Poem: Franz Werfel

Illo for Franz Werfel's poem.

[Translation by James Reidel.]

Das Wrack von Paraggi

Nur fünf Minuten von dem Fischerneste
Im Klippenwinkel liegt das Wrack vertaut.
Es ist bis aufs Gerippe abgebaut.
Der hohle Thorax bloß bleckt sein Gebreste.

Das Meer-Aas starrt. Man denkt an Pferde-Reste
Auf Steppenstraßen mit geplatzter Haut.
Schon saust es rings, wenn rauh der Abend blaut,
Mit scharfen Schlägen her zum Vogelfeste.

So auch die Frauen lauern wie die Krähen,
Bis sich die Wächterschritte heimwärts spreizen,
Dann weiden sie das Aas, um Holz zu holen.

Sie rauben Sparren, Planken, Leisten, Bohlen,
Und wissen nicht, mit welchen Todes-Nähen
Und welcher Trauer sie die Hütten heizen.

The Wreck at Paraggi

Only five minutes from the fishing village,
The wreck lies moored in that cove of sea cliffs.
It has broken down to a skeleton.
Its hollow chest openly bares its disease.

The sea carrion rises. A horse’s remains,
One thinks, with its burst hide on steppeland roads.
It roars about, as evening turns raw blue,
With sharp blows into a carnival of birds.

Thus the women too lie in wait like the crows,
Until the watchman’s strides swagger off homeward,
Then they start to feed on this flesh to fetch wood.

They steal the timbers, the planks, the boards, the beams,
And they do not know how they keep their shacks warm
With such a nearness to death and such sorrow.


Title, Paraggi, a bay on the Italian Riviera between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino. The wreck is the S.S. Genova, a steamship sunk by a German U-boat in July 1917.
Franz Werfel (1890–1945) is best known for his novels, such as The Song of Bernadette and The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, which was republished by Verba Mundi in an expanded English translation. Werfel began his career as an Expressionist poet and remained one until the end of his life, when he died at his desk while working on a new book of verse. His poetry has enjoyed a revival interest in Europe, especially among younger literary scholars.
James Reidel has published poems in many journals as well as Jim’s Book (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) and My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg (Black Lawrence, 2006). Recent work has appeared in Poetry, Harper’s, and Hawai’i Review. He is also the biographer of the poet Weldon Kees and a translator who has published works by Thomas Bernhard, Georg Trakl, Franz Werfel, and Robert Walser. He is currently working on a collection of prose poems. In 2013, he was a James Merrill House fellow.

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