Translation

Heiner Müller, in the main.

Heiner Müller - Collected Poems

I’m currently working on completing a Collected Poems
which is threatening to become complete.
That is to say, only posthumously published poems remain …
A selection, in chronological order, is represented here.

The Hyenas…

The Hyena loves the tanks that stop in the desert because
The crew is dying. She can wait. She will wait until the thousand
And first Sandstorm consumes the steel. Then comes her hour.
The hyena is the herald animal of mathematics, she knows
That no remainder may remain. Her god is the null.

AND BETWEEN THE ABCs …

AND BETWEEN THE ABCs AND ONE TIMES ONE
Whistling we pissed on the schoolhouse wall
The teachers from behind uplifted hand
HAVE YOU NO SHAME We had none.

As evening came we climbed the tree that mornings
They’d cut the corpse down from. His tree
Stood empty now. We said: THAT WAS HIM.
WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
THERE’S ROOM BETWEEN THE BRANCH AND GROUND.

REPORT FROM THE BEGINNING

Images

In the beginning, images mean everything. Are durable. Spacious.
But the dreams coagulate, take on a shape and disappointment.
Already heaven no longer held in an image. The cloud from the aeroplane:
Condensation stealing sight. The crane now only a bird.
Even communism, the final image, always refreshed
Because always again blood washed, the everyday pays it
Off in change, dull, blind with sweat
The great poems, ruins, like bodies long loved and now
Not needed on the way of the much needy mortal order
Between the lines, whining

The stone bearer happy on bones

For the beautiful signifies a possible end to the horrors.

PHILOKTET 1950

Philoktet, the weapons of Hercules in his hands, sick with
Leprosy, marooned by the princes, with few provisions
on Lemnos, but for him empty, had then no
Pride but screamed until the ship disappeared, not held by his cry.
And got used to getting by from living green and
wildlife that could be hunted, ten years , ruler of the isle, his vassal too
Chained to it by the surrounding sea tide.
But in the tenth futile year of war the princes remembered
The abandoned one. As of the bow he wielded, far and
Wide deadly. Ships they sent, to bring home the hero
That he deck them in glory. But he then showed himself from his
Most proud side. They with force were compelled to drag him on board
His pride to suffice. Thus he made up for what had been neglected.

STORIES FROM HOMER

1
Often and abundantly the pupils spoke with Homer
Interpreting his work, asking him for the right interpretation.
For the old one loved to discover himself anew,
And praised, was not miserly with wine and meat.
Came the talk in dining, meat and wine, to Thersites
The reviled, the windbag, he stood in the gathering
Using wisely the great quarrel for the greater prey,
spoke: See the peoples shepherd who shears
his sheep and does them in as always the shepherd, showed the soldiers
bloody and empty, the bloody, empty hands of soldiers.
Then asked the pupils: What is it with this Thersites,
Master? You give him the right words then with your own
Words you put him in the wrong. It appears to us difficult to understand.
Why did you do it? Said Homer: For the favour of the nobles.
Asked the pupils: What for? The old man: Out of hunger. For the laurel?
Also. Though he values it as highly as on the head in the meat pot.

2
Among the pupils, it is said, still there was one
Apt and a great enquirer. Every answer, he questioned
To find that beyond question. Sitting at the river
with the old one, he now asked again the question of the others.
The old one scrutinised the youth and looking blithely at him said:
The truth is an arrow, poisonous to the hurried marksman!
To draw the bow is already much. The arrow remains an arrow
Regardless who conceals it in the reeds. The truth, dressed in lies, remains truth.
And the bow does not die with the marksman. Said it and arose.

ABOUT CHAMISSOS POEM…

ABOUT CHAMISSOS POEM “THE OLD WASHERWOMAN”
The poet marvels, how sprightly she is
At seventy-six. Man, she�s in a hurry!
Who knows, it may happen one completely
Forgets to pay her when she�s not washing shirts.

He sees; she sweats. He praises her for it. Her sweat
It is that drives his mill. It is in that
She eats black bread that he on pat� may get fat;
In praising her, insure that she remain in debt.

Instead of sausage, he advises washerwomen early buy
A death-shirt. As is well-known, the washerwomen
Are promptly appointed cherubim when they arrive in heaven.

He likes to see them after God into the prayer-house fly.
He is the very last to withhold her consolations.
When will she finally question all these revelations?

MISSOURI, 1951

The states did deny
The dam its tithe.
Since they were blithe
The river raised a cry.

And up he swelled,
The dam seemed him too old
They in the city dwelled
Found the water cold.

The forests cut down grow on
Beneath the ground.
A Saxon burn mark, Dresden
The dead utter the final sound.

TWO LETTERS

1
I see you sweating at the typewriter
Producing venal verse
About suffocation death in the network
Of inevitable laws. The bricklayers, you write
Were used as mortar already with
The building of the great wall and still
Great walls are built. Nothing new
Under the sun, you write. You write nothing new.
You have learned to question answers.
The applause that makes you deaf, is it none?
The ready answers are not new.
A meeting on the evening after our talk:
Two republicans on their way to bed
Discuss democracy
Goodthatstheformbutwheresthesubstance
They count the years in pay raises
The months in volumes of Magazin
Each one a wise man after Keuners design
No thought that does not proceed through the stomach
And no fear of puddles as in Büchner
Small-minded, but they’re right
When, reading your verse, they remark
What’s this soandso trying to say?
Has he not understood the role of land reform?

2
What does a rhyme accomplish against the blockheads
You ask. Nothing, say some, others: Little.
Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, a tragedy
Story of a man who cast off his knowledge
Bowing to a dumb custom.
He has not rooted out stupidity.
Did he really want to write nothing but a wanted notice?
Hamlet the Dane, prince and worm food stumbling
Listless from hole to hole toward the last hole
The ghost that made him at his heels
Green as Ophelias flesh at childbirth
The Horizon the armament lasts longer
And just before the third crow of the cock a fool
Rips up the philosophers bell-cloak
And a fat bloodhound slips into the armour.

Or Bertolt Brecht misunderstood
With great tenacity and some hope
Could do no more than bend the bow
How many blockheads outlived him.
His whole life he sought a way
To not kill his neighbour. At the end
He had seen them from a great distance
Half concealed in a bloody mist.
Becher streamed sweat constructing sonnets
For the convergence of Volga and Neckar
Will the Jura farmers have read
The Sonettwerk when communism
Takes the earth off their backs?
For us the margin between little and none.

BRECHT

Truly, he lived in dark times.
The times have become brighter.
The times have become darker.
When the light says, I am the darkness
It has told the truth.
When the darkness says, I am
The light, it does not lie.

L.E. OR THE HOLE IN THE SOCK

In 1949, Luise Ermisch, member of the central committee of the SED, organised the first “Brigade for outstanding quality” of the people’s own textile industry in the DDR.

In the summer of ‘48, in a city
In the Middle of Germany
Over three holes in a sock,
A man and a woman fought.
The Place: a stocking factory, where only weeks before
The workers, for workers, opened the door.
The whitewash on the canteen wall
Was fresh. About the bare table in the hall
Sitting before their bowls, the men and women saw
Much to dish out but little to gnaw.
Said the man to the woman: Against luke-warm leek-water
We used to strike. Asked the woman: And against Hitler?
Said the man: It’s not just the comestibles.
Let’s not forget the textiles.
And he took off his shoe, then the stocking
And sent his trump with three holes spinning.
Bought yesterday, a rag today
From work I might as well just stay away.
One listens, scraping clean the bowl as quiet as can be
The woman now, what can she say. She says, Now, let me see.
Three holes. - Yeah, you don’t stop those maws
With talk. There’s something foul, so many flaws
In the economy. - You’ve guessed it, says the woman,
But, colleague, the fault’s not in the cotton.
It is defective work. And holds the sock up
Under his nose, the three-holed trump.

  • You’ve heard me. How about your hose?
    You improve nothing turning up your nose.

The Father

1
A dead father would, perhaps, have been
A better father. Better still
A stillborn father.
Always anew grass grows over the border.
The grass that grows over the border
Must be ripped up, again and again.

2
I wish my father had been a shark
That shredded forty whalers
(And that I had learned to swim in their blood)
My mother a blue whale, my name Lautréamont
Died in Paris
1871, unknown

SELFPORTRAIT…

SELFPORTRAIT, TWO O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING
20th of August 1959

Sitting at the typewriter. Leafing
Through a mystery novel. Knowing,
In the end, what you already knew:
The flat-faced secretary with the heavy beard growth
Murdered the senator
And the love of the young sergeant of the homicide squad
For the daughter of the admiral is mutual.
But you will not skip a page.
Sometimes, turning the page, a glance
At the empty page in the typewriter.
So, we’ll be spared that. A least something.
In the newspaper: somewhere a village
Has been levelled to the ground by bombs.
That’s regrettable, but what does it have to do with you.
The sergeant is about to prevent the second murder
Although the Admiral’s daughter offers him
(For the first time!) her lips. Duty is Duty.
You don’t know how many are dead, the newspaper’s gone.
Next door your wife dreams of her first love.
Yesterday, she tried to hang herself. Tomorrow,
She’ll slash her wrists or whoknowswhat.
At least she has a goal in sight.
She will reach it, in one way or another
And the heart is a spacious cemetery.
The story of Fatima in the Neues Deutschland
Was so badly written that you had to laugh.
To torture is more easily learned than to describe torture.
The murderer has fallen into the trap
The Sergeant embraces the prize in his arms.
Now you can sleep. Tomorrow is another day.

ULYSSES

With a bit of rowing on the salt accustomed
Tree, I planted my hope, weary of the soil
Ploughing the sea anew with fading furrows
Measuring my endurance with its width.

Again and again belatedly early a reddish
Sky with the two, three final first
Clouds over the gas-plant, power-plant atomic pile
Since Odysseus was killed, five months journey
West of Gibraltar in the Atlantic
Far away from wreath and bloom, by breakers.
He burns in the hell ordained for the nosy,
Dante has seen him, with other flames.

MOTIF BY A.S.

Debuisson in Jamaica
Between black breasts
In Paris, Robespierre
With a broken chin.
Or Jeanne d’Arc as the angel failed to appear
The angels always fail to appear in the end
DANTON, MOUNTAIN OF FLESH, CAN GIVE THE STREET NO MEAT
BUT LOOK, LOOK THE MEAT IN THE STREET
HOUNDS THE RED DEER IN THE YELLOW SHOES.
Christ. The devil shows him the world’s riches
THROW OFF THE CROSS AND ALL SHALL BE YOURS
In the time of treason
The landscapes are fine.

DAN DEE

There was a city named DAN DEE
Wherein lived people various
Prayed and plundered copious
Till a singer came; cried he:
_Let us with the powers of song
Braid in Dan Dee
An eternal bond
_And so, by the song’s might
Of the subjects became brothers,
The garrotted and garrotters.
Sadly, only for the night.
_For but with the powers of song
Could not be braided in Dan Dee
An eternal bond
_As the sun again in Dan Dee
Light and shadow parted clear,
Still the night was awkward near.
They ennobled/executed, that one, singer, he.

ORPHEUS PLOUGHED

Orpheus the singer was a man who could not wait. After he lost his wife, in too soon having intercourse after giving birth or in that forbidden look ascending from the underworld after her liberation from death by means of his song so that she fell back to dust before newly in the flesh, he invented pederasty, which spares you childbirth and is closer to death than is the love for women. The Spurned hunted him: with weapons of their bodies’ branches, stones. But the song spares the singer: what he celebrated in song could not carve his flesh. Farmers startled by the noise of the hunt ran away from their ploughs, for which there was no room in his song. And so his place is under the ploughs.

NAPOLEON, FOR INSTANCE

NAPOLEON, FOR INSTANCE, wept when
At Wagram his guard took flight
Over their own wounded
And the wounded cried VIVE L’EMPEREUR.
The monument was moved: his mortar screamed.
On a Sunday, after work, he, Lenin
Went on the hare hunt, guided by his driver
Else none for company.
That was his vacation. Into the forest
He went alone. That is, the driver
Had to remain with the irreplaceable car.
Lenin met a farmer traversing the forest
Looking for mushrooms. The hunt fell out.
The old one cursed the soviet authorities
In the village, above and below still lots of talk
And little flour. Mushrooms also in short supply.
Laughed as Lenin wrote down the complaints:
The village, the names and mistakes of the comrades.
He had already complained. And not but twice.
Who are we. If you were Lenin, for instance
And Lenin one who listens, like you
One could believe that things might change
But you are not Lenin and so things will remain.

THE UNLUCKY ANGEL

THE UNLUCKY ANGEL The past floods up behind him
Dumps rubble on wings and shoulders with a noise as of
Muffled drums while before him the future dams up jamming
His eyes in, the eyeball exploding like a star, the word turning round
In a sounding gag and choking him with his own breath.
For a time, one still sees his wings beat,
Hears in the roar the stone-striking before over behind him
The louder the greater the power in the futile motion, singly
As it grows more slow. Then the moment closes in over him:
In the quickly buried waiting room, the unlucky angel comes to rest,
Awaiting history in the petrifaction of flight glance breath.
Until a renewed roar of mighty wing beating propagates
In waves through the stone and announces his flight.

LEAR

He climbs down from the throne. His own memorial,
Thinking highly of himself, himself he installs.
Stands on the earth, that naked and abysmal
Turns under the flesh relic that falls.

Rain washes him. Then he notices: this is no fun.
He screams, stretched out upon corpses. No coffin left vacant.
Over the babble of the fool (flesh becomes carrion)
The laughter of locomotives. He no longer hears it.

FISH CADAVER WITH SILVER STOMACH

Spoiling under the smoke, the fleshy fleet
Crowds round the charred corpse carried
By the fire eating river off course into the sea.
At the wheel, Hamlet, son of a good family,
Hasn’t the stomach for burnt flesh.

OEDIPUS COMMENTARY

Laos was king of Thebes. The god said to him through the mouth
Of the priest that his son would pass over him. Laos, unwilling
To pay the price of the birth that costs a life
Tore the infant from his mothers breast, drove holes through his toes
A precaution that it not pass over him, and sewed them up thrice
Gave it a servant to lay upon the table of the mountains for the birds,
This, my flesh, will not outgrow me
And planted forth the feet that tread him out thus with caution:
The winged hunger was the child denied, the servant
Gave it into other hands to rescue to another land
And there the high-born grew on swollen feet
None has my gait, his blemish, his name, upon his feet
And other his gait, went fate, stoppable
Each step, unstoppable the following, one step followed the next.
See the verse of Oedipus, Laos son by Jacoste,
Unknown to himself, tyrant of Thebes by merit: he
Solved, because the crippled foot denied him flight, the riddle
Set up over Thebes by the thrice born Sphinx
Fed stone to the man-eating thrice animal
And man was the answer. Years thereon in the happy city
Ploughed the bed in which he was planted, fortunate the fortune-bringer
Longer than fortune is time, and longer than misfortune: in the tenth
Year, out of the unknown, pestilence fell upon the city
So long fortunate. Bodies it broke and other orders.
And in the circle of the governed, the new riddle shouldered,
Cried about by the dying of the city, the riddle solver stood
Upon too big feet, threw his questions into the dark like nets:
Lies the messenger, his ear, sent to the priests, mouth of the gods?
Does the blind man, who points at him with ten fingers, speak the truth?
Out of the darkness the nets hurry back, in the mesh
He, on his own trail passed by his own steps.
And his ground is his summit: he has taken time, lapped
Into the circle, I and no end, himself.
In his eye sockets he buries the world. Stood a tree here?
Is there live flesh other than mine? None, there are no trees, with voices
His ear persuades him, the ground is his thought
Slime or stone, while his foot thinks sometimes from his hands
Grows a wall, the world a wart, or his finger propagates him
In contact with the air, until he wipes out the likeness
By hand. So he lives, his own grave, and chews his dead.
See his example that breaks out of the bloody wings
In the freedom of mankind between mankind’s teeth
On too few feet, with hands too few grasping space.

TO THE MOUNTAINCLIMBERS

TO THE MOUNTAINCLIMBERS A Resident of the valleys begs for your elevated attention. Perhaps, when you lay your hand over your eyes you still see it. Or have you already climbed so high that you can no longer make out our little village, the paltry dwellings with the freshly painted shutters, bowed under the new, on holidays jam-packed church. You see only the clouds now, obscuring your column from the glances of the curious, we curious from your glance, or the morning fog? You godly, strolling dry of foot over the rain with hobnailed boots, read a mass for us on the summit! Why actually did you take your umbrellas along? At least send down the elevator again when you no longer need it, oh you most high.

SCHALL CORIOLAN

If I had a country estate like Virgil and others had
Or a patron like Horace who withstands me
Or the gift to turn shit into gold
I would write a long poem, Schall
About the greatest actor I have ever seen
But I must write my piece
That I may pay my debts that I may write my piece
A crooked dog biting his own tail
I don’t have any time to come to rehearsals
Am dependent on photographs
From THEATRE OF THE TIMES
Made accessible to all, hence mediocre
So, between badly photographed Hamlets
Each ten times more Hamlet than Hamlet
Busying their swords like chopsticks
Cannibals that can’t stand the sight of blood
But insist on the appearance
I see you, Schall, play Coriolan
Doing battle before Antium and the battle is a battle
Rome’s first butcher doing his job
With the zeal of the boy killing flies
The horror shown beautiful, unnecessary, that is
For reality must be made visible
That it may be changed
But reality must be changed
If it is to be made visible
AND THE BEAUTIFUL MEANS
A POSSIBLE END TO THE HORROR

WINTER BATTLE 1963

1
In Berlin, old capital of the new Germany
In the hall that bears the name of a dead pioneer
One of a million winners become dust
The delegates met, two thousand
From factories, unions, offices, and consulted
Each with his own voice, voice of the voiceless too
Mouths stuffed with earth, voice of those born tomorrow
Our mutual battle, always and everywhere different
And the one, ‘manifold’ goal: Communism.
Heard the leaders’ speeches, talked, each his own
Leader and not his alone, but rather
Of others, many, more daily, leading on changing
Fronts against the old always newly disguised.

2
But on the first day of the consultations
Three generators in the power station on the Elbe stood still
The winter was the coldest in decades
And the ice, unaware of the party resolutions
Rode on the river with the current and against the current
Rider who grows in the saddle, eating the animal he rides
Choked the feeder canal, the artery of the power station
Until the draw-pumps screamed for the water
Necessary to cool the heated generators. So
reluctantly, to save everyone’s own power plant,
The builders disengaged the power switch and
The fight for water began, the seventy hour one
In that very night. They fought against regulations
Made on warmer days for a winter less cold.
And the fight was led by the keepers of the regulations
Themselves and the shortest way was through official channels.
And on official channels came help: workers, farmers, soldiers
And the soldiers attacked the ice with weapons
Meant for other foes, but preferred to use them against ice
That has no reason, no ear for negotiations, no blood
Blew a breach in the white and held the position
On the hard won water with stakes and stones
With faggots and pontoons. Against the advance of the cold
Their hands, accustomed to weapons and farm tools, were not sufficient,
Nor the hands of the workers, accustomed not to weapons and farm tools
And they called to their aid the soldiers of the first
Red Army (terror of the terror spreading fathers)
Stood against the ice in frozen uniforms
Enemy sons in a common winter battle.

3
On the Rhine, Loire, Thames, Missouri too, against
The stoppable ice with machines and hands,
More machines, perhaps, and less hands, stood workers
Saviours of the power-plants. But none that belonged to them
And neither the machines, nor the river
Or the own working hand, the strong that sweats
Blood and tears without distinction
To make this star inhabitable, or habitable.
Did they finally know (they too) never to forget it: one body
Are the people, one blood, their wounds and scars common.
Not until the Rhine flows into the Elbe does he belong to his own.

4
The soldiers, tired of the ice that needs no sleep
Men and women breaking the frozen coal
From frozen wagons torn before out of frozen earth
In the opencast mines, the farmers with crowbars
Held in numb hands, and the divers
Under the ice at their lonely work on the bottom
Had no time to listen to the consultations
Of their delegates in the nearby capital.
The ice delivered the lesson of their fellow men,
And they were hauled into school by the coldest January
Of their second decade, in one long shift with
United and mighty hands they wrote a new chapter
Of their own history on the icy school bench;
Beside them the old ones, Tea cookers, lugging
The Tea kettle on the battle ground, keepers of the coke stoves
(Knowing little, perhaps, of the nearby consultations
Knowing little, perhaps, of electricity also
But with the cold acquainted and the darkness).
And the power plant became the peoples own a second time.

5
Only later, in the assemblies, hearing
The reports of the delegates, did they learn
Their own text written on ice with working hands
Alphabet off the coming battles.

6
In the nearby capital the delegates
Stood up from their seats, interrupted
Deliberations over coexistence and prime costs
Art and mathematics, as the telegram
With the sober declaration of success was read:
All the machines in the Elbe power plant are on line.
Saw for a moment in rescued light the final image,
Again and again washed with sweat, also with blood, always
Visible in the smoke of the class wars, never to be lost, the true
When people recognise the Party is the people
Submitting conscious nature to Party discipline and
Taking their place at the wheel of the planet.

copyright 2004, Mark Washeim, All rights reserved.