Translated by William Ruleman

By Georg Heym

He squats on a block of houses, black in mood.
The winds have settled, surly, round his brow.
He sees, enraged, how in far solitude
The last houses scatter in lands of field and plow.

With evening’s advent, Baal’s red belly glowers.
Around him, all the greatest cities kneel.
Cathedral bells from seas of gloomy towers
Peal before him with enormous zeal.

The music of the millions thunders through
The streets like Corybants’ loud revelries.
Like fragrant incense vapors, waxing blue,
Smoke climbs to him from sundry factories.

In his eyebrows swells the thunderstorm.
Night benumbs the darkling evening’s pyre.
Swirling clouds, like hissing vultures, form
Inside his hair, which stands on end with ire.

He strikes his fleshy fist out in the dark
And shakes it. Flaming oceans navigate
A street. Their smoke laps up their final spark
And keeps on rolling till the day dawns, late.

(Georg Heym)

Auf einem Häuserblocke sitzt er breit.
Die Winde lagern schwarz um seine Stirn.
Er schaut voll Wut, wo fern in Einsamkeit
Die letzten Häuser in das Land verirrn.

Vom Abend glänzt der rote Bauch dem Baal,
Die großen Städte knien um ihn her.
Der Kirchenglocken ungeheure Zahl
Wogt auf zu ihm aus schwarzer Türme Meer.

Wie Korybanten-Tanz dröhnt die Musik
Der Millionen durch die Straßen laut.
Der Schlote Rauch, die Wolken der Fabrik
Ziehn auf zu ihm, wie Duft von Weihrauch blaut.

Das Wetter schwelt in seinen Augenbrauen.
Der dunkle Abend wird in Nacht betäubt.
Die Stürme flattern, die wie Geier schauen
Von seinem Haupthaar, das im Zorne sträubt.

Er streckt ins Dunkel seine Fleischerfaust.
Er schüttelt sie. Ein Meer von Feuer jagt
Durch eine Straße. Und der Glutqualm braust
Und frißt sie auf, bis spät der Morgen tagt.

By Paul Boldt

The riders take their white
Pathways to the town,
Whose dusty yellow light
Spews evening’s blue with down.

The lindens, mourning, bow
And mingle, pair by pair;
The birches, grayer now,
Loom, overgrown with hair.

The gas begins to whistle,
Gently come to bloom
As if a giant thistle
Had sprayed with dust the flume.

The waves wax nickel. All
The channel’s vessels freeze
Aglow, coiled in the shawl
Of evening’s icy breeze.

(Paul Boldt)

In weißen Wegen ziehn
Die Reiter in die Stadt,
Die lichtergelb bespien
Den blauen Abend hat.
Die Linden haben Trauer,
und ineinander lehnen,
Vom Haar bewachsen, grauer
Die Birkenmagdalenen.
Das Gas beginnt zu fisteln,
Sehr zart sich zu belauben,
Als blühten große Disteln,
Die auf das Wasser stauben.
Die Wellen werden nickeln.
Die Kähne im Kanal
Frieren beglänzt und wickeln
Sich in der Winde Shawl.

By Alfons Petzold

Glaring posters smear their gaudy phrases on
The rout of trucks and people rushing everywhere.
The steely elephants of autos loom and drone;
Scaffolds, rails, and blocks of stones all flare and blare.

The granite cubes of streets and squares and alleyways—
Like silver insect eyes—bedazzle, daze, and stun,
While up on high, the wicked telegraph-wire-nests’ blaze
Sprays and sparkles, spitting spite up at the sun.

Show windows shine like caves torn open, spill
Their treasures’ gleam on hearts and brains of passersby.
“Forward!” roars the growling city’s hammering will:
“Forward!” all cry. No eye sees the sky.

(Alfons Petzold)

Plakate schmettern ihre buntfarbigen Phrasen
in das Gewühle der Menschen und Wagen hinein.
Die Stahlelephanten der Automobile rasen
alles tönt: Gerüste, Schienen, verblocktes Gestein.

Die granitenen Würfel der Gassen, Straßen und Plätze
silbrig, wie Augen eines Insektes glühn
indes in der Höhe die Telegraphendrahtnetze
bös funkeln und Trotz in die Sonne sprühn.

Schauläden prunken, gleich aufgerissenen Höhlen,
schütten den Glanz ihrer Schätze in Hirn und Herz.
Vorwärts! Dröhnt es aus dem Knattern und Gröhlen
Vorwärts! schreit alles, kein Auge blickt himmelwärts.

By Hedwig Lachmann

I roam all through the massive town. A gloomy
Veil of fall mist hovers round its defenses;
The day’s work buzzes, roars before my senses;
Hundreds of humans rush their way on by me.

I know them not. Who are these many? Do they
Bear in their breasts a loss like mine? And do
Their hearts, unknown to me, perhaps bleed too—
In ways my own strange heartbeat could not say?

The mist is dripping. And we wander on.
From you to me, no flashes of meaning flare.
And when we toss a word out on the air,
It dies in the wind, unheeded and unknown.

(Hedwig Lachmann)
Ich wandre in der grossen Stadt. Ein trüber
Herbstnebelschleier flattert um die Zinnen,
Das Tagwerk schwirrt und braust vor meinen Sinnen,
Und tausend Menschen gehn an mir vorüber.

Ich kenn sie nicht. Wer sind die Vielen? Tragen
Sie in der Brust ein Los wie meins? Und blutet
Ihr Herz vielleicht, von mir so unvermutet,
Als ihnen fremd ist meines Herzens Schlagen?

Der Nebel tropft. Wir alle wandern, wandern.
Von dir zu mir erhellt kein Blitz die Tiefen.
Und wenn wir uns das Wort entgegenriefen –
Es stirbt im Wind und keiner weiss vom andern.

By Ernst Wilhelm Lotz

On violet mists swim lights of vivid bright
And burning gold. You dive right in, wade on
A-spin and blind in seas of faces right
Up close and panting, pale. You sink. And are alone.

Just you. You feel your hands to check and now
You know you dream. The dream drifts up all white.
You see the steep walls of the street somehow
Adorned with strange and glaring realms of varied light.

Your ears are shut. Your eyes alone can sense.
The street shows crosswise through the sky-forest-scapes.
The boughs of stars, whose streaming spans are immense,
Deceive with gestures of gods and sundry animal shapes.

You yourself are a star. You resound. And you can hear
Yourself ring through the All. You swim around
Through dreams of dear light sound that lure and charm  
And make you take them for some other pleasant sound.

Where is the sun, which binds you in its ring?
Gone now. Too late for that. You stay the course.
Around your train of fire twirls, sharpening,
A glowing tail. Storm forth, a comet now, full force!

(Ernst Wilhelm Lotz)

Auf violetten Dünsten schwimmen Lichter
Von brennend hohem Gelb. Du tauchst hinein,
Gewirbelt blindlings in ein Meer Gesichter,
Blaß, atmend nah. Versinkst. Und bist allein.

Nur du. Zum Prüfen fühlst du deine Hände
Und weißt, du träumst. Der Traum steigt weiß empor.
Vor dir erkennst du steile Straßenwände,
Behängt mit seltsam hellem Lichterflor.

Dein Ohr ist zu. Nur deine Augen fühlen.
Quer zeigt die Straße durch den Sternenwald.
Die Sternenzweige, die vorüberspühlen,
Bildtäuschen Göttergesten und manche Tiergestalt.

Du selbst ein Stern. Du tönst. Dich kannst du hören
Hinklingen durch das All. Du träumst und schwimmst
In Töne-Träumen, die dich leuchtend schön betören,
Daß du sie für den andern Wohllaut nimmst.

Wo ist die Sonne, die dich zirkelnd bindet?
Versäumt. Du steuerst fort. Es ist zu spät.
Um deine Feuerbahn nachschleifend windet
Sich hell ein Schweif. – Stürm glühend fort, Komet!


Georg Heym (1887-1912), one of the most famous of the German Expressionist poets, is best known for his strange depictions of modern Berlin and nightmarish visions of cultural collapse, which foreshadow the horrors of the First World War. His poetic output before his accidental death by drowning at the age of 24 was amazing.

Paul Boldt (1885-1921), one of the German Expressionist poets, was given to frolicsome and sometimes bawdy depictions of life, love, and sex in Berlin during the years preceding the First World War. Though drafted into the army, he was discharged in 1916, being declared psychologically unfit to serve. He died at the age of 35 from complications resulting from hernia surgery.

Alfons Petzold (1882-1923), a native of Vienna, was well known for his prose and verse during his lifetime, but since then, he has suffered neglect. He wrote of the working classes from which he emerged, the modern city, but also of nature during a life plagued by ill health and often poverty.

Hedwig Lachmann (1865-1918) lived in various cities, including Budapest and Berlin. She also translated many authors, notably Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde, into German. She was married to the German revolutionary Gustav Landau, who published her collected poems in book form after her death from pneumonia in her 53rd year. 

Ernst Wilhelm Lotz (1890-1914) is most often associated with Dresden, where he wrote many of his best poems. Though he shared with his fellow German Expressionist poets the desire for an energetic spiritual transformation of the staid society of his youth, his poetic career was cut short when he died in battle in France in 1914.

About the Translator:

w ruleman

William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. His most recent books include his translations of Hermann Hesse’s verse up to 1902, entitled Early Poems (Cedar Springs Books, 2017) and of Stefan Zweig’s unfinished novel Clarissa (Ariadne Press, also 2017).