Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Oppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert Walser


Oppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert WalserOppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert Walser by Robert Walser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I made the grave error of promising I would quote some of these poems in full in my review. Now I have to hold up my end of the bargain. I have reasons for each, but I don't want these few poems to overshadow the rest. Each is good, most are exceptional. And if I could plant a translator in your head so that you could read and understand the poems in the original German, I would. The translations are well-done for the most part, but miss some of the subtleties, the innuendos and shadings contained in the German. If you have even a rudimentary grasp of German, take that Langenscheidt off the shelf and dig into the words and phrases Walser so expertly weaves. I promise you, there are hidden rewards there.

Oppressive Light

Two trees stand in the snow,
the sky, tired of light,
moves home, and nothing else
but gloom close by.

And behind the trees
dark houses tower up.
Now you hear something said,
now dogs begin to bay.

And the dear, round lamp-
moon appears in the house.
And the light goes out again,
as a wound yawns open.

How small life is here
and how big nothingness.
The sky, tired of light,
has given everything to the snow.

The two trees bow
their heads to each other.
Clouds cross the world's
silence in a circle dance.

Joy of Life

How beautiful it is when you're silent,
when you stop talking to yourself.
There you see happy and beautiful
people, charmingly joined into a circle,
enjoying their conversations beneath
the trees, cute dancers who move
to the rhythm of a concert. Nature
is a sugar baker's confection; costumes,
elegant gestures! On the water
those who rock in boats delight
in their gliding over a mirror,
the landscape seems painted,
life, you imagine, is eternal,
and an unpleasant parting from these
gracious, flowered pastures, impossible.
How difficult it is to dress death
and his harsh suffering in fertile words.

Now, lest you feel that Walser's poems all reflect some inner nihilism or that his dark corners are only the misgivings of a mentally-troubled man, I share with you the defiant poem "Self-Reflection". I am reminded of Henley's Invictus, but with a less grim, much more mischievous bent. Walser is a trickster with the kind of attitude I find often resonating in the halls of my own skull and heart. If I were ever to get an entire poem tattooed on my body (not bloody likely, but if), this would be it:


Because they didn't want me to be young, I became young.
Because i should've been a sufferer, many pleasures flattered me.
Because they tried their best to put me in a bad mood,
I sought and found ways into moods more welcome than any I ever
could've wished for.
Since they impressed fear on me, courage cheered and laughed with
They abandoned me, so I learned to forget myself,
which allowed me to bathe in my inspired soul.
When I lost much, I realized losses are winnings,
because no one can find something he didn't first lose,
and to discover what's lost is worth more than any safe possession.
Because they didn't want to know me, I became self aware,
became my own understanding, friendly doctor.
Because I found enemies in my life, I attracted friends,
and friends dropped away, but enemies, too, stopped being hostile,
and the tree that bears the most beautiful fruits of luck is called
On life's path, we lift all the peculiarities given to us
by our birth, our family home and our schools,
and only those who couldn't help but strain themselves need to be
No one who's content with himself ever needed help,
unless he happened to be in an accident and needed to be carried to the

Probably too many letters for a headstone engraving, huh?

We'll see . . .

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