Two Poems by Yvan Goll
Translated by NAN WATKINS


The Blast Furnaces of Pain

In the blast furnaces of pain
What ore is smelted there?
The servants of pus
The nurses of fever
They have no answer

Day-shift
Night-shift of all flesh
The wounds and the fires
Bloom wild in gardens of saltpeter
And burning fields of roses

Asphodels of my fear
On the cliffs of night

What does the Lord of Ores brew
In our hearts? The cry
The human cry from the dark body
That like a consecrated dagger
Slashes the sun of our dead


Die Hochöfen des Schmerzes

In den Hochöfen des Schmerzes
Welches Erz wird da geschmolzen
Die Eiterknechte
Die Fieberschwestern
Wissen es nicht

Tagschicht
Nachtschicht allen Fleisches
Blühn die Wunden und die Feuer
Wild in den Salpetergärten
Und den heißen Rosenäckern

Asphodelen meiner Angst
An den Abhängen der Nacht

Ach was braut der Herr der Erze
In den Herzen? Den Schrei
Den Menschenschrei aus dunklem Leib
Der wie ein geweihter Dolch
Unsre Totensonne schlitzt






The Salt Lake

Like a winter animal the moon licks the salt from your hands
Still your hair sparkles violet as the lilac bush
From where the veteran screech owl calls

There stands our long-sought dream city built just for us
With streets all black and white
You walk in the glitter-snow of promise
While the rails of dark reason are laid out for me

The houses are drawn with chalk against the sky
And their doors are poured of lead
Only up under the gables yellow candles grow
Like nails for countless coffins

Yet soon we reach the Salt Lake
Where the long-billed kingfishers lie in wait
All through the night I fight them with bare hands
Until their warm down serves as our lair


Der Salzsee

Der Mond leckt wie ein Wintertier das Salz deiner Hände,
Doch schäumt dein Haar violett wie ein Fliederbusch,
In dem das erfahrene Käuzchen ruft.

Da steht für uns erbaut die gesuchte Traumstadt,
In der die Straßen alle schwarz und weiß sind.
Du gehst im Glitzerschnee der Verheißung,
Mir sind gelegt die Schienen der dunklen Vernunft.

Die Häuser sind mit Kreide gegen den Himmel gezeichnet
Und ihre Türen bleigegossen;
Nur oben unter Giebeln wachsen gelbe Kerzen
Wie Nägel zu zahllosen Särgen.

Doch bald gelangen wir hinaus zum Salzsee.
Da lauern uns die langgeschnäbelten Eisvögel auf,
Die ich die ganze Nacht mit nackten Händen bekämpfe,
Bevor uns ihre warmen Daunen zum Lager dienen


YVAN GOLL, one of the most gifted poets of the twentieth century, wrote bilingually in French and German, yet because of the scarcity of English translations, his work is hardly known in the United States. Born Isaac Lang in Saint-DiÈ des Vosges, Alsace, in 1891, he came of age as the old civilizations of Europe were entering the world stage of global war. His studies in philosophy, law, and literature led him to an ardent pacifism and an activism in the emerging literary groups of his time: in Berlin he was with the German Expressionists, in Zurich with the Dadaists, and in Paris with the Surrealists. There he lived most of his adult life, except for his eight years of exile in New York. Goll succumbed to leukemia in Paris, in 1950.

Goll wrote poetry, drama, essays, fiction, and letters; he was also a translator, and a publisher. His satiric drama Methuselem (1921) experimented with film and influenced the Theatre of the Absurd. His incisive novels included Sodome et Berlin and Die Eurokokke. In Chaplinade (1919), Goll introduced continental audiences to the films of Chaplin. His poem collection Jean Sans Terre, recording the restless wanderings of the Jew, Landless John, was a work that occupied him through much of his life. While in America, Goll wrote poetry, including …lÈgie de Lackawanna, translated into English by Galway Kinnell (1970), and in his Hemispheres press he published Fruit from Saturn (1946), a cry against the atomic age. Together with his wife Claire, Goll wrote several volumes of splendid love poetry in French, German, and English.††

NAN WATKINS has degrees in German from Oberlin College and Johns Hopkins University with further study at the University of Munich and the Academy of Music in Vienna. Her translations have appeared in Dimension, Asheville Poetry Review, International Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, among others. She has written essays on the Golls in America and translated Claire Goll's poems in 10,000 Dawns: The Love Poems of Yvan & Claire Goll (White Pine Press, 2004). Her translation of Yvan Goll's Traumkraut is forthcoming as Dreamweed in a bilingual edition from Black Lawrence Press.


German originals from: Yvan Goll. Die Lyrik in vier Bänden. Band II. Liebesgedichte 1917-1950, ed. by Barbara Glauert-Hesse im Auftrag der Fondation Yvan et Claire Goll, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. © 1996 Argon Verlag GmbH, Berlin, S. 344 and 319. Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, all rights reserved.