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Selected Poems and Prose

Selected Poems and Prose


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These selections from the esteemed career of Gottfried Benn-one of the most significant German poets of the 20th century-showcase his early, shockingly graphic depictions of human suffering and degradation, as well as the isolation and fragmentation of the human being adrift in a nihilistic world found in his later work. Translator David Paisey presents two selections, of verse and prose respectively, from Benn's large oeuvre, which are ordered chronologically to enable readers to perceive the developments of Benn's art and thought. In an important biographical introduction, Paisey tackles the difficult question of Benn's compliance with the Nazi regime and its impact on his life and work.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847771506
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 12/01/2013
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Gottfried Benn was a German writer and poet who began writing in 1912 before his avant-garde poems were censored by Nazis during World War II. David Paisey is a translator who worked as a German specialist in the British Museum Library where he produced its catalog of German books of the 17th century.

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Selected Poems and Prose

By Gottfried Benn, David Paisey

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2013 David Paisey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-510-8




    The spittoon-glass –
    not remotely a match
    for such great green tepid floods –
    crashed down at last.
    The mouth dropped after it. Hung deep. Sucked
    back vomit convulsively. Disappointed
    any trust. Gave stones for bread
    to the breathless blood.


    The little bundle smelled like a chicken-coop,
    beat to and fro. Grew. Fell still.

    The granddaughter played the old game:
    when grannie's asleep:
    around the collarbones there were such hollows
    she hid beans in them.
    In the throat you could even fit a ball,
    if you blew the dust out.


    His thing was a spittoon with plumstones.
    He crawled over and bit them open.
    They threw him back in his bunk,
    and the madman died in his straw.

    Towards evening the head keeper came
    and gave the attendants an earful:
    You lazy damned beasts,
    why is this box not cleared out yet?


    For weeks her children had been looking after her
    when they came home from school,
    holding her head up,
    then there was some air-movement and she could       sleep.

    One of them bent over unintentionally
    and the head fell out of its hands.
    Turned round. Hung across her shoulder
    deep blue.

    V Requiem

    A coffin gets to work, an empty bed.
    When you consider: a couple of hours wasted
    to silent night now find themselves translated
    and floating in the cloudscape overhead.

    How white they are! The lips as well. Like smudges
    at the edge of snow across the winter land,
    comforting snow, redeemed from deceitful colours,
    hill and valley held in an open hand.

    Near and far are one in perfect balance.
    The flakes blow over fields, then rapturous
    blow on, the world's last flickering mere absence.
    O scarcely dreamt! The distant happiness!

    Nice childhood

    The mouth of a girl who had lain long in the reeds
    looked kind of nibbled.
    When we sectioned the thorax, the gullet was full
      of holes.
    Finally, in a pocket under the diaphragm
    we found a nest of young rats.
    One little sister lay dead.
    The others lived on liver and kidney,
    drank cold blood and had had
    a nice childhood here.
    Their death was nice too, and quick:
    we threw them all in the water.
    Ah, how the little muzzles squeaked!


    The solitary molar of a whore
    who had died a missing person
    had a gold filling.
    As if by mutual consent,
    all the others had left.
    The morgue attendant knocked it out
    and pawned it to go dancing.
    Because, he said,
    only dust should come to dust.


    Incision-ready, everything is white.
    The scalpels steam. The belly's painted.
    Under sheets a whimpering thing waited.

    'Herr Professor, the time is right.'

    The first incision. Like slicing bread.
    'Clamps, please!' A spurt of something red.
    Deeper. The muscles: shining, fresh and wet.
    Is that a bunch of roses on the bed?

    Is that pus that's spurting so?
    Is the intestine snagged below?
    'Doctor, you're standing in my light,
    the peritoneum has vanished from sight.
    Anaesthetic, I can't operate
    if the belly is walking to the Brandenburg Gate.'

    Silence, muffled and deep, only broken
    by dropped scissors that cause a minor explosion.
    And the sister, an angel in blue,
    proffers sterile swabs to the crew.

    'I can't find a thing in this dirt, OK!?'
    'Blood turning black. Take the mask away!'
    'But – God in heaven – what are you doing?,
    can't you stop the heels from moving?'

    Severe deformation. Finally, found!
    'Hot iron, sister!' A fizzing sound.

    You're lucky again this time, my son.
    Perforation had nearly begun.
    'Do you notice the little green bit? –
    Three hours to fill the belly with shit.'

    Belly closed, skin closed. 'Plaster here!
    Good morning, gentlemen.'
      The theatre clear.
    Death gnashing and grinding his teeth in fury
    slinks in the cancer shed for another sortie.

    Man and woman walk through the cancer shed

    The man:
    This row here is rotten womb
    and this row rotten breasts.
    Bed stinks by bed. The nurses change on the hour.

    Go on, lift this sheet and look.
    This lump of fat and putrid juices
    meant everything to some man once –
    he called it heaven and home.

    Come and look at this scar on the breast.
    Can you feel the rosary of soft lumps?
    Go on, feel. The flesh is soft and without pain.

    This one is bleeding enough for thirty.
    No human has so much blood.
    This one first had a baby
    cut from her cancerous womb.

    They're kept asleep. Day and night. The new ones
    are told: You'll have a sleep cure here. Only on
    for visiting are they let wake a bit.

    They eat next to nothing. Their backs
    are raw. You can see the flies. Sometimes
    the nurses wash them. Like washing trestles.

    Loam already churns about each bed.
    Flesh flattens into land. Warmth dissipates.
    Juice prepares to flow. Earth calls.


    Brown as cognac. Brown as leaves. Red-brown.
      Malayan yellow.
    Berlin express from Trelleborg and the Baltic

    Flesh that walked naked.
    Tanned to the lips by the sea.
    Drooping ripely, like Greek hedonists.
    Missing sickles: how long since summer!
    And tomorrow the final day of the ninth month!

    Stubble and last almonds thirst in us.
    Unfoldings, our blood and tirednesses,
    the proximity of dahlias confuses us.

    Male tan in collision with female tan:

    A woman is good for one night.
    And if it went well, for the next one too!
    Oh! and then being alone again!
    These silences! This sense of being driven!

    A woman is something with fragrance.
    Inexpressible! Pass away! Mignonette.
    Enclosing the South, shepherds and sea.
    On every slope a happiness leans.

    Female light brown staggers against male dark

    Hold me, love! I'm falling!
    My back is so exhausted.
    Oh, this feverish final
    sweet fragrance from the gardens.

    Night café

    824: Frauenliebe und -leben.
    The cello has a quick swig. The flute
    belches three bars away: supper was good.
    The drum reads the end of his detective story.

    Green teeth, acned face
    waves to lids with styes.

    Oily hair
    is talking to open mouth with tonsils,
    faith hope and charity round her neck.

    Young goitre fancies saddle-nose.
    He buys her three beers.

    Barber's itch buys carnations.
    To soften up double chin.

    Opus 35: B flat minor sonata.
    Two eyes roar up:
    Don't squirt Chopin's blood down here
    so the pack can scuff about on it!
    Enough! Hey, Gigi! –

    The door dissolves. A woman.
    Utterly dried out. Canaanite brown.
    Chaste. Full of caverns. A scent comes with her.
      Hardly scent.
    Merely a gentle arching of air
    against my brain.

    An obesity trips after her.

Frauenliebe und -leben is Schumann's song-cycle to poems by Adalbert von Chamisso (1781–1838), op.
42. '824' may be an inaccurate reference to the last, tragic song, no. 8.



    O could we restart our primal mission
    and be a speck of slime in a tepid fen.
    Life, death, insemination, parturition
    would slip out from our voiceless fluids then.

    A leaf of algae or a sand-dune growing
    under the wind and gravity's firm touch.
    Even a dragonfly's head, a gull's wing blowing
    would go too far and suffer much too much.


    Despise the infatuated and the callous,
    nostalgia, desperation, a hope of sorts.
    We gods are rotten with disease and sadness,
    and yet a god is often in our thoughts.

    The bay is soft. Our dreams are dark with promise.
    The stars hang big as snowball blossoms there.
    Panthers are hunting soundless through the forest.
    All is shore. The sea calls everywhere –

    Then Icarus

    Then Icarus crashed down at our feet
    and screamed: Get fucking, kids!
    Get in there, into that stale Thermopylae! –
    Then threw us one of his shin-bones,
    keeled over, snuffed it.

    Underground train

    The gentle showers. Flowering dawn. As if
    from downy furs arriving from the forests.
    A red swarms up. Blood's greatness starts to grow.

    Through all this springtime comes an unknown
    The stocking on her instep. But where it ends
    is far from me. I sob there at the threshold:
    tepid florescence, unknown dampnesses.

    Oh, how her mouth squanders the tepid air!
    You rose-brain, sea-blood, twilight of the gods,
    you bed of earth, oh how your hips stream forth
    the cool precision of the way you walk!

    Darkness: alive now under what she wears:
    animal whiteness, relaxed, dumb fragrances.

    Pathetic brain-dog, heavy laden with God.
    I am so tired of thinking. Oh a lattice
    of flower-heads could so softly fill its place,
    could swell with me and burst in showers and

    So disconnected. So tired. Let me wander.
    Bloodless the pathways. Singing from the gardens.
    Shadows, the Flood. A distant joy: to die
    beneath the sea's redeeming deep, deep blue.


Excerpted from Selected Poems and Prose by Gottfried Benn, David Paisey. Copyright © 2013 David Paisey. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Translator's Preface xi

Biographical Introduction xiii


Finish/Schluss 2/3

Schöne Jugend/Nice childhood 6/7

Kreislauf/Circulation 8/9

Blinddarm/Appendix 10/11

Mann und Frau gehn durch die Krebsbaracke/Man and woman walk through the cancer shed 14/15

D-Zug/Express 16/17

Nachtcafé/Night café 18/19

Gesänge/Songe 20/21

Da fiel uns Ikarus vor die Füße/Then Icarus 22/23

Untergrundbahn/Underground train 24/25

Englisches Café/English café 26/27

Drohungen/Threats 28/29

Schnellzug/Express-train 32/33

Räuber-Schiller/Robbers-Schiller 34/35

Hier ist kein Trost/No comfort here 36/37

Nachtcafé IV/Night café IV 38/39

O Nacht/O night 40/41

Karyatide/Caryatid 42/43

Durchs Erlenholz kam sie entlang gestrichen/Through the alder wood it was making its way 44/45

Reise/Journey 46/47

Der Arzt/The doctor 48/49

Pappel/Poplar 52/53

Kokain/Cocaine 54/55


Das Instrument/The instrument 58/59

Marie/Marie 60/61

Curettage/Curettage 62/63

Schutt/Rubble 64/65

Palau/Palau 68/69

Trunkene Flut/Drunken flood 72/73

Das späte Ich/The later I 76/77

Staatsbliothek/State Library 80/81

Nebel/Mists 82/83

Die Dänin/The Danish girl 84/85

Der Sänger/The singer 90/91

Banane/Banana 92/93

Schädelstätten/Golgothas 96/97

Theogonien/Theogonies 100/101

Wer bist du/Who are you 102/103

Schleierkraut/Gypsophila 104/105

Osterinsel/Easter Island 106/107

Orphische Zellen/Orphic cells 110/111

Qui sait/Qui sait 114/115

Sieh dir Sterne, die Fänge/Behold the stars 118/119

Was singst du denn/What are you singing? 120/121

Aus Fernen, aus Reichen/From distances, from kingdoms 122/123

Immer schweigender/Ever more silently 126/127

Primäre Tage/Primal days 128/129

Zwei Auszüge aus dem Oratorium 'Das Unaufhörliche' Musik von Paul Hindemith. I Lied, II Knabenchor/Two extracts from the oratorio 'The unceasing'. Music by Paul Hindemith. I Song, II Choirs of men and boys 130/131

Dennoch die Schwerter halten/Hold the swords in defiance 134/135

Am Brückenwehr/On the bridge 136/137

Valse triste/Valse triste 144/145

Tag, der den Sommer endet/Day, when summer ended 148/149

Auf deine Lider senk ich Schlummer/I give your lids the gift of slumber 150/151

Das Ganze/The whole 152/153

Turin/Turin (I) 154/155

Am Saum des nordischen Meers/On the edge of the Baltic Sea 156/157

Einsamer nie/The loneliest time 160/161

Wer allein ist/He who's alone 162/163

Die Gefährten/The companions 164/165

Du trägst/You bear 166/167

So still/So tranquil 168/169

Wenn dir am Ende der Reise/If at your journey's limit 170/171

Dann gliederten sich die Laute/Then the sounds created a structure 172/173

Wer Wiederkehr in Träumen weiss/He who dreams the dead recur 176/177

Monolog/Monologue 178/179

Gedichte/Poems 184/185

Verse/Verses 186/187

Ein Wort/A word 188/189

Abschied/Departure 190/191

Verlorenes Ich/Lost I 192/193

Nachzeichnung/A drawing after 196/197

Welle der Nacht/Wave of the night 202/203

V. Jahrhundert/Fifth century 204/205

September/September 208/209

Ach, das ferne Land/Ah, the distant land 214/215

Chopin/Chopin 216/217

Überblickt man die Jahre-/If you survey tradition 220/221

Statische Gedichte/Static poems 224/225

Orpheus' Tod/The death of Orpheus 226/227

Gewisse Lebensabende/Certain evenings of life 230/231

Kleines süßes Gesicht/Sweet little face 236/237

Du liegst und schweigst und träumst der Stunde nach/You lie in silence 238/239

Acheron/Acheron 240/241

Berlin/Berlin 242/243

Radar/Radar 244/245

Natturno/Natturno 246/247

Der Dunkle/The dark one 248/249

Restaurant/Restaunant 252/253

Was meinte Luther mit dem Apfelbaum?/What did Luther mean by the apple tree? 254/255

Künstlermoral/Artistic ethics 256/257

Reisen/Journeys 258/259

Spät/Late 260/261

Du übersiehst dich nicht mehr/What does your retrospect lack? 270/271

Satzbau/Sentence-construction 272/273

Verhülle dich/Muflle yourself 274/275

Wir ziehn einen großen Bogen/We draw a great are 276/277

Die Gitter/The barriers 280/281

Verzweiflung III/Despair III 282/283

März. Brief nach Meran/March: letter to Meran 284/285

An-/To- 286/287

Nimm fort die Amarylle/Away with the amaryllis 288/289

Eingeengt/Hemmerd in 290/291

Auferlegt/Laid on us 292/293

Was schlimm ist/What's bad 294/295

Bar/Bar 296/297

Nur zwei Dinge/Only two things 298/299

Melancholie/Melancholy 300/301

In einer Nacht/In a night 304/305

Tristesse/Tristesse 306/307

«Abschuluss»/"Closure" 308/309

Kommt/Come 310/311

Worte/Words 312/313

Gedicht/Poem 314/315

Aprèslude/Aprèslude 316/317

Herr Wehner/Herr Wehner 318/319

Kann keine Trauer sein/Can be no mourning 320/321

Wie sehn die Buchen im September aus/How do the beeches look 322/323

Von Bremens Schwesterstadt/From Bremerhaven 342/325

Epilog 1949/Epilogue 1949 326/327


Brains (Gehrine) 335

The birthday (Der Geburtstag) 340

Diesterweg (Diesterweg) 350

The garden of Arles (Der Garten von Arles) 358

an extract from The modern self (Das moderne Ich) 366

extracts from Lyric self (Lyrisches Ich 370

How Miss Cavell was shot (Wie Miss Cavell erschossen wurde) 372

Primal vision (Urgesicht) 378

an extract from On the problems of being a poet (Zur Problematik des Dichterischen) 386

an extract from After nihilism (Nach dem Nihilismus) 390

extracts from Speech to the Prussian Academy of Arts, 5 April 1932 (Akademierede) 393

Eugenics I (Züchtung I) 396

Extracts from Expressionism (Der Expressionismus) 403

extracts from Mind and soul of future generations (Geist und Seele künftiger Geschlechter) 409

an extract from The people and the writer (Das Volk und der Dichter) 412

Doric world (Dorische Welt 413

an extract from Writing needs inner latitude (Die Dichtung braucht inneren Spielraum 436

an extract from Pallas (Pallas) 437

extracts from On the theme of history (Zum Thema Geschichte) 441

three extracts from The phenotype's novel (Roman des Phänotyp) 444

an extract from Marginalia (Marginalien) 449

an extract from Double life (Doppelleben 450

extracts from Problems of lyric poetry (Probleme der Lyrik) 451

extracts from Speech in Darmstadt, 21 October 1951 (Rede in Darmstadt) 455

extracts from Speech in Knokke (Rede in Knokke) 457

an extract from Should poetry improve life? (Soll die Dichtung das Leben bessern?) 459

Index of Poem Titles and First Lines (English) 461

Index of Poem Titles and First Lines (German) 468

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