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GERMAN PC WALTER BAUER To speak of German poetry today is to speak of the German present and reality. This present lies under the weight of the recent past as under the weight of a tombstone. The tombstone bears the name of Hitler. Bertolt Brecht called him contemptuously "Anstreicher"-house·painter. This house-painter did a remarkable job. He destroyed Germany. German poetry is the expression of this apocalyptic destruction-even now, nineteen years after the end of the war. But it is also the attempt to dig out from under the ruins and rubble the buried human face and to break the silence which struck Germany like lightning nineteen years ago. It is the fight against this silence, and this silence is still there, in spite of affiuence and partnership in NATO, in spite of the Common Market and an army of 420,000 men. It has only sunk beneath the surface of prosperous life. It has become a nightmare, oppressing hearts. Sisyphus still carries the stone. To be a German is to suffer from being a German. The absolute silence of an absolute end fell over Germany on the eighth of May, 1945. The term "Stunde Null" (Hour of Zero) has been coined to express the absolute horror of the holocaust and also the chance of a new beginning. All that is known; it has become reading matter in history-books. But it has to be mentioned to indicate the physical and spiritual vacuum into which those German poets entered who were in their thirties and forties and most of whom had been soldiers. There was also an older generation of writers and poets between fifty and sixty who had gained their reputation in the late twenties and who had survived the tyranny in Germany. The foundations of their thought and belief were shaken but not destroyed, and less so when their work had been based on Christian prinCiples. "You are the fire, Lord, you will make us free," Reinhold Schneider wrote in a sonnet. To them the apocalypse had been but a baptism of fire; the divine order of the world was not endangered. The title of a book of verse by Werner Bergengruen was "Heile Welt"-world intact. But for the younger and young poets, the world no longer was intact ("heiJ"). It was "heillos," without grace, without life, without language. They were Volume XXXIV, Number 3, April, 1965 206 WALTER BAUER smitten with blindness. The Hour of Zero was the hour of complete muteness. The words they still found like crumbs in their pockets were no longer fit for use. Pierre Emmanuel, the French poet, has written: "Nous sommes les enfants de Hiroshima." This truth will have to be accepted by Europeans as well as by Americans or Canadians, by everyone. But Germans who did not try to find excuses, had to add: We are the children of Auschwitz , Belsen, Buchenwald, and these places are the real capitals of our country. They still are; they always will be. Theodor Adorno, a wellknown German sociologist and philosopher, concludes an essay, "Those Twenties," published in 1963, with these words: "After Auschwitz the idea of a resurrected culture is fictitious and absurd and for this, any creation which might still be possible, has to pay a bitter price.... The authentic artists of the present are those in whose works the utmost horror still echoes.'" For a long time to come German poetry and German letters in general will have to live under this verdict. 1945. The German poets lived in a complete vacuum. There was no German literature to lean on, to build upon; to be exact: no modern German literature. It had ceased to exist in January 1933. Modern German literature was written in exile; German literature at home had become hopelessly provincial. This was not all. Under Hitler, German literature was completely cut off from European literature and from its own recent past. The whole development of modern European poetry had never taken place; the gloriOUS intellectual and poetic revolution which began about 1910 and to which Germany contributed splendidly her ExpreSSionist poetry and painting, had never flourished. T. S. Eliot, Juan Ram6n Jimenez, Raffael Alberti...


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pp. 205-225
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