"She took risks, agitating for revolution and forging documents for draft dodgers (for which she received a brief prison sentence). She worked for a time as a prostitute and her one surviving
child was brought up by her mother.
Her work expresses the malaise of the era and the Bohemian reaction, heavy with dread yet scintillating with spirit and extravagance." - William Seaton
After the Cabaret
I see the early morning sun
At five a.m. I homeward stroll.
The lights still burn in my hotel.
The cabaret is finally done.
In shadows children hunker down.
The farmers bring their goods to town.
You go to church, silent and old
grave sound of church-bells in the air,
and then a girl with untamed hair
wanders up all blear and cold:
“Love me, free of every sin.
Look, I’ve kept watch many nights .”
I walk alone each city street,
The sun drops low and darkness comes
Softly then your songs I hum`.
Oh! I feel forlorn and beat.
In the fading red-tinged light
(how your mouth could bring such pain!)
your face so sweet and almost white,
and so heart-felt your folksong’s strain!
Eyes acquainted much with tears
that know the pain of love’s desire,
two dark, far-off, celestial spheres
burning with a low, low fire.
Pardon! I must jump off this ball;
in Paris a beautiful festival reigns.
Crowds collect in the Gare de l'Est
where bright silk banners wave as well.
You won’t find me among them, though.
I’ve run off to this vast big room.
I mix myself in every dream,
a thousand looks and each I know.
A sick man lies in misery.
His last look hypnotizes me.
We long to go back to some lost summer day.
A black cross fills the room.
for Hugo Ball
Octaves reel, and through the grey years -- echoes
as heaps of days collapse upon themselves.
I want only to be yours.
Within my tomb my blond hair grows;
in elderberry bushes live strange folk.
A pale curtain whispers “homicide.”
Two eyes range restless through the room,
inside our cupboards spirits hide.
Little fir trees are the children’s souls
and ancient oaks the souls of aged men
that whisper of miscarried lives.
The cliff-king sings an old, old tune.
I had no guard against the evil eye,
Though black men creep out of the water pail,
The picture book’s Red Riding Hood
Has me in thrall for once and for all time.
To you it’s like I’m marked, my name
just one on the list of the dead.
Too gone to sin in many ways,
I slowly drag through life’s old game,
anxiety in every stride.
My very heartbeat’s sick,
and it grows weaker day by day.
The angel of death now stands inside.
I dance until I’m out of breath --
I’ll soon be in my grave --
I know I’ll have no lover then --
so kiss me until death.
And nighttime when there is no light
and pictures fall right off the walls,
then someone laughs so big and bright
Someone’s long hands grab for me
And then a lady with green hair
who looks at me so very sad --
she was once a mother she swears.
She cannot bear the weight of pain
(I press the thorns into my heart
and then stop full of peace,
and I will suffer every hurt
it’s what is asked of me.)
My body aches somewhere in some far land,
for years my limbs have been as dead,
my feet both feel as though they’re made of lead,
my breast’s a void, a burned out brand.
Nothing’s wrong – I suffer painful days,
I seem to you like something banned.
I fall asleep as candles blaze
to light my way to an unknown land.
We lie under the sea so low
we nothing know of pain and woe.
Held we are on every side,
for water-roses ring us round.
We strive and hope and care no more.
Desire’s gone from us.
Lover, something still I seek,
one wish that I still have,
such longing to feel longing.
With Me at Home
Grandma’s up all through the night –
light shines through green glass panes –
by window’s lattice-work a sight
to see is her pale face.
The blue room’s furniture all round
may be the source of all our woe.
When someone dies, the clock, to show
its grief, strikes with the sickest sound.
The rain is beating on the glass.
A flower’s lit with red.
A cool wind wafts on past.
Am I awake or dead?
A world extends far as can be.
A clock strikes four so slow,
but time is nothing to me.
Into your arms I go. . .
(dedicated to Robert Jentzsch)
* All translations by William Seaton
( I have been working on a translation of Emmy Hennings’ little book Die Letzte Freude (The Last Joy) with a critical introduction. Here are more of the poems (I still would call them works-in-progress). Hennings used short words and simple verse forms associated with German Romanticism, but for me she avoids cloying through her pose of languorous melancholy while confronting the intolerable facts of existence. )
* Seaton is a poet, critic, and translator. In 2008 his Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems was published by FootHills Publishing. He is also the author of Tourist Snapshots and Cold Water, as well as scholarly work (including a volume on medieval love poetry). A book of essays and translations, Dada Poems from the German, has just been published by Nirala.