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Reviewed by:
  • Emily Dickinson: Gedichte
  • Heinz Ickstadt (bio)
Kübler, Gunhild , trans. Emily Dickinson: Gedichte. München, Ger.: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2006. €45.

The knowledge of Emily Dickinson's poetry in Germany, by now, surely extends beyond the limited circle of a mainly academic audience. Her poems have been translated frequently, if sporadically, perhaps most famously by Paul Celan who translated ten of them but had only the earlier, quite unreliable editions of her work at his disposal. Needless to say, even recent publications of her poetry in German—such as Lola Gruenthal's translations in Guten Morgen, Mitternacht (Diogenes, 1992), or Werner von Koppenfels's more ambitious and more extensive Emily Dickinson - Dichtungen (Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1995)—contain only a fraction of her poetic work. Additionally, a substantial part of her letters—almost a third of them—were translated by Uda Strätling and published by S. Fischer in 2006 under the title Wilde Nächte: Ein Leben in Briefen.

Further evidence of the growing interest of a larger German reading public in Dickinson is the recent publication of Emily Dickinson: Gedichte (Hanser Verlag, 2006), a bilingual edition of more than six hundred of her poems. The Swiss literary critic and journalist Gunhild Kübler selected and translated them on the basis of R. W. Franklin's authoritative edition (his reading edition of 1999), and she includes a very knowledgeable postscript that—apart from providing biographical information—competently characterizes Dickinson's work: its topics and its linguistic strategies as well as the central elements of her poetics. In addition, the postscript sketches the complex and long drawn-out history of that work's publication, and explains the considerations that guided the editor's choice of poems and their translation. So far, Kübler's book is not only the most inclusive but also the most successful collection of Dickinson's poetry in German: Kübler's ear for line, syllable, and sound as well as her feeling for Dickinson's syncopated music (beneath and against a surface of metric regularity) are superb; so is her awareness of Dickinson's delight in richly complex tropes and wordplays. Indeed, Kübler's translations give evidence of her having lived with and in Dickinson's poetry for many years in accordance with her conviction that to understand Emily Dickinson demands complicity ("ständige Aufforderung zum Mitdenken, [End Page 75] Mitraten" [542]) on the part of the reader. It certainly demands a considerable degree of congeniality on the part of the translator.

In her postscript, Kübler points out the unwelcome effect of previous and more restricted selections, namely that they have established a canon of well-known Dickinson poems ("always the same 150" [519]), which, by being translated again and again, shrink, in theme and form, the rich variety of the poetic work that Dickinson produced from the mid-1850s until the mid-1880s. More than half of the poems that Kübler selects come from the period of Dickinson's most intense creativity between 1862 and 1865. This in itself is less surprising than the fact that she reserves almost a third of her allowed space for poems from the later phase of Dickinson's creativity—poems generally less known in Germany since they seem to be both more casual and, as Kübler repeatedly notes, more "laconic" products of Emily Dickinson's everyday existence that touch on topics ranging beyond the areas that have in some sense become the trademark of her metaphysical poetics: her explorations of elevated states of consciousness; her metaphorical anticipations of the experience of dying; her ambivalent poetry of love whose addressee may be secular or divine—or both, since it is "his" power that releases the creative spirit. But what Kübler demonstrates most of all with her selection is the development of Dickinson's poetry over time: that she is not a "static" poet resting within a narrow range of favorite forms and topics, but a poet who dynamically expands the ways and possibilities of her expression from dramatic explorations of the self and its limits to forms of "quiet self-assertion" (532). In this effort to confront the German reading public not only...


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