But do you hear me feel?


-Gertrud Kolmar  ( translated by Translated by Henry A Smith )

Taken from the All Poetry entry for Gertrud Kolmar


Most Indebted to the Jewish Women's Archive   feature on Gertrud Kolmar .

And also to Lucy London 's feature on Gertrud Kolmar Female Poets of the First World War blog

Finally, must just mention the Stuart era companion blog to this one A burnt ship

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