This is a new series I will be doing, in which I go around the World looking at poets and poems that have originated from different countries. I often think about the fact that I have rarely read anything outside of “English” poetry, and as I mentioned in my post about the English Poetry Canon studying poetry is often whitewashed, masculine, and not all that expansive in what it covers.
So I decided to do something about that. Let us journey to other countries…
The research for this has been me typing into google ‘famous poets from x country’, and this is where you come in – if you there’s a poet you know about from your country, or from somewhere you know about, that you think I should know about – please tell me! I would love to go and read some of their works and learn a bit more about the rich culture of different countries of the world.
Poet: Peter Rosegger (1843-1918)
Poem for the New Year
A bit more of peace and a bit less debate,
a bit more of kindness and a bit less of hate,
a bit more of love and forget jealousy,
and more of the truth – now that sets us free!
Not so much of strife but of peace to pursue,
not so much of I but a bit more of You,
not fear nor despondence but more enterprise
and strength to take action – now that would be wise!
No sadness and darkness but light let us show,
no burning desire but a joyful let-go,
with many more flowers to brighten the fate,
and not just on graveyards – for then it’s too late!
This poem is fairly simple, but it beautiful in it’s simplicity. I like the fast pace and AABBCC etc. rhyme scheme. For me it suggests a poem written without too much worry about style, or whether it would be received among literary circles. It is a wish, and one for everyone to understand. It is very direct in it’s approach about what actions the reader should take, and about the way life should be lived.
At the time of this poem being written, Austria was actually the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A huge expanse of land covering what is now Romania, Hungary, Austria, Czechslovakia, parts of Germany, parts of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia… It was a sprawling empire, that by the late nineteenth century was fighting for it’s survival. Or as Eddie Izzard put it ‘collapsing like a flan in a cupboard’ (if you haven’t watched this video – it’s very funny!).
Poet: Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)
Bachmann was growing up during the Nazi occupation of Austria and then throughout the second world war. Post the conflict, she used her poetry to explore the way that language might cross borders, and connect people in a postwar landscape.
If houses here are green, I’ll step inside a house.
If bridges here are sound, I’ll walk on solid ground.
If love’s labour’s lost in every age, I’ll gladly lose it here.
If it’s not me, it’s one who is as good as me.
If a word here borders on me, I’ll let it border.
If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I’ll believe in the sea again.
And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land.
If it’s me, then it’s anyone, for he’s as worthy as me.
I want nothing more for myself. I want to go under.
Under – that means the sea, there I’ll find Bohemia again.
From my grave, I wake in peace.
From deep down I know now, and I’m not lost.
Come here, all you Bohemians, seafarers, dock whores, and ships
unanchored. Don’t you want to be Bohemians, all you Illyrians,
Veronese and Venetians. Play the comedies that make us laugh
until we cry. And err a hundred times,
as I erred and never withstood the trials,
though I did withstand them time after time.
As Bohemia withstood them and one fine day
was released to the sea and now lies by water.
I still border on a word and on another land,
I border, like little else, on everything more and more,
a Bohemian, a wandering minstrel, who has nothing, who
is held by nothing, gifted only at seeing, by a doubtful sea,
the land of my choice.
This poem has an air of sadness to it. Bohemia didn’t exist by the time that this poem was written, and you can imagine the narrator dreaming of somewhere to call home, perhaps somewhere they remember, but that no longer is there for them. The narrator knows that even if this place no longer has a physical root, it is still inside of them, and as long as they hold onto that then their identity will not be lost.
Do you know any Austrian poets I should check out? Or Austrian authors in general? Let me know in the comments!