L I t T e R

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Peter Huchel


The trail fades away. There's a pointer
to the grass
as to a truth. While you are walking,
the walled-in yard unleashes
its dogs. The path is here,
hacked by winter waters
into the thicket.

And below, between teeth of rock,
the sea's toiling to heave breakers,
broken rudders, the void
on to the strand.

They have
fixed the border
with iron posts. The day can still just
hold its own with its thistles
against the ice-laden
onslaught of night.

King Lear

He emerges
from down in the quarry,
his iodine cloth
wrapped round his right hand.

In wretched villages
he's been cutting twigs
for his lentil soup.

Now he's returning
in the withered shadow
of ripped clouds
to his crown
in the chasm.


I spoke with witches,
in which language
I no longer know.

The gates of heaven
burst open,
the spirit set free;
in the whirling wind
the lights on the heath.

By the sea
the filthy toes of the snow;
here someone is waiting
with hands without skin.
I wish my mother
had smothered me.

From the stables of the wind
he will come,
where the old women
chop up food.

Suspicion my helmet;
I hang it
in the rafters of night.

Near Wildenbruch

A thistle,
the wind picking its memory to shreds.

Horses with harnesses
blazing at their breasts.

In water sifted through by sunlight
the razor-sharp shadow of fish.

Soon the mist will feed
from the crib of stripped branches.

The year's confession. Crows
carry it into the sky's white darkening.

On the death of V.W.

She forgot the ashes
on the bent keys of the piano,
the flickering light in the windows.

It began with a pond,
then came the stony path,
the barred well, guarded by wormwood,
the pitted watering place beneath the elm
where horses once stood.

Then the night came
and it was like a falling of water.
Sometimes, for hours,
the spirit of a bird,
half buzzard, half swan,
hard over the reeds,
from which a snowstorm howls.


Later, towards morning
white awakening of light.
Boots wading
through shallow water,
poles plunging.
A raw command.
They are raising
the barbed-wire fish-trap,
sagging with mud...

No kingdom,
Where a cry
gouges the water,
some charm
shatters the bullet
on a willow leaf.

The Order of Storms

The embittered order of storms;
one is approaching now
from the Havel lakes to the south,
whipping a wild aisle
through villages and woods;
the other hesitates, building up against the wind,
and bursts with sudden heavy showers of hail
over the hills of Saarmund.
They collide above my roof.

Trumpets buried
in sinister clouds,
the thunder rolls through floods of rain,
the elm,
mighty against water,
trembles in black pools of sky
etched by lightning.

The embittered order of the land.
Protest and power.
Powerlessness and the lightning's cold.
The rain does not purify the air.

The Island of Potters

Behind us the ice-laden bird
with white wings,
pressing the snow wind,
the wet sail,
down to the water.

The island of potters
unfathomable rock
where dead days burn
in chambers of smashed kilns.
Pain sheens there like a glaze
in the colossal cold.

With the pressure of their hands
they gave the moist clay
on the whirring wheel
the roundness
of urns and amphorae

Later they rubbed colours,
pine soot, ochre and chalk,
fired signs
into the vases.
They voyaged out
to trade on the coasts.

The sharp skull of a rat
among shards,
blackened chaff.
A barrel full of ash
and splintered bones.
We do not make landfall there.


The cold iron of December
strikes the post and echoes,
beaten by the wind
with a hard fist.
The ferry frozen in,
crates of fish, heavy with hoar,
populated by gulls.

At the fire misted with leaves,
their fur hats
pulled down over their ears,
foreign soldiers squat.

In thin coats worn to threads
are gathered around an oak.
They are looking towards the river.
Two women
in snow-crusted sheepskin jackets
are heading north
over the ice.

Copyright The Huchel estate, 2007. Used with permission. Translation copyright Catherine Hales, 2007