Two poems by Gottfried Benn:
I have met people who, asked what their names were,
Apologetically, as if they had no right to claim one’s attention
Even with an appellation, would answer,
“Miss Vivian,” then add, “just like the Christian name”;
They wanted to make things easier, no complicated names
Like Popkiss or Umpleby-Dunball—
“Just like the Christian name” – so please do not burden your memory!
I have met people who grew up in a single room together with
Parents and four brothers and sisters; they studied by night,
Their fingers in their ears, beside the kitchen range;
They became eminent,
Outwardly beautiful, veritable grandes dames, and
Inwardly gentle and active as Nausicaa,
With brows clear as angels’ brows.
Often I have asked myself, but found no answer,
Where gentleness and goodness can possibly come from;
Even today I can’t tell, and it’s time to be gone.
(translated by Christopher Middleton)
Listen, this is what the last evening will be like
when you’re still capable of going out; you’re smoking your Junos,
quaffing your three pints of Wurzburger Hofbrau
and reading about the UN as reflected in the pages of the Spiegel;
You’re sitting alone at your little table, the least possible company
beside the radiator, because you crave warmth.
All round you mankind and its mewling,
the couple and their loathsome hound.
That’s all you are, you’ve no house or hill
to call your own, to dream in a sunny landscape,
from your birth to this evening
the walls around you were pretty tightly drawn.
That’s all you were, but Zeus and all the immortals,
the great souls, the cosmos and all the suns
were there for you, spun and fed through you,
that’s all you were, finished as begun –
your last evening – good night.
(translated by Michael Hoffmann)