Poem: Franz Werfel

Illo for Franz Werfel's poems, November 2017.

[Translation by James Reidel.]


Wenn abends Heimkehr endlos durch die Gassen geht,
Erhebt ihr euch von eurem täglichen Gerät.
Zwei süße Näherinnen, noch vom Radgesang umspült,
Jetzt wandelt ihr, von Wind und Müdigkeit gekühlt.

Entfacht daheim, ihr Kinder, euren Samowar,
Und löst das leichte luftverspielte Haar!
Wie ruht der kleine Mond—und Lampenkreis
Auf Wand und Boden eures Zimmers weiß!

Nun gebt den Glanz der langen Glieder frei,
Umschlingt euch langsam, haltet euch ihr Zwei,
Und zu des Himmels nachtverebbtem Strahl
Schweb’ eurer Küsse schwärmerische Zahl!

Für andere zieht nach Arbeits Fluch und Pein
Ein Abend blaß und aller Armut ein.
Wenn alle an zerwalkten Tischen stehn,
Euch ist bereitet Schönheit und Vergehn.

Nun geht im Haus der biedere Verräter um,
Die Nachbarinnen sind euch höhnisch stumm.
Doch ist auf jeder Lippe Tod und Rache da,
(O der verruchten Küsse angeklagte Kette!)
Schlaft ein,
Schlaft ein in eurem Bette!
Dem tausendfachen Geist der Liebe seid ihr nah.


When you walk home through the streets endlessly with evening,
You yourselves rise up from your daily machines.
Two lovely seamstresses, still wrung out by the wheel’s song,
Now you change, cooled by the wind and weariness.

At home you light up, you children, your samovar,
And let down your thin, wind-tossed hair!
How you rest on your small moon—and a light switch
On the wall and the floor of your room knows!

Now you release the glow of your long limbs,
You embrace slowly, you two holding to each other,
And into the sky’s night-ebbing shaft
The rapturous number of your kisses soar!

After work’s curse and pain you enter
An evening pale and utter poverty for the other.
When everyone stands at battered tables,
You prepare for beauty and transgression.

Now you evade those in the house who would betray you,
Those good neighbor women scornfully silent around you.
On whose every lip is death and retribution,
(O the guilty chain of shameless kisses!)
You sleep,
You sleep in your own bed!
You are close to that thousandfold spirit of love.
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). His most recent work appears in Poetry, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Hawai’i Review, Outsider, Fiction Southwest, The Flexible Persona, and elsewhere—including The Best Small Fictions 2016. He is also the biographer of the poet Weldon Kees and a translator, whose latest books include The Collected Poems of Thomas Bernhard (2017); A Skeleton Play Violin (2017), book three of his Our Trakl series; and a new edition of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel to be published by Penguin in 2018. In 2013, he was a James Merrill House fellow. He is currently writing a collection of prose poems.

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