On Enzensberger | Poetry | Languages

Neohelicon XXXIV (2007) 1, 217–245 DOI: 10.




Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s lyrical oeuvre is characterized, indeed distinguished, by an intense and lifelong – or, to be more precise, career-long – experience and poetic discussion of contemporaneous history, both German and European as well as worldwide. This complex phenomenon spans the entire second half of the 20th century, extending from Enzensberger’s first volume of poetry, Verteidigung der Wölfe (In Defense of the Wolves) of 1957, to his most recent collection of verse, Die Geschichte der Wolken: 99 Meditationen (The History of the Clouds: 99 Meditations) of 2003. The topics treated include ecological problems, the Cold War with its accompanying atomic threat, the German student revolt, Cuban would-be socialism, China, and Africa, etc., but likewise, if in retrospect, the Second World War as experienced by the youthful poet. In all those respects, Enzensberger, like no other lyricist, proves to be exemplary, perhaps unique, and both quantitatively and qualitatively.

It is little known, indeed has gone unnoticed or, at least, unheeded, that not just the essayist but also the lyricist Hans Magnus Enzensberger has served, most attentively as well as most competently, as an indefatigable chronicler of modern German, and not only German, history for nearly five decades. Hence, let me begin – emblematically, as it were – with a poem of his whose very title already proves historical enough; in point of fact, this title is virtually fraught with history … as are, needless to say, the subsequent lines, which amount to three strophes. “Herbst 1944”, fairly brief as it is all the same, runs as follows:
Zwar dem, der im Gras lag, kamen sie herrlich vor, wie sie hoch oben glitzerten am wolkenlosen Oktoberhimmel, die Bomberströme, und schade war es nicht um die Andenken, die in der Ferne verbrannten auf dem modrigen Dachboden:

Reinhold Grimm, 6315 Glen Aire Ave. Riverside, CA 92506-5304, USA.
0324–4652/$20.00 © 2007 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest Springer, Dordrecht



Sammeltassen und Engelshaar, Großvaters Pariser Postkarten (Oh la la!) und sein Koppelschloß aus einem anderen Krieg, löchrige Unterröcke, Orden, Puppenhäuser, die Psyche aus Gips und ein paar vergessene Gottesbeweise in einer Zigarrenschachtel – aber im Keller die Leichen sind immer noch da.1

I shall not comment on this text at the moment, but shall return to it in due time, providing both a translation of it and an appropriate discussion of its content and message. For, at first, a few biographical facts and dates might be in order although, of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with modern German literature will have encountered some verse or other of Enzensberger’s, will remember one of his – sometimes rather spectacular – sociopoetic activities. After all, he is, arguably, the most fiercely disputed as well as most widely acclaimed contemporary lyricist and essayist, or poet and critic, writing in the German language. Born at Kaufbeuren in the Bavarian province of Swabia on 11 November 1929, Hans Magnus Enzensberger grew up in the old Imperial City of Nuremberg, which was so sadly tainted with the Nazis’ party rallies (and otherwise) during the 1930s. From 1949 to 1955, he studied at various universities, including the Paris Sorbonne, eventually earning his Dr. phil. in German letters at the University of Erlangen (now Erlangen-Nürnberg) in the Northern Bavarian province of Central Frankonia. Enzensberger has traveled extensively: from the United States and Mexico to Australia and the erstwhile Soviet Union, from South America to the Far East and beyond. He lived for a year in Italy; then, for quite some time, on a tiny island in Norway’s Oslo Fjord, moving to West Berlin in 1965, and from there, in 1979, to Munich where he still lives today. In 1965, he had founded the influential left-wing journal Kursbuch (Timetable); in 1968, he had given up, with a scathing open letter published simultaneously by the New York Review of Books and the German weekly Die Zeit, his fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies of Wesleyan University, and spent several months in Castro’s socialist Cuba.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Kiosk: Neue Gedichte [henceforth = KI] (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1995) 22. The following other abbreviations, appearing in brackets in the text and/or notes, will apply: Id., Die Gedichte (1983) = [GD]; id., Zukunftsmusik (1991) = [ZU]; id., Leichter als Luft: Moralische Gedichte (1999) = [LU]; id. Die Geschichte der Wolken: 99 Meditationen (2003) = [WO]; id., Kiosk: Poems. Trans. Michael Hamburger and Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1999) = [KIP]; id., Selected Poems. Trans. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michael Hamburger and Rita Dove/Fred Viebahn (1999) = [SEL]; id., Lighter than Air: Moral Poems. Trans. Reinhold Grimm (2000) = [LAI]. The German editions were published by Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, the English editions, by Sheep Meadow Press, Riverdale-on-Hudson. All subsequent translations are mine unless indicated otherwise.



Enzensberger’s first collection of poetry, his sensational Verteidigung der Wölfe (In Defense of the Wolves), appeared in 1957, his first and equally impressive collection of essays, Einzelheiten (Particulars), in 1962, followed, shortly thereafter, by a closely related tome entitled Politik und Verbrechen (Politics and Crime). Ever since, he has been writing incessantly, publishing scores of essays and countless poems, yet likewise, among other works, plays and a documentary novel, libretti and adaptations as well as translations from sundry tongues. Especially noteworthy are his two volumes of verse that date from 1975 and 1978, respectively: to wit, Mausoleum: Siebenunddreißig Balladen aus der Geschichte des Fortschritts (Mausoleum: ThirtySeven Ballads from the History of Progress), a stunning amassment of texts which supplemented the genre of the prose poem with its hitherto unknown twin of the prose ballad, and, needless to say, Der Untergang der Titanic: Eine Komödie (The Sinking of the Titanic: A Comedy) which amounts, no question about it, to a modern Dantean epic of sorts. (The latter, by the way, was rendered into English by the author himself, whereupon he was assured by a British fellow poet and critic that “he could even qualify as an English-language poet.”)2 However, Enzensberger, in excess of being a watchful and expert historian, has also proved to be a seasoned mathematician and scientist; in 1997, for instance, he flabbergasted his readership with an introductory little handbook titled Der Zahlenteufel (The Number Devil) the original subtitle of which runs “Ein Kopfkissenbuch für alle, die Angst vor der Mathematik haben“ (A Bedside Booklet for All Those Who Are Afraid of Math), and which was translated, almost immediately, into roughly twenty languages, from Portuguese and Hungarian to Icelandic and Hebrew. No wonder, therefore, if he can boast of having been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, both nationally and globally. As early as 1963, he received the coveted Büchner-Preis, the most distinguished literary prize in the German-speaking community; only a couple of years ago, he was decorated with the Pour le mérite (“Friedensklasse”, naturally), Germany’s highest and rarest medal. And in between, for example, he was awarded the International Prize for Poetry at Struga (then Yugoslavia) in 1980. The inception of Enzensberger’s chronicling of modern history in the broadest sense of the term coincides exactly with his sudden emergence as a leading poet. For already his very first book, the aforementioned Verteidigung der Wölfe, features an unmistakably ecological verse – at a time, it should be noted, when suchlike insights were barely beginning to dawn on humankind, and when the pertinent concerns were merely isolatedly and slowly being voiced and put forward. Significantly, the poem in question which bears the seemingly harmless and near idyllic or exotic heading “Fremder Garten” (Strange [or Foreign] Garden) contains the ominous phrase and image: “Das Gift kocht in den Tomaten” (The poison is boiling in the tomatoes [GD 37]).3 Fairly soon, though, these ecological observations and warnings came to be widened and deepened, so to say, and be extended to the atomic threat, too, as witness
2 3

Thus Michael Hamburger in [SEL xv]. Cf. my mini-essay “Silent Summer” of 1979; repr. in Reinhold Grimm, Texturen: Essays und anderes zu Hans Magnus Enzensberger (New York [etc.]: Lang, 1984) 172f.



other, more outspoken poems – now from Enzensberger’s second volume of verse, Landessprache (Language of the Country) of 1960 – such as “Isotop” (Isotope [GD 106]), “An alle Fernsprechteilnehmer” (To All Telephone Subscribers [GD 107f.) or “Das Ende der Eulen” (The End of the Owls [GD 109f.]). Yet another threesome of poems treating the atomic threat and, by obvious implication, the Cold War are to be found in Enzensberger’s 1964 collection Blindenschrift (Braille); as a matter of fact, two of them are even more direct and outspoken, as can at once be inferred from their telling titles (in English already in the original): namely, “Doomsday” [GD 198f.] and “Countdown” [GD 201]. The third pertinent verse from that third book of poetry the author brought out within seven years, “Nänie auf den Apfel” (Dirge for the Apple [GD 202]), seems to be somewhat less blunt or straightforward, granted. However, based on the well-known attribute of the so-called “Reichsapfel” (Imperial orb) as it is, and portraying this age-old symbol of the earth – and, thereby, the earth itself and earth’s hapless creatures – as totally devastated and irretrievably gone, its lines, no doubt, reveal themselves as equally unequivocal. “Countdown”, to quote at least one text from Enzensberger’s early poetic-historical series, has the wording:
Hundert Klafter tief in der Erde hundert Faden tief im Meer zählt jener dort unsre Sekunden von zehn bis null. Meine Pfeife brennt eine halbe Stunde wenn sie nicht ausgeht. Mein Kopf ist noch gut für ungefähr dreißig Jahre. Der Nagel den ich in die Wand schlage hält doppelt so lang. Was ich hier schreibe vergilbt wenn es nicht Feuer fängt ungelesen, vielleicht erst in sehr fernen Zeiten. Die steinerne Schwelle verwittert nicht leicht. Länger als alles (abgesehen vom Meer, von der Erde, vom Moos und gewissen Himmelserscheinungen) am längsten dauert der Mensch: solang bis jener dort in der Tiefe unsre Sekunden gezählt hat von zehn bis null.



(Twenty rods deep in the ground twenty fathoms deep in the sea there’s he who counts our seconds from ten to zero. My pipe burns for half an hour if it doesn’t go out. My head is still good for about thirty years. The nail I drive into the wall will last twice as long. What I am writing here will yellow unread, if it doesn’t catch fire, perhaps only in very distant times. The stony threshold won’t crumble easily. Longer than anything (apart from the sea, the ground, the moss and certain celestial phenomena) what lasts longest is man: until the one down there has counted our seconds from ten to zero.)

During the hectic decades following, to be sure, the chronicler Hans Magnus Enzensberger has hardly penned and published – as far as I can see, at all events – any noteworthy lines on such or similar topics. Only as late as 1995, in his volume Kiosk: Neue Gedichte (Newsstand: New Poems), did he deal with a threatening global cataclysm once more … or to be precise, with the subsequent fate of the globe and of all living beings that populate(d) it. Yet the respective verse entitled “Vom Leben nach dem Tode” (Of Life after Death [KI 128]) cannot but strike the reader as strangely resigned, equanimous, even almost serene. Yes indeed, the poet assures us sovereignly, as it were, the feared catastrophe has now happened sometime in the future, and mankind has exterminated itself for good; still, life – both by means of spreading lush plants and of swarming primitive animals – is proliferating again (“das Leben [wuchert] wieder”), albeit without the slightest trace of humans, let alone human civilization. Doubtless, the dimensions of suchlike texts, whether from the 1950s and 1960s or the mid-1990s, are truly worldwide, as are also those of satirical poems like “Friedenskongreß” (Peace Conference [GD 270]) from Gedichte 1955–1970 (Poems 1955–1970) which appeared in 1971, or “Friedensgespräche” (Peace Talks [WO 43]) from Enzensberger’s latest collection, Die Geschichte der Wolken: 99 Meditationen (The History of the Clouds: 99 Meditations), which came out, decennia afterwards, in



2003. The vast majority of his verse devoted to modern history, however, is not globally oriented to begin with, but much more detailed and specific, geographically as well as ideologically. That Cuba should put in a marked appearance in this context ought to be anything but astonishing considering what we have learned about the author’s biography. What proves quite remarkable, though, is the lyrical residue, so to speak, which his experiences on the allegedly progressive Caribbean island yielded. For they, in the long run, turned out to be a thorough disappointment and disillusionment. It is true, the first of the two poetic reports that summarize them, “Das Übliche” (Same Old Story [GD 294]) included in Gedichte 1955–1970,4 still remains rather modest or discreet and merely slightly ironical; all the more relentless and consummately sarcastic, on the other hand, is the second of these poems, “Alte Revolution” (Old Revolution [ZU 49f.]). In fact, it may well be regarded as one of Enzensberger’s finest and most perspicacious historical or political lyrics. Just compare:
Ein Käfer, der auf dem Rücken liegt. Die alten Blutflecken sind noch da, im Museum. Jahrzehnte, die sich totstellen. Ein saurer Mundgeruch dringt aus dreißig Ministerien. Im Hotel Nacional spielen vier verstorbene Musikanten den Tango von 1959, Abend für Abend: Quizás, quizás, quizás. Im Gemurmel der tropischen Maiandacht fallen der Geschichte die Augen zu. Nur die Sehnsucht nach Zahnpasta, Glühbirnen und Spaghetti liegt schlaflos da zwischen feuchten Laken. Ein Somnambule vor zehn Mikrophonen, der kein Ende findet, schärft seiner müden Insel ein: Nach mir kommt nichts mehr. Es ist erreicht. An den Maschinenpistolen glänzt das Öl. Der Zucker klebt in den Hemden. Die Prostata tut es nicht mehr. Sehnsüchtig sucht der greise Krieger den Horizont ab nach einem Angreifer. Aber die Kimm ist leer. Auch der Feind hat ihn vergessen. (A beetle that lies on its back. The old bloodstains are still there, in the museum. Decades that pretend to be dead.

For my English translation, see Pembroke Magazine 24 (1992): 41.



A sour bad breath is oozing from thirty ministries. In the Hotel Nacional four deceased musicians play the tango of 1959 every night: Quizás, quizás, quizás. In the murmur of the tropical May devotions history can’t keep its eyes open. Only the nostalgia for toothpaste, for light bulbs and spaghetti is lying there, sleepless, between moist sheets. A somnambulist in front of ten microphones, unable to stop, impresses upon his weary island: Nothing will come after me. It is finished. The oil on the tommy guns glistens. The sugar sticks to the shirts. The prostate gland won’t work anymore. With longing eyes, the aged warrior searches the horizon for an aggressor. But the dip is empty. The enemy, too, has forgotten him.)5

The essayistic summary of those Cuban experiences and, thus, the discursive counterpart of Enzensberger’s poetic reports – the first dating from 1971, the second, contained in Zukunftsmusik (Music of the Future) from 1991 – is constituted by the overall retribution he published, as early as 1969, under the title “Bildnis einer Partei: Vorgeschichte, Struktur und Ideologie der PCC” (Portrait of a Party: Prehistory, Structure and Ideology of the PCC [i.e., the Communist Party of Cuba]). 6 As for the contemporaneous events in Southeast Asia, the eager chronicler provided merely a single and, moreover, very brief and indirect poem: namely, “Abendnachrichten” (Evening News [GD 169]) which appeared already in Blindenschrift of 1964. It reads in its entirety:
Massaker um eine Handvoll Reis, höre ich, für jeden an jedem Tag eine Handvoll Reis: Trommelfeuer auf dünnen Hütten, undeutlich höre ich es, beim Abendessen.


My translation appeared in The Rialto [Norwich, Great Britain] 23 (Summer 1992): 37 and in Northwest Review 31.1 (1993): 92, respectively; for Enzensberger’s self-translation, see [SEL 211]. Cf. Kursbuch 18 (1969).192–216; repr. in Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Palaver: Politische Überlegungen 1967–1973 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974) 55–90. – On the other hand, compare the laudatory documentary play devoted to Castro’s Cuba: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Das Verhör von Habana (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970).



Auf den glasierten Ziegeln höre ich Reiskörner tanzen, eine Handvoll, beim Abendessen, Reiskörner auf meinem Dach: den ersten Märzregen, deutlich. (Massacres for a handful of rice, I hear, to each on each day a handful of rice: drumfire onto flimsy huts, indistinctly I hear it, at dinner. On the glazed tiles: I hear rice grains dancing, a handful, at dinner, rice grains on my roof: the first March rain, distinctly.)

This restraint is so much the more amazing in view of the widespread and thoroughly acid poetic reaction triggered by the Vietnam War in German letters, for they actually devoted not just scattered poems to it, but an entire if slender volume, und Vietnam und: Einundvierzig Gedichte (And Vietnam and: Forty-One Poems) by Erich Fried (1921–1988).7 A similar paucity – though not necessarily reservedness – on the part of Enzensberger applies to his historico-poetic attitude toward the general situation or certain scandalous occurrences in the United States, in Hungary and in Africa. Socialist Hungary, for instance, is depicted in the twelve short stanzas of “Stadtrundfahrt” (Tour of the City [i.e., Budapest, the country’s capital; GD 363f.]), a verse contained in the slim collection Die Furie des Verschwindens (The Fury of Disappearance) of 1980. Regarding the US, the very heading “Nach dem Rücktritt des Präsidenten R. M. N.” (After the Resignation of the President R. M. N. [LU 13]) is self-explanatory and more than sufficient although I might add that this political poem is composed – a token of supreme sardonic irony, I daresay – according to the delicate as well as lavish rules of a Persian ghazel of all prosodic forms. Finally, Africa – sub-Saharan Africa, that is – and the bloody massacres that have been raging there are allotted an Enzensbergerian verse of perhaps not the same indirectness and reticence as “Abendnachrichten” but, comprising one strophe only, of an even more stunning laconism and brevity. Entitled “Interferenz” (Interference [WO 49]), it states lapidarily and in one uninterrupted sentence:
Hoffnung wäre zuviel gesagt, aber wenn über den verwüsteten Dörfern ein doppelter Regenbogen erscheint, lassen sie, ein paar Minuten lang, ihre Messer sinken und sehen zu, wie er langsam

Cf. Erich Fried, und Vietnam und: Einundvierzig Gedichte (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1966).



vor ihren blutunterlaufenen Augen hin schwindet. (Calling it hope would be too much, but when, above the ravaged villages, there does appear a double rainbow, they lower, for a couple of minutes, their daggers and keep looking on as it slowly, before their bloodshot eyes, vanishes.)

By contrast, the Chinese connection, so to speak, has been granted by Enzensberger, both ideologically as well as politically, historically and even geographically, no fewer than three elaborate poetic treatments: to wit, “Gedicht über die Zukunft, November 1964” (Poem about the Future, November 1964 [GD 280]), “Hong Kong 1997” [LU 28] and, dating from 2003, “Schöne Tage in Xinjiang” (Nice Days in Xinjiang [WO 67]). All three of these texts are characteristic and eloquent enough, admittedly; however, the one most typical of the poet’s method and procedure is perhaps the earliest of them, which begins – I’ll be quoting here from Michael Hamburger’s translation – with the then highly topical stanza:
Zwei Männer kommen auf einem Traktor (Chou En-Lai ist in Moskau) Zwei Männer in steingrauen Kitteln (Nobelpreisträger im Frack) Zwei Männer mit dünnen Stecken (Goldmedaillen aus Tokio) am Straßenrand zwischen gelben Blättern (Die toten Guerrilleros von Vietnam) (Two men appear on a tractor [Chou En-Lai is in Moscow] Two men in stone-grey overalls [Nobel Prize winners in evening dress] Two men with slender sticks [gold medals from Tokyo] at the wayside amid yellow leaves [the dead guerillas of Vietnam])

Replete with allusive symbolism, as must be evident at first sight, the poem ends with the assurance (or mere hope?) that the snowplow, once those fragile sticks have safely been planted, will find its way “wo kein Weg mehr zu sehen ist” (where no way can be seen anymore).8 Naturally, the vast majority of Enzensberger’s poems dealing with matters historical is, of necessity, bound to be concentrated on Germany or, more precisely, the Ger8

I have slightly changed Hamburger’s rendition; cf. [SEL 81].



man-speaking lands and community at large. Hence, a heading like “Altes Europa” (Old Europe, or even Good Old Europe [KI 17]) is in fact half deceptive at least, since what has so graphically been pictured in its text reveals itself on closer scrutiny as either a genuinely German or Austrian or, for that matter, Swiss environment and situation. For this literary genre painting runs, compact and complex as it is:
Im warmen Brotduft vor der Bäckerei hält ein dicker Zauberer aus Guinea unter der goldenen Brezel Schlüsselanhänger feil in der Graubrüdergasse. (Wer waren die Grauen Brüder?) Kleine drahtige Dealer in riesigen Turnschuhen streiten sich in einer Sprache knurrend, die niemand versteht, an der Mauer des Kirchhofs zum Heiligen Geist. (Wer war der Heilige Geist?) Und dann die alte Bosnierin, die ihr steifes Bein ausstreckt, ein paar Minuten lang, auf einer Bank im dunkelgrünen, stillen Hof hinter dem dunkelgrünen Portal des Hauses zum Elefanten, erbaut 1639. (In the warm aroma of bread by the bakery, under its shop sign with the golden pretzel, a stout magician from Guinea is offering key rings for sale in Grayfriars Lane. [Who were the Gray Friars?] Runty wiry drug dealers with giant sneakers are quarreling – snarling in a language that nobody understands – by the wall of Holy Ghost Churchyard. [Who was the Holy Ghost?] And then that old woman from Bosnia who, for a couple of minutes, stretches out her stiff leg on a bench in the dark green, quiet courtyard behind the dark green portal of Elephant Inn, built in 1639.)



This present-day ‘idyll’, too, is once again fraught with historical evocations and allusions which are, beyond doubt, far-reaching and momentous indeed. For example, that the date 1639 is meant to conjure up the endless slaughter and countless atrocities of the Thirty Years’ War which lasted, as is well known, from 1618 to 1648 goes without saying; yet the same date cannot but instantly call to mind the outbreak, exactly three centuries later, of World War II as well and what it implies. And how about that old woman from Bosnia? To render her “steifes Bein” as stiff legs (plur.), as has done Hamburger [cf. KIP 10], instead of, correctly, as stiff leg (sing.) is not only grammatically wrong; it also misses the decisive point, for the poor old Bosnian isn’t, quite harmlessly, tired with walking or window-shopping but, ominously enough, is badly crippled, being an innocent victim of the suicidal and genocidal bloodshed in former Yugoslavia. She has found a haven somewhere in Central Europe, just as the snarling drug dealers and the magician from Guinea have luckily landed there, thus bespeaking the “Great Migration” (Enzensberger) of people from the so-called Third World in particular that has now been taking place for many decades and will doubtless be continuing to do so. 9 Such Enzensbergerian poems that, on the one hand, refer to Europe or even the West in general while above all, on the other hand, referring primarily to the German experiences proper on which they draw have never been exceptions in the lyricist’s oeuvre, to be sure. Not surprisingly, most of them prove to be rather critical judgements or both critically and ironically nostalgic reminiscences such as – their titles will amply suffice – the somewhat premature “Erinnerung an die sechziger Jahre” (Remembrance of the Sixties [GD 218]) from the 1964 Blindenschrift with its prompt follow-up “Aufbruch in die siebziger Jahre” (Departure for the Seventies [GD 302]) from Gedichte 1955–1970 as well as “Andenken” (Memory [GD 347]) from Die Furie des Verschwindens and, last but not least, a “Kurze Geschichte der Bourgeoisie” (Short History of the Bourgeoisie [GD 365]) from the same 1980 collection. The latter, to cite but one example, boasts the brilliant wording:
Dies war der Augenblick, da wir, ohne es zu bemerken, fünf Minuten lang unermeßlich reich waren, großzügig und elektrisch, gekühlt im Juli, oder für den Fall daß es November war, loderte das eingeflogene finnische Holz in den Renaissancekaminen. Komisch, alles war da, flog sich ein, gewissermaßen von selber. Elegant

As to Hamburger’s version, cf. [KIP 10]. – For more details, see my interpretation: Reinhold Grimm, “Wanderungen … ob aber auch Wandlungen? Enzensbergers Altes Europa”, in Gedichte und Interpretationen: Gegenwart II. Ed. Walter Hinck (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1997) 46–54. Regarding the first two strophes, compare also Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Die Große Wanderung: Dreiunddreißig Markierungen. Mit einer Fußnote “Über einige Besonderheiten bei der Menschenjagd” (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1992); an English version of this jumbo essay is contained in id., Civil Wars: From L. A. to Bosnia (New York: New Press, 1994).



waren wir, niemand konnte uns leiden. Wir warfen um uns mit Solokonzerten, Chips, Orchideen in Cellophan [sic]. Wolken, die Ich sagten. Einmalig! Überallhin Linienflüge. Selbst unsre Seufzer gingen auf Scheckkarte. Wie die Rohrspatzen schimpften wir durcheinander. Jedermann hatte sein eigenes Unglück unter dem Sitz, griffbereit. Eigentlich schade drum. Es war so praktisch. Das Wasser floß aus den Wasserhähnen wie nichts. Wißt ihr noch? Einfach betäubt von unsern winzigen Gefühlen, aßen wir wenig. Hätten wir nur geahnt, daß das alles vorbei sein würde in fünf Minuten, das Roastbeef Wellington hätte uns anders, ganz anders geschmeckt. (That was the moment when, without noticing it, we were for five minutes immensely rich, magnanimous and electric, air-conditioned in July, or, in case it was November, the flown-in Finnish logs would blaze in the Tudor fireplaces. Funny, everything was there, just flew in virtually by itself. Elegant we were, no one could stand us. We threw solo concerts around, chips, orchids in cellophane. Clouds that said, I. Unique! Scheduled flights in all directions. Even our sighs were chargeable to credit cards. Like fishwives we scolded confusedly. Each one had his own misfortune under his seat, handily. A pity, in fact. It was so practical. Water flowed out of faucets just like that. Do you remember? Simply dazed by our tiny emotions, we ate little. If only we’d known that all this would be over in five minutes, we would have enjoyed the roast beef Wellington more, much more.) 10


As to Hamburger’s translation, cf. [SEL 161].



No commentary, I think, is necessary. This scathingly sarcastic “Short History” speaks for itself, as do so many texts of the lyrical chronicler Hans Magnus Enzensberger. I therefore need merely name, yet not discuss, another representative selection of pertinent historico-political poems from Enzensberger’s prolific pen (although I find it hard, as always, to refrain from adducing additional ones, much less from reproducing them). To wit: “Bericht aus Bonn” (Report from Bonn [GD 348]), once more included in Die Furie des Verschwindens or “Bundeswalzer” (“Federal Waltz” [GD 338f.]), a vastly amusing ditty of sorts, equally strophic and rhymed, which belongs to the cycle “Zehn Lieder für Ingrid Caven” (Ten Songs for Ingrid Caven) written for this popular cabaret chanteuse, or at long last – but to be expected, of course, from the outset – the Wende poem “Aufbruchsstimmung” (Atmosphere of Departure [ZU 42f.]) exploring, and skeptically reflecting on, people, things and general goings-on in the newly reunified Berlin of the years around 1989/90.11 Still, as to the next two poems, likewise centered on a nodal point of 20th-century German history as they are, I cannot resist, with the best of wills, quoting them unabridged, for all their considerable length and combined complexity. For what they – and several more of a comparable hue, I should add – depict and ponder are certain attitudes and events of the late 1960s that Enzensberger himself was deeply engaged and involved in: namely, the so-called student revolt and the widespread unrest bordering on plain rebellion that accompanied it, in France and in this country as well as in (West) Germany. Those two poems are “Der Papier-Truthahn” (The Paper Turkey [GD 297]) and “Frühschriften” (Early Writings [KI 23f.]) dating from 1971 and 1995, respectively, the former thus near contemporaneous with said moods and happenings, the latter again in retrospect. “Der Papier-Truthahn”, imbued with sovereign irony – and, maybe, also a pinch of self -irony – no less than with bitter sarcasm, reads as follows:
Den ganz echten Revolutionär finden Sie heute auf Seite 10 der Unterhaltungsbeilage Der ganz echte Revolutionär kann über den Kommunismus nur noch mitleidig lächeln Der ganz echte Revolutionär steht irgendwo ganz weit links von Mao vor der Fernsehkamera

For a brief discussion, see Jonathan Monroe, “Between Ideologies and a Hard Place: Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s Utopian Pragmatist Poetics”, Studies in 20th Century Literature 21.1 (1997): 41–77; for my own interpretation, see Reinhold Grimm, “Around and after the ‘Wende’: Five Representative Poems”, Neohelicon [Budapest] XXVIII/1 (2001): 195–211, an article which also deals with the aforequoted poem “Altes Europa”.



Der ganz echte Revolutionär bekämpft das System mit knallharten Interviews Der ganz echte Revolutionär ist volltransistorisiert selbstklebend und pflegeleicht Der ganz echte Revolutionär kriegt das Maul nicht zu Er ist ungeheuer gefährlich Er ist unser Lieblingsclown12 (The dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary will today be found on page 30 of the light reading supplement


These strophes may well have been prompted by the Brechtian poem “Der Theaterkommunist”; cf. Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke in 20 Bänden (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967 ) 8: I54. It runs: Eine Hyazinthe im Knopfloch Am Kurfürstendamm Empfindet der Jüngling Die Leere der Welt. Auf dem Klosett Scheint es ihm deutlich: er Scheißt ins Leere. Müde der Arbeit Seines Vaters Befleckt er die Cafés Hinter den Zeitungen Lächelt er gefährlich. Er ist es, der Diese Welt zertreten wird wie Ein Kuhflädchen. Für 3000 Mark im Monat Ist er bereit Das Elend der Massen zu inszenieren Für 100 Mark im Tag Zeigt er Die Ungerechtigkeit der Welt. But compare also Enzensberger’s “Glasarchitektur” (Glass Architecture [GD 317]) and similar, either mild or biting, diatribes.



The dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary has regarding Communism nothing left but a contemptuous smile The dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary stands somewhere far, far on the left of Mao facing the TV camera The dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary is fighting the system by way of hard-line interviews The dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary is fully transistorized self-adhesive and easy to keep The dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary can never hold his trap He’s enormously dangerous He is our favorite clown)

Evidently, the disdainful expression ‘paper tiger’, coined by Mao Tse-tung around 1950, and designating one who is outwardly powerful or dangerous but inwardly weak or ineffectual, has been current in German, too, at least since the 1960s;13 Enzensberger, however, here intensified it even more disdainfully by coining the concept of a “Papier-Truthahn” (a turkey, after all, is said to see red and ridiculously to gobble). While Enzensberger’s verse on the would-be revolutionary as a ludicrous paper turkey, albeit serious nonetheless, is composed in a ruthlessly farcical vein, his “Frühschriften” (i.e., the early writings of Karl Marx) reveals itself as an undeniably tragic text and testimony. This somber yet equally downright and enlightening poem consists of the following three stanzas:
Heute fällt sie mir wieder ein, nach vierzig Jahren, am hellen Nachmittag. Wo ist er geblieben, der zerfledderte Band, den sie mir damals gab? Das Pathos der Sätze, die ihre flatternde Hand rot unterstrich? Die Frühschriften – kein Mensch kannte das,

Cf. Heinz Küpper, Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache (Stuttgart: Klett, 1987) 592.



damals, in Deutschland. Grau war der Staub der fünfziger Jahre. Sommersprossen, mitten im Winter, rührende Ungeduld. Vor Jahren hat mir einer gesagt, irgendeiner, vor Jahren, am Telephon, nebenbei, sie habe sich umgebracht. Nichts erinnert an sie, an diesem warmen Mittwoch im Mai, heute, nicht einmal ein zerlesenes Buch. (Today she enters my mind again, after forty years, on a bright afternoon. Whatever became of it, that tattered volume she gave me, back then? Of the pathos of those sentences underlined in red by her fluttering hand? The Frühschriften – not a soul in Germany knew that stuff, back then. Gray was the dust of the 1950s. Freckles of summer in mid-winter, a touching impatience. Years ago someone told me, just someone, years ago, over the phone, in passing, that she killed herself. There’s nothing to remind me of her on this warm Wednesday in May, not even a battered book.)14

Why, one might ask, on an afternoon in May of all months? Is it by sheer chance? Or because of the alliteration “Mittwoch” / “Mai”, a rhetorical device the poet is so

As to Hamburger’s translation, cf. [KIP 15].



fond of? But Enzensberger’s allusion to the glorious if abortive Paris May of 1968 ought to be blatantly manifest, be a broad hint indeed… There might, though, transpire something else as well in these stanzas, no matter how faintly and hesitantly. Namely, to be quite frank, I for one cannot help being reminded here of a text and testimony by the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla, a contemporary of Enzensberger’s born in 1932, whom the author of “Frühschriften” used to befriend for a while (or longer? or permanently?) during his escapades and adventures on Castro’s tobacco-and-sugar island. The Padillan lines in question are titled, in a seemingly everyday and innocuous manner, “La compañera de viaje” (The Traveling Companion; however, it must be borne in mind that Spanish compañero/a may also denote a comrade in the sense of the Communist Party (i.e., Genosse/Genossin in German). This noteworthy poem reads in Enzensberger’s translation and in my English rendition based on it:
Sie wirft ihren Lehrgang fort Marxismusleninismus meine Reisegefährtin Sie steht im Abteil und steckt den Kopf aus dem Fenster und fängt an zu schreien: Da draußen schreit sie geht die Geschichte da draußen huscht etwas vorbei schwärzer als eine Krähe gefolgt von einem Gestank feierlich wie der Arsch eines Königs. Aber ich sehe weiter nichts als Landstraßen und Pferche und Vieh: Stiere und Kühe im Genuß ihres alten Kampfes. Sie aber schreit und schreit auf meinen Koffern sitzend hebt ihre teerigen Stiefel hoch und blickt mich mit ihren herrlichen Augen an für die keine Rettung ist. 15 (She throws her course of instruction away Marxismleninism my traveling companion she’s standing upright in the compartment sticking her head through the window and begins to scream: Out there she screams there’s history passing out there something’ s flitting past

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Geisterstimmen: Übersetzungen und Imitationen (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1999) 278.



blacker than a crow followed by a foul stench solemn like the arse of a king. Yet I perceive nothing else but country roads and corrals and cattle: bulls and cows that enjoy their age-old struggle. She however keeps screaming and screaming sitting now an my baggage holds up her tarry boots and looks at me with her wonderful eyes for which there is no help.)

Cold it be that “La compañera de viaje”, Padilla’s ambiguously titled and more than topical verse from his volume Fuera del juego (Outside the Game) of the ending sixties, actually supplied, after almost three decades, the cue for Enzensberger’s retrospective “Frühschriften”? I am tempted to answer in the affirmative given the outright or subdued ideological gist of these two poems, and the fate of their desperate and doomed protagonists in particular. Both texts are historical and historically revealing through and through: “Frühschriften” mirrors, if rather belatedly, the demise of the student movement and of the fake uprising linked with it, whereas “Die Reisegefährtin”, first published in Kursbuch of 1969, reflects the Cuban situation of the selfsame time when Padilla and other independent or critical writers were brutally censured or even persecuted by the Castro regime in spite of their sociaist loyalty, and when Enzensberger, along with Jean-Paul Sartre and equally committed authors who supported them, was labeled by the leader maximo himself as una rata intelectual. Hence, if the occurrences of and around 1968/70 constitute a definite nodal point in modern German history, so do, or seemed to do at first sight for impassioned observers, the contemporaneous events in Cuba. And the lyrical chronicler Enzensberger, then residing in Berlin, dutifully recorded either until, after a gap of decennia, he arrived at the final stupor – not limited to Castro’s island, mind you – he so convincingly depicted in his “Alte Revolution” of 1991. 16


For a pertinent survey, however brief, see my “Enzensberger, Kuba und La Cubana [a vaudeville by him and the composer Hans Werner Henze]” of 1975; repr. Grimm, Texturen 97–111. Also, compare Heberto Padilla, Fuera del juego (La Habana, 1968 and Buenos Aires, 1969) and El Caso Padilla: Literatura y Revolución en Cuba. Documentos. Introducción, selección, notas, guía y bibliografía por Lourdes Casal (Miami/New York, n.d.). – Significantly enough, Enzensberger, musing on both the German and the Cuban situations in those days, told me in a letter dated “Berlin 19 november [sic] 1972”: Die Linke hier macht eine Phase der agonizing reappraisals durch, die wie ich meine gar nicht einschneidend genug sein können. Es gibt da eine Schar von sehr unangenehmen Fragen, denen wir bisher fast immer ausgewichen sind “um dem Gegner keine Freude zu machen” – ein uraltes Manöver der Selbsttäuschung und eine gefährliche Erpressung.



Granted, Enzensberger’s best and most memorable poems dealing with (German) 20th-century history – and it is with them that I want to conclude my fleeting overview – are, in all likelihood, those devoted to the Second World War and its implications and repercussions. I have already, at the very beginning of this disquisition, quoted his “Herbst 1944”, to which I shall presently return; nonetheless, it seems appropriate first to consider, however briefly, another such text: to wit, “Zur Erinnerung an Sir Hiram Maxim (1840–1916)” (In Memory of Sir Hiram Maxim [1840–1916]) which also figures prominently among the “New Poems” of the 1995 collection Kiosk [cf. KI 19ff.]. Consisting of four numbered parts rather than strophes – namely, a frame and a bipartite central piece – and spanning roughly one and a half centuries, it starts out with the following snapshot marked “1945” in Enzensberger’s own translation:
Auf dem Schulweg, im Straßengraben, das Heulen des Tieffliegers, dann Staubwölkchen links, vorne, rechts, lautlos, und erst hinterher das Hämmern der Bordkanone. Die Bewunderung hielt sich in Grenzen. (On our way to school, in the ditch: the strafer’s roaring, then small dust clouds, left, ahead, right, soundless, and only thereafter the clattering of the aircraft cannon. Our admiration stayed within limits.)

The corresponding part of the frame, marked “1994” in the poet’s translation, and referring to Sir Hiram’s ever so progressive invention, the “Rückstoßlader” (recoil-operated gun) fired off by the strafer, fittingly draws the sarcastic conclusion:
Heute natürlich, wo diese Errungenschaft auf jedem Schulhof zu haben ist, fällt es schwer zu empfinden, was er empfunden hat: die triebhafte Freude Dein Brief erinnert mich an einen der ziemlich seltenen Momente, wo ich auf diesen Mechanismus hereingefallen bin. Ich wollte ja ein Buch über Cuba schreiben und hatte viel Material gesammelt. Das Resultat war so verheerend, daß ich mich in einem Anfall von Selbstzensur entschloß, das Buch aufzugeben; nur ein Kapitel daraus ist veröffentlicht worden, der Beitrag über die KP Cubas im Kursbuch. Natürlich haben solche Operationen (oder vielmehr Unterlassungen) keineswegs den magischen Effekt, die Sachen selbst zu bessern… Thus, Enzensberger’s insights and theses pertaining to Cuba, or the materials thereof, are still enclosed in his drawer – as is, by the way, a jumbo essay of mine devoted to him and Padilla (because the “case” of the latter is likewise one of the former) as well as to the Cuban playwright Antón Arrufat and his critical drama Los Siete contra Tebas (The Seven against Thebes) which also came out in 1968.



eines bärtigen Säugetiers mit 270 Patenten. Wir jedenfalls, hundert Jahre jünger als er, lagen wie tot da am Straßenrand. (Nowadays, of course, when this great achievement is available in every school yard, it’s difficult to feel what he once felt: the instinctual delight of a bearded mammal with 270 patents. We, anyway, a hundred years younger than he, were lying there by the roadside like dead.)

With the last pair of verses – a kind of couplet, or even a couple of punch lines – we are back in 1945 once more, and the wheel is come full circle, as the classical saying has it. In between, in the central portion of the poem, Enzensberger traces, in both vivid and ironic detail, the biography of Sir Hiram, a “chronischer Erfinder” (chronic inventor) as Maxim called himself: his hectic development, that is, from his childhood in the American wilderness to his knighthood in Great Britain, bestowed on him for his recoil barrel, that ‘ingenious’ contribution to civilization. As Enzensberger caustically sums it all up: “Eine Waffe von unerhörter Eleganz” (A weapon of unheard-of elegance). Or as his Duke of Cambridge exclaims when Maxim has been invited to demonstrate it: “[N]ie wieder wird der Krieg sein, was er gewesen ist” (Never again will war be what it has been before). 17 Indeed! But let us now turn to “Herbst 1944”, this remarkable poem restricted to World War II alone and its waning months, and to one of its most typical and terrible sides to boot. “Fall 1944”, then, with whose German original we are already familiar, reads in my careful and conscientious rendition – for I had to make changes – as follows:
True, to him who was lying there low in the grass, they looked great as they were glittering on high in the cloudless sky of October, those bomber formations, and indeed, the keepsakes and souvenirs that were burning in the distance in the musty attic didn’t matter: fancy cups and angel’s hair, grandfather’s postcards from Paris (Oh la la!) and his belt buckle

Concerning the translations, mine (as quoted above) was first published in New Letters 63.2 (1997): 132f.; Enzensberger’s, with said addition of the respective dates, in [KIP 12f.]. – That, in spring 1945, allied strafers attacked and chased anything which moved on the ground – whether a peasant ploughing, a youngster riding a bike, or a woman with a cart or a pram – is well known; I myself experienced exactly the same in mid-April of that fatal year.



from another war, petticoats full of holes; medals, dollhouses, the plaster Psyche, and a few forgotten arguments for the existence of God in a cigar box – but the skeletons in the basement are still there.18

Thus, in this case, the Enzensbergerian verse quite tangibly culminates with two genuine (and, as we’ll see, most weighty punch lines, not just with an implied pair thereof as before. At first sight, to be sure, this poem appears to require no extensive analysis, or in-depth interpretation. All we have to do, so it seems, is to emphasize two salient aspects of Enzensberger’s experience of a half-century ago. The first of them19 might be termed an ‘aesthetic impulse’ imbuing, strangely enough, the teenager’s attitude toward those glittering bomber formations. (“Bomberströme”, a fascinating and most telling image indeed, proves to be untranslatable into English.) A second and closely related aspect is the peculiar casualness, even serene indifference, of the youthful observer in view of the massive destruction going on, so thoroughly and gorily, in the distance – namely, in Nuremberg, the author’s hometown, as we may safely infer from his biography. Doubtless, all this is clear and manifest, and sufficiently unambiguous at that. And yet, as it turns out on closer scrutiny, Enzensberger’s introductory “Zwar” (True) requires, and most peremptorily, some contrasting or, at the very least, complementary statement. This is, without fail again, provided by his concluding couplet, the two lines running, “aber im Keller die Leichen / sind immer noch da” (which, rendered literally, would read, “but in the basement [or cellar] the corpses / are still there”). However, my rendition of these near epigrammatic punch lines runs, “but the skeletons in the basement / are still there.” And why? Why my deliberate deviation from the original, my seemingly arbitrary replacement of corpses (“Leichen”) by skeletons (which in German would be, of course, “Skelette”)? The answer ought to be evident. I changed Enzensberger’s wording since his couplet, based as it is on a well-known German colloquialism, has a double, both factual and figurative, meaning. It constitutes, in short, a so-called ambiguity, hence a rhetor18


See Reinhold Grimm, “War – Its Teenage Experience and Present-Day Essence: Three Poems by Hans Magnus Enzensberger”, in War and Its Uses: Conflict and Creativity. Ed. Jürgen Kleist and Bruce A. Butterfield (New York [etc.]: Lang, 1999) 197–209; here, pp. 199f. – Also, see Reinhold Grimm, “Krieg und Nachkrieg: Erlebnisse Halbwüchsiger (nebst einigen Übersetzungsfragen und einer Wesensbestimmung) anhand von Gedichten Hans Magnus Enzensbergers und Günter Kunerts”, in Kriegserlebnis und Legendenbildung: Das Bild des “modernen” Krieges in Literatur, Theater, Photographie und Film. Ed. Thomas F. Schneider (Osnabrück: Rasch, 1999) II: 489–502; here, p. 491. For the following interpretation, compare Grimm, “War – Its Teenage Experience and Present-Day Essence” 200f.



ical device that as a rule stubbornly resists any attempt at translation. In German, things are quite easy. On the one hand, we not only can but must read those concluding lines in a strictly, an absolutely literal sense, for the victims of the allied air raids, the dead buried in the shelters or bunkers (or basements, or cellars, for that matter) were not always dug up and recovered, especially toward the end of the war. On the other hand, though, the colloquialism I alluded to, “eine Leiche im Keller haben”, likewise and equally cogently indicates that one has done something evil, mean, and punishable, and that one anxiously tries to hush up any such wicked deed, or deeds, from one’s past. And this figurative sense (which Enzensberger unmistakably uses, for example, in his 1997 collection of essays titled Zickzack (Zigzag) where he observes “daß man ungern über die Leichen im Keller spricht” [literally, “that one doesn’t like to speak about the corpses in the basement, or cellar”)20 is as undeniably obvious as is that literal, that bluntly factual sense because it undoubtedly serves to suggest the war crimes committed by Germans, indeed the overall guilt they incurred and, specifically, their widespread determination to suppress and conceal whatever might be reminiscent thereof. But what do we find in English, and in American English in particular, when attempting to render the skillful double meaning that tops off the Enzensbergerian poem? Granted, at first the pertinent colloquialism in the target language sounds surprisingly similar: “[There is] a skeleton in the closet.” Yet, as we soon come to realize, this apparent equivalence is utterly deceptive. To employ the English wording unchanged reveals itself as impossible, and whether my hybrid compromise does in fact succeed in unfolding the same or even a comparable double meaning is, therefore, a question we needs must leave open… However, must we really? for, lo and behold, such skepticism and apprehensions proved entirely unjustified when I presented that rendition of mine to scholarly audiences; on the contrary, my listeners (or readers) grasped the poet’s ambiguity fully and at once, and some of them even confessed to have had the selfsame or very similar experiences in 1945 Germany (just as I for my part hasten to assert that I, too, had them, including said strange ‘aesthetic impulse’ and indifference, in as unforgettable a manner as the ones resulting from the allied strafers’ activities – which, by the way, were also testified to by various witnesses both repeatedly and spontaneously). 21 At this juncture, though, I should perhaps mention, if only in passing, that Hans Magnus Enzensberger is not merely a lyrical historian of distinction but likewise an excellent, indeed most knowledgeable and indefatigably watchful, chronicler of the natural sciences and their modern development. As a matter of fact, he even authored a book (see above) on mathematics – ad usum Delphini, as it were – which is, hardly a
20 21

See Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Europa in Trümmern: Ein Prospekt”, in his Zickzack: Aufsätze (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997) 46. Unfortunately, Hamburger, in his “Autumn 1944”, has once again missed the point, and perhaps even more pitiably than in “Altes Europa” (see above). For he regales us here with a flat and unambiguous rendition devoid of any allusiveness which reads, “but those corpses in the cellar / are still there” [KIP 14].



decade after its publication in 1997, now available in nearly two dozen languages.22 Both these ‘extrapoetic’ endeavors, the historical as well as the scientific, coincide most consummately and to a truly singular degree in Enzensberger’s twofold verse from Die Geschichte der Wolken bearing the everyday title “Sterne” (Stars [WO 51]). It is, with reason, dedicated to the Polish writer Adam Zagajewski and boasts the apparently calm and unpretentious yet, in reality, most impressive and penetrating wording:
Jedes Jahr, astronomisch pünktlich, gehen sie wieder auf. Was da kriecht, heißt, glaube ich, Pfennigkraut, und das Winzige dort ist der Mauerpfeffer. So viel, was gelb ist und bald vergeht. Von denen, die sehr weit entfernt sind von uns, in der Kälte, heißt es, sie brennen ab wie am Geburtstag die Wunderkerzen. Wenn es windstill ist, hangen manche matt auf den Flaggen. Einer kommt in der Bibel vor. Als ich klein war, gab es noch andere, krumm und zerdrückt, und es muß sie jemand genäht haben an abgetragene, graue Mäntel. Meine Tante Therese war es nicht, andere Tanten saßen da, den Faden im Mund, weitsichtig das Nadelöhr suchend. So viele Sterne. Sprich nicht davon. Nur daß sie gelb waren, gelb. Und dann waren sie verschwunden. (Every year, astronomically on time, they appear again. What crawls here is, I believe, called moneywort, and that tiny stuff over there is stonecrop. So much that is yellow and vanishes soon. Of those which are at a very great distance from us, in the cold, it’s said they burn away like the sparklers at a birthday party. During a lull in the wind, some are hanging loose on their flags. One can be found in the Bible.

Cf. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Der Zahlenteufel: Ein Kopfkissenbuch für alle, die Angst vor der Mathematik haben (Munich [and] Vienna: Hanser, 1997); for its translations until 1999 alone, consult Der Zorn altert, die Ironie ist unsterblich: Über Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Ed. Rainer Wieland (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1999) 271ff. – As to Enzensberger’s intimate relationship to the sciences and to mathematics, see Reinhold Grimm, “The Lyrification of Science etc.: On Some Aspects of H. M. Enzensberger’s Poetry”, Warasan Aksonsat Mahavithayalai Silpakorn [= Journal of the Faculty of Arts, Silpakorn University, Nakhorn Pathom, Thailand] 26.1 (2005): 164–242; id., “Towards a Poetry of Chaos”, Pembroke Magazine 37 (2005): 70–90; id., “Wissenschaft und Dichtung: Zu Hans Magnus Enzensbergers jüngsten Veröffentlichungen”, Monatshefte 97 (2005): 654–678.



When I was still young, there were others yet, crumpled and crooked, and somebody must have sewn them on well-worn gray overcoats. It hadn’t been my aunt Theresia, other aunts had been sitting there, thread in mouth, longsightedly seeking the eye of the needle. So many stars. Don’t talk about them. Only that they were yellow, just yellow. And then they had disappeared.)

No fewer than nearly half a dozen scientific or similar disciplines of knowledge or fields of experience ara subtly and most successfully fitted together in this poem of Enzensberger’s: astronomy and astrophysics, botany, politics (the “Flaggen“, which are, needless to underscore, reminiscent of the Stars and Stripes and the like) and even religion. However, there is far more yet: namely, and above all, history – the still uncannily present history of Nazi Germany and the Second World War with their most heinous atrocities. For not only are astronomical and astrophysical facts and observations, along with biblical and political or national lore as well as with ordinary family life, poetically sublated in this verse, and not only are, most importantly, innocent flowers evoked in it, those beautiful children and gifts of nature so beloved by the lyricists of all ages and areas, indeed indispensable for them. Year after year, the latter bloom in due time, appearing as radiantly yellow stars brought forth by the moneywort (“Pfennigkraut”, or “Gilbweiderich”) and the stonecrop (“Mauerpfeffer”, or “Fetthenne”). But then, soon enough, they are transformed in the course of the poem most horridly, are being concretized in historical terms as palpably as could be. Or should the correspondence between the fourth line of the first strophe and the last three lines of the second strophe have been overlooked, at least in the beginning? Hence, do compare them once more, please:
So much that is yellow and vanishes soon.

So many stars. Don’t talk about them. Only that they were yellow, just yellow. And then they had disappeared. 23

This slow transition though firm connection effected in “Sterne” by the chronicling poet – and most consciously and artistically, no doubt – may perhaps not be instantaneously graspable at first sight; after all, what is going on here is a structural process that operates rather secretly or, so to speak, subliminally. Yet all the more lastingly and shockingly, indeed heartrendingly, does it reveal itself on continued inspection.

Compare also Enzensberger’s earlier poem “Die Verschwundenen” (Those Who Have Disappeared) from Blindenschrift [GD 205]; significantly again, this verse is dedicated to the German-Jewish poetess and Nobel Prize winner Nelly Sachs (1891–1970).



Namely, that which will have become manifest thereupon is something informing also my next (and ultimate) example from Die Geschichte der Wolken and from Enzensberger’s lyrical oeuvre at large: that is to say, a thorough expansion of his “lyrification of science” – which probably is the foremost specificity and accomplishment of his entire poetizing – to include all kinds of additional ‘extrapoetic’ phenomena way beyond its narrower boundaries. (In “Sterne”, this is quite patently the case by dint of the inclusion of religion: i.e., by the naming and evocation, if merely in ironical passing, of the once so consoling and promising Star of Bethlehem.) Needless to say, however, what proves to be decisive, having already been intimated, are the poem’s massively and most concretely historical or political references, is its laying bare of the murderous racist crimes that were perpetrated by Nazism, and more conspicuously than anywhere else, in Poland during her German occupation. The sinister, (hi)story Enzensberger relates, or whatsoever he alludes to in his second stanza, is, in a word, the holocaust – “Und dann waren sie verschwunden” (And then they had disappeared) – or, more precisely, that which so ominously preceded it and pointed to it: the fact that Jews in Nazi Germany were forced, since 19 September 1941, to wear the so-called “Judenstern” (Jews’ Star, a yellow Mogen David with the inscription “Jude” [Jew]), and that it had to be sewn on a garment, preferably a coat, because it had to be visible. The following poem – the last in my series, as indicated before – is devoid of any scientific implications, whether in narrower or even in broader terms, and whether concrete or figurative. Still, as for 20th-century German history and, specifically, the agony of Germany at the end of World War II, this poignant text, which bears the heading “Kindersoldaten” (Children [as] Soldiers), is certainly no less irradicably rooted in the catastrophic, half portentous and half ludicrous or grotesque but, at any rate, utterly senseless, happenings during those waning months. Published in Die Geschichte der Wolken, thus once more in retrospect in 2003, “Kindersoldaten” [cf. WO 48], which comprises two strophes, one national and one global, begins:
Wie schimmelgrün er gekratzt hat, der holzige Uniformstoff auf der bloßen Haut. Noch keine siebzehn, die Begeisterung für den Tod metallisch leuchtend aus seinen blauen Augen. Ein Werwolf, gehenkt im heißen Mai 45 auf einem Marktplatz in Franken. (How it was itching, greenish like mold, the woody soldier’s tunic on the bare skin. Not seventeen years of age yet, the enthusiasm for death shining metallically



from his blue eyes. A werwolf, hanged in that hot May of 45 in a marketplace in Frankonia.)

Then, in the second strophe, there suddenly surfaces the topical application. For what is it the fate of that “Werwolf”, the poet asks, might mean to us nowadays? That hapless lad, answers Enzensberger sardonically:
Ein Vorbild für alle Heutigen, die nie gehört haben von seinesgleichen. Andre Verheißungen, andere Lügen und Himmel, andersfarbige Fetzen, doch derselbe Geruch nach Öl, Nitrozellulose und Angst, derselbe Eifer, andern und sich ein Ende zu machen. (A paragon of all those of today who have never heard of the likes of him. Different promises, different lies and heavens, rags of different colors, yet the selfsame smell of oil, nitrocellulose and fear, the selfsame zeal for making away with others and oneself.)

Which is to say that both a dejected and dreary ‘topicalization,’ so to speak, and, as in earlier instances, a weird and total ‘globalization’ of sorts have taken place in “Kindersoldaten”, in addition to the memory of that blue-eyed German youngster’s lot who was executed in Frankonia – Enzensberger’s homeland, we recall – in the spring of 1945. These verses are, without fail, unequivocal and instantly comprehensible except, perhaps, for the one italicized vocable in the text of my rendition, werwolf. But “Werwolf” was the Nazi slogan for German teenagers (members of the so-called “Hitlerjugend” for the most part) who, in 1944/45, as true believers and fanatic partisans behind the front lines attempted to fight the advancing allied forces on German soil. Or as the Lexikon der deutschen Geschichte puts it:
In der Endphase des 2. Weltkrieges wurden von Himmler Partisaneneinheiten aufgestellt (Ausbildung in W[erwolf]-Kampfschulen nie durchgeführt), die unter Leitung des SS-Obergruppenführers Prützmann beim Einmarsch der Alliierten in d[eu]t[sches] Reichsgebiet jedoch in Einzelaktionen stecken blieben (Sperren auf Nachschubstraßen, Attentate auf Treibstoff- und Lebensmittellager, einige Mordanschläge u.a. auf amerikan[ische] und



franz[ösische] Soldaten). Diese militär[isch] wertlosen Aktionen hatten Geiselerschießungen durch die Gegner zur Folge. 24

Evidently, Enzensberger, then a fifteen-year-old, remembers such and similar things and occurrences too well, as do, incidentally, I myself, then nearly fourteen years of age… However, did the poet really witness an execution, indeed a brutal hanging, of that kind? Yet even if he exaggerated a bit, he was basically and, above all, historically and poetically dead right. A suchlike poetic licence is, and has always been, the privilege of the genuine lyricist (and, of course, dramatist or novelist) as well as that of the genuine historian. And Hans Magnus Enzensberger excels in either capacity. But to proceed and generalize though, concomitantly, also specify our findings even further in conclusion: Enzensberger’s, the untiring chronicler’s, approach and method prove to be as universal as they prove to be detailed. Just as he – or any true poet of history – is more than justified in forging his subject matter creatively, that is, in honing and chiseling everything accordingly, so, too, is he and are his colleagues, if indeed they exist, unquestionably entitled to seize and treat whatever historical facts and figures lend themselves to, or urgently call for, a pointed poetic form – in short and in German,
alle historischen Sachverhalte, die einer pointierenden dichterischen Form zugänglich sind, können zum Gegenstand des Geschichtsgedichts werden,

as Walter Hinck, in his booklet by various hands on history in poetry both succinctly and exhaustively phrased it.25 Nor does all this pertain to isolated poems only, such as the compact report labeled “Kriegserklärung” (Declaration [and Explication, for that word is intensely ambiguous] of War [LU 8f. and LAI 5]) or as the loose sequence, equally all-embracing as well as minute, “Der Krieg, wie” (The War, like [KI 8f. and KIP 4]),26 but it extends to a pair of whole volumes also, the aforementioned Mausoleum: Siebenunddreißig Balladen aus der Geschichte des Fortschritts and Der Untergang der Titanic. Eine Komödie. (Both must be viewed, investigated and judged in different contexts, too, to be sure, even though the former includes balladic – or, to be more precise, prose-balladic27 – portrayals of the person and possible im24 25

26 27

Lexikon der deutschen Geschichte: Personen Ereignisse Institutionen. Von der Zeitwende bis zum Ausgang des 2. Weltkrieges. [Etc.] ed. Gerhard Taddey (Stuttgart: Kröner, 1979) 1284. Walter Hinck, “Einleitung: Über Geschichtslyrik”, in Geschichte im Gedicht: Texte und Interpretationen (Protestlied, Bänkelsang, Ballade, Chronik). Ed. id. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979) 13: Regrettably, what Hinck excludes are precisely the respective poems of the chronicler of 20th-century history; instead, Enzensberger is represented here by two 19th-century figures as portrayed in his Mausoleum, the Franco-Polish composer Chopin and the natural scientist from Prussia Alexander von Humboldt, i.e., by entirely nonpolitical men to boot. For my own translation of “Der Krieg, wie”, see Grimm, “War – Its Teenage Experience and Present-Day Essence” 205. As to Enzensberger as an innovative prose balladeer, compare Reinhold Grimm, “Theorie und Praxis des Prosagedichts bei Walter Helmut Fritz”, Studi germanici [Rome] N.S. XXXVIII



pact of the notorious Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Mikhaylovich Molotov [1890–1986] or the celebrated leftist idol of yesteryear, Ernesto [Che] Guevara de la Serna [1928–1967].) To all intents and purposes, then, the vast and profound historical involvement of the poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger turns out as an uninterrupted, a lifelong – or, at the very least, career-long – experience and activity. Its prospective catchword will, therefore, surely not be a hate- and disdainful gibe like “History, häßliche Hostess” (History, haggard hostess) with which he once lashed out solely at the would-be “Makers of History” (thus in the German original again) anyhow, doing so as early as 1957, in his very first collection of poetry, Verteidigung der Wölfe.28 Rather, this catchword or phrase will be the concluding line of the ballad devoted to the Argentinean-Cuban revolutionary Guevara, a verse which constitutes, momentously enough, the final sentence and paradoxical insight already of Enzensberger’s entire historical and pseudo-progressive Mausoleum of 1975 as well. To wit:
(2000): 103–128; here, espec. pp. 124ff. – Jonathan Monroe in his ambitious and exhilarating if somewhat lopsided monograph A Poverty of Objects: The Prose Poem and the Politics of Genre (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1987) unfortunately ignores Mausoleum totally; in fact, Enzensberger isn’t even mentioned in it at all. This is a grave lacuna in an otherwise quite stimulating book. The respective poem, “Ratschlag auf höchster Ebene”, runs in its entirety: Makers of History! schüttere Wölfe, geschminkte Keiler, Kastraten mit Herzklaps, Affensaft in der welken Milz, eine Hutzel zwischen den Beinen: schlaflos über dem Golfstrom, von schönen Klippern geschleudert durch Wolkenlagunen; doch tut keine Windsbraut euch auf ihr wildes Herz, ihren weißen Leib: immer dieselbe Vettel, History, häßliche Hostess, besteigt eure sauren Betten, melkt aus euch ihre trübe Lust. Steigt aus! ohne Fallschirm! sterbt! Kein Weib weint hinter euch eine Träne: selbst die Vettel vergißt euch. [GD 69]. “Hutzel” in the first stanza, it should be noted, is a dialect word common in Frankonia, among other regions, and meaning a dried – hence, shrunk and shriveled – pear.




Der Text bricht ab, und ruhig rotten die Antworten fort. (The texts breaks off, and quietly the answers continue to rot.) 29

In other words, though so many historical endeavors may falter or fail or even end for good (or bad), history keeps steadfastly (or should I say, stubbornly?) going on … and so will, in all probability, I trust, its skeptical recording and critical reflecting in the work of the attentive historian-poet from Bavaria, whether in his native Germany or abroad, indeed worldwide. 30



Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Mausoleum: Siebenunddreißig Balladen aus der Geschichte des Fortschritts (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), 117. The neologism “fortrotten” (from “fort” in the sense of “weiter”, i.e., moving, proceeding, even progressing + “[ver]rotten” to rot): reveals itself as most allusive and enlightening indeed, for what it signals is the recognition that such answers, including the poet’s own, are bound to rot, yet that they continue all the same, as does the ceaseless flow of history. It goes without saying, I think, that a full and in-depth evaluation of Enzensberger’s many and ever so manifold and often quite complex relations to history – those of the essayist and balladeer, that is, and even of the epic ‘comedian,’ no less than those of the lyricist – would require a veritable treatise twice as long as the modest article at hand, and doubtless far more thoroughgoing. However, compare, for an early (and, perhaps, premature) attempt at a survey and summary, my “Bildnis Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Struktur, Ideologie und Vorgeschichte eines Gesellschaftskritikers” of 1974, in Grimm, Texturen 44–96; also, cf. my “Poetic Anarchism: The Case of Hans Magnus Enzensberger” of 1982, ibid. 112–128. Jörg Lau’s fairly recent journalistic contribution of 1999 (cf. his “Taschenbuch” Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Ein öffentliches Leben [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2001]) proves, at any rate, rather inadequate, no matter how informative – by dint of its numerous illustrations in particular – and, admittedly, amusing on occasion it may be.

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