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Common Knowledge 12.3 (2006) 508-515

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Eight Late Poems

Translated by Michael Hofmann

Northern Sigh

To the left, the road to the harbor. It's not the inhabitants
that matter, so much as the topographical features.
The walk to the reformed church, red and white
surveyors' poles constitute the idea of God.
The way the road bends at a zoological negotiation—
the addressee of my lettergrams might be pleased to call it love.

People don't go to Kyoto or Venice. The world
happens in out of the way places

Just mind you don't leave any tracks [End Page 508]

Edge of Town

New buildings, unborn
rooms, no more noise please
in your coffins after ten P.M.

Bread and salt
for the single occupancy tenants—
lay it down, the insects
don't mind waiting and
will whisper condolences
into your white sliced. [End Page 509]

After Setting Down the Biography

Trabizond would have been the place.

The bleak Northern shore
and a vocabulary out of nursery rhymes.

He doesn't know,
didn't know,
won't ever know. [End Page 510]


As the eyesight gets weaker,
you take an extra step
to make out your friends.

Put on your glasses,
wear contact lenses
only to catch

a grandstand view
of the dirt
under your enemy's fingernails . [End Page 511]


Names with i
or names with o,
the effort to remember
seems beyond me.

It all hisses by
like the hiss on the phone,
like like.
I listen hard.
A lot of conversations
in the year 1200
concern me
but the pronunciation is different,
which throws me off.
Someone with a
is addressing me now,
a particular pressure of the hand
that I don't return,
a sip of wine
baked dry,
a leftover u,
an unavailing y. [End Page 512]


The sluggish light.

I used to like going swimming with Agnes Bernauer
but she had herself sewn into a sack
in Straubing.

Light is supposed to be fast,
but it doesn't reach me.

So she found a possibility
to escape from me,
sluggish as light,
fast as light. [End Page 513]

From Seume's Papers

Whether the honest Hurons
were able to
compensate for the rising air-pressure—
I never met them.
I'm thinking about qualities
far beyond honesty.

But it might do:
as comfort, as discomfort,
as meteorological observation,
as souvenir of foreign parts,
as relief against
a gouty death. [End Page 514]


Throttle back my experiences
and count
to 93 and beyond.

At any rate
I have an engagement
for New Year's Eve,
Higher up the mountain,
on a chaise longue, I'm pleased,
don't encounter much
in the way of variety.

Gunter Eich (1907–72) was among the leading poets of postwar Germany and received the Büchner Prize in 1959. His poetry and radio plays have been translated into numerous languages, including, recently, Korean and Thai. His collected works were published in four volumes in 1991.
Michael Hofmann has received the Schlegel-Tieck Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for translation. Collections of his own poetry, Nights in the Iron Hotel and Acrimony, have won the Cholmondeley Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize .



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