ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


Poems by Karl Krolow translated from the German by Stuart Friebert


KARL  KROLOW (1915-1999)

By any stretch a giant of twentieth century German letters, Krolow made his mark early and often with poems, criticism, and translations, later adding prose to his staggering output, which includes three volumes of Selected Poems, each charting a new direction for German poetry. Krolow ranged freely, he famously said, among “so-called dead objects, landscapes, cities, civilizations, animals, sadness, bodily pain, and the air itself” in an array of voices, at once detached and abstract, underlain with an intimacy that can seem voyeuristic at times but on closer reading is something entirely different. Fond of quoting Flaubert, Krolow wanted to write “a book about nothing,” which of course would be about everything.

Receiving the Büchner Prize in 1956, Krolow was called out for not talking about his  life under the Nazis: a near occasion of sin, or worse, to some critics, who have however come to acknowledge his generous, fostering ways of others of all stripes, especially Jewish writers, notably Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan, who, recall, were dismissed  by many a critic and fellow writer early on. (Full disclosure: Krolow wrote the afterword to my first book of German poems, and without his support I likely wouldn’t have gone on to write three more. His mentoring, his working with me on translating “anything you wish of mine,” has meant many worlds to me over the years.)

Having introduced students to his work in some 40 years of teaching, I still hear from many what an impact he’s had on the way they read and write. I suspect Krolow’s moved them to such fervor and regard because of the gravity of his concerns, offset by his deeply passionate and compassionate witness-bearing ways to a half century of death and destruction.

Great thanks to Suhrkamp Verlag/Berlin for permission to publish these poems, which to my knowledge have hitherto not appeared in English, as well as to Paul Roth, publisher of Bitter Oleander Press, for permission to adapt some of my introduction to KARL KROLOW’S : PUPPETS IN THE WIND (2014).
                                                                                                                              Stuart Friebert 2015



Zufrieden macht man sich
mit dem Trinkgeld davon.
Du siehst die lederne Hand,
— sie macht Kasse —
den Handschuh, darunter
die Krankheit. Ansteckend
ist das Leben. Du zahlst es
soeben mit Banknoten aus.
Vorteilhaft dagegen Voraussicht
und bitter. Du hast
am Körper die Flecken.
Das Jucken bleibt dir nachts —
Satyriasis statt
Schlaf in Armen,
die erdrücken.
Blau im Gesicht
wirst du sein:
so kann man verenden
oder auf eine andere Weise —
Kniekehle, Handrücken
noch frisch verfärbt.
Lebenslang rochst du nach Angst,
bitter. Die Haut,
die sich schält, riecht so.
Du hältst dich zu lange
bei dem auf, was unerbittlich



Satisfied, you make off
with your tip.
You see the leathery hand,
— it makes up the accounts —
the glove, underneath
the sickness. Life’s
infectious. Right now
you pay for it with banknotes.
Against that, foresight’s advantageous
and bitter. You’ve got
spots on your body.
Itching is what is left nights —
satyriasis instead of
sleep in arms,
which squeeze to death.
You’ll be
blue in the face:
you can die like that
or in another way —
hollow of the knee, back of the hand
still freshly discolored.
All your life you reeked of fear,
bitter. Skin,
peeling, smells like that.
You stick too long to
what is inexorably left.




Eisenhut, blaue Blume
des Spätjahrs, Sturmhaube,
die nicht vor November schützt,
tödliches Akonit, Pfeilgift—
es riecht eine kleine Menge.
Gift für das Nessushemd:
Herakles ging an ihm
elend zugrunde. Im Garten
das letzte romantische Verderben.
Leonotis und Dahlie
gingen voraus in den Gartentod,
wußten nichts vom Aconitin—
fünf Milligramm die tödliche Dosis.
November will nichts davon wissen,
bringt es um mit anderen Farben:
das strenge Blau, das der Nacht erliegt,
den unwiderruflichen Frösten.



Monkhood, blue flower
of autumn, morion,
which won’t protect against November,
deadly aconite, curare —
a small dose will do.
Poison for the shirt of Nessus:
Heracles perished miserably
therefrom. In the garden
the last romantic rotting.
Leonotis and dahlia
preceded in death of garden,
knew nothing of aconitin —
five milligrams the deadly dose.
November will have none of it,
kills with other colors:
strict blue, which succumbs to night,
the irrevocable frosts.




Ich suchte nach Mathematik,
um Ordnung in einiges zu bringen,
vielleicht Logik, die unerschütterlich ist.
Ich ließ mich erschüttern – das Andante
des einundzwanzigsten Klavierkonzerts
von Mozart, C-dur,
im unendlich Vielen der Mathematik —
dagegen Tränen, ein Beben.
Eine Tonart – dagegen ein mathematisches Zeichen.
Ich suchte nach Ordnung.
Die logischen Partikel, Aussagen-Kalkül:
„Nicht alle Kreter sind keine Lügner.“
Ich fand Modelle. C-dur
eine Modell-Tonart für Musik?
Ich schmeckte doch Tränensalz —
die Tränen bei Mozarts C-dur.
Dieses Salz trocknet schnell.
Ich suchte nach Ordnung.



I looked to mathematics,
to bring order to some things,
logic perhaps, which is unshakable.
I let myself be shocked – the andante
of the twenty-first piano concerto
of Mozart, C-major,
in the infinite plenty of mathematics —
tears in return, a quaking.
A key — as opposed to a mathematical sign.
I looked for order.
Logical particles, Propositional Calculus:
“Not all Cretans are not liars.”
I found models. C-major
a model key for music?
I’ve tasted the salt of tears —
the tears of Mozart’s C-major.
This salt dries quickly.
I looked for order.




Wollen wir es nicht
Mit den anständigen Leuten versuchen?
Die Republik hat genügend verirrte Hände,
Die sich auf jemandes Schultern legen lassen
Oder über unseren Scheiteln
Zu vereinigen sind.
Vorläufig ist die Ratlosigkeit noch
Den Verwandlungen der Cellulose
Der Himmel ist voll kalter Linien,
Die die Luft aufteilen.

Wollen wir es nicht
Mit den anständigen Leuten halten?
In unserem Land vergißt man so schnell
Die hingerichteten Augen.
Die getäuschten Herzen
Warten noch auf ihre Zeit.
Die auf der Straße vorbeigehen
Werden sie bald schon
Wahrnehmen. . .



Don’t we want to
Give it a try with the decent people?
The Republic has enough errant hands,
Which let themselves be laid on someone’s shoulders
Or joined over the tops of our heads.
For now our helplessness is still
To the transmutation of our cellulose.
The sky is full of cold lines,
Which split up the air.

Don’t we want to
Keep to the decent people?
In our land one quickly forgets
The eyes that have been put to death.
The deceived hearts
Are still awaiting their time.
Soon they’ll notice those
Passing by on the street


In addition to the recent Puppets In The Wind collection, Stuart Friebert has published two previous volumes, ON ACCOUNT OF: Karl Krolow: Selected Poems (FIELD Translation Series/OC Press/1985) and What'll We Do With This Life?: Selected Poems by Karl Krolow/1950-1980 (Associated University Presses/1993). These poems are aboard a 4th volume, now in progress.

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