February 21, 2007

Gilding the Lily?

This is my house,
This is my home,
This is the place where I never feel alone.

Look at my garden,
Look at my dog,
He is a thousand dollar pedigree hawcock.

Here comes my wife,
She still looks young,
She´s the best cook you´ll ever find under the sun.

You know my sons?
They are too smart!
You know, they´re sportive, and they´re gifted for fine arts.

Well, and my friends,
They´re just so cool!
They´re simply different from the other small-town fools.

And look at me!
It´s plain to see.
I´ve paid my dues and smashed my brains to be carefree.

Hey, what you get is what you seek, my Dear,
Yeah, what you get is what you seed!


Alice McDuff ~ 20 February 2007

Update: Translation of "Undine Goes" now online

I now have posted the English translation of "Undine Goes" by Ingeborg Bachmann here in my blog. You will find the short story by scrolling down my blog, it´s just below my poem "Deep in the Woods" which kind of replies to her text (at least I tried).
Please read "Undine Goes"! It is the most overwhelming essay about subconsciousness and men and women I ever read.

I also posted three of Bachmann´s poems just right down here; my favourite ones! In German language, for Poetry is what gets lost in translation:-)

x Alice

Undine resurfacing...

Photo by Shaena Lengston

February 20, 2007

Was wahr ist ~ Ingeborg Bachmann

Was wahr ist
von Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)

Was wahr ist, streut nicht Sand in deine Augen,
was wahr ist, bitten Schlaf und Tod dir ab
als eingefleischt, von jedem Schmerz beraten,
was wahr ist, rückt den Stein von deinem Grab.

Was wahr ist, so entsunken, so verwaschen
in Keim und Blatt, im faulen Zungenbett
ein Jahr und noch ein Jahr und alle Jahre -
was wahr ist, schafft nicht Zeit, es macht sie wett.

Was wahr ist, zieht der Erde einen Scheitel,
kämmt Traum und Kranz und die Bestellung aus,
es schwillt sein Kamm und voll gerauften Früchten
schlägt es in dich und trinkt dich gänzlich aus.

Was wahr ist, unterbleibt nicht bis zum Raubzug,
bei dem es dir vielleicht ums Ganze geht.
Du bist sein Raub beim Aufbruch deiner Wunden;
nichts überfällt dich, was dich nicht verrät.

Es kommt der Mond mit den vergällten Krügen.
So trink dein Maß. Es sinkt die bittre Nacht.
Der Abschaum flockt den Tauben ins Gefieder,
wird nicht ein Zweig in Sicherheit gebracht.

Du haftest in der Welt, beschwert von Ketten,
doch treibt, was wahr ist, Sprünge in die Wand.
Du wachst und siehst im Dunkeln nach dem Rechten,
dem unbekannten Ausgang zugewandt.


Aus: Ingeborg Bachmann ~ Sämtliche Gedichte, 4. Anrufung des großen Bären, Teil III, 3. Auflage 2005, Piper Verlag München

Abschied von England ~ Ingeborg Bachmann

Abschied von England
von Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)

Ich habe deinen Boden kaum betreten,
schweigsames Land, kaum einen Stein berührt,
ich war von deinem Himmel so hoch gehoben,
so in Wolken, Dunst und in noch Ferneres gestellt,
dass ich dich schon verließ,
als ich vor Anker ging.

Du hast meine Augen geschlossen
mit Meerhauch und Eichenblatt,
von meinen Tränen begossen,
hieltst du die Gräser satt;
aus meinen Träumen gelöst,
wagten sich Sonnen heran,
doch alles war wieder fort,
wenn dein Tag begann.
Alles blieb ungesagt.

Durch die Straßen flatterten die großen grauen Vögel
und wiesen mich aus.
War ich je hier?

Ich wollte nicht gesehen werden.

Meine Augen sind offen.
Meerhauch und Eichenblatt?
Unter den Schlangen des Meers
seh ich, an deiner Statt,
das Land meiner Seele erliegen.

Ich habe seinen Boden nie betreten.

Aus: Ingeborg Bachmann ~ Sämtliche Gedichte, 2. Gedichte 1948-1953, 3. Die gestundete Zeit, Teil I, 3. Auflage Juli 2005, Piper Verlag München

Es könnte viel bedeuten ~ Ingeborg Bachmann

Es könnte viel bedeuten
von Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)

Es könnte viel bedeuten: wir vergehen,
wir kommen ungefragt und müssen weichen.
Doch dass wir sprechen und uns nicht verstehen
und keinen Augenblick des andern Hand erreichen,

zerschlägt so viel: wir werden nicht bestehen.
Schon den Versuch bedrohen fremde Zeichen,
und das Verlangen, tief uns anzusehen,
durchtrennt ein Kreuz, uns einsam anzustreichen.


Aus: Ingeborg Bachmann ~ Sämtliche Gedichte, 2. Gedichte 1948-1953,
3. Auflage Juli 2005, Piper Verlag München

February 17, 2007

Undine Goes ~ Ingeborg Bachmann

You humans! You monsters!

You monsters named Hans! Bearing this name that I can never forget.

Every time I walked through a clearing and the branches parted, when the twigs struck the water from my arms, the leaves licked the drops from my hair, I met a man called Hans.

Yes, I have learnt this piece of logic, that a man has to be called Hans, that you are all called Hans, one like the other, and yet only one. Always there is only one who bears this name that I can never forget, even if I forget you all, completely forget how I loved you utterly. And long after your kisses and your seed have been washed off and carried away by the great waters - rains, rivers, sea - the name is still there, propagating itself under water, because I cannot stop crying it out, Hans, Hans....

You monsters with the firm and restless hands, with the short pale finger nails, the grazed nails with black rims, the white cuffs round the wrists, the ragged sweaters, the uniform grey suits, the coarse leather jackets and the loose summer shirts. But let me be exact, you monsters, and now make you contemptible, for I shall not come back, shall never again follow your beckoning, never again accept your invitation to a glass of wine, to a journey, to a theatre. I shall never again come back, never again say `Yes´and `You´and `Yes´. All these words will never again be spoken, and perhaps I shall tell you why. For you know the questions in my life. I love the water, its dense transparency, the green in the water and the dumb creatures (I too shall soon be equally dumb), my hair among them, in it, the just water, the indifferent mirror that forbids me to see you differently. The wet frontier between me and me....

I have no children by you because I knew no questions, no demands, no caution, no intention, no future and did not know how to occupy a place in another life. I needed no support, no protestations and assurances, only air, night air, sea air, frontier air, in order to be able again and again to draw dreath for fresh words, fresh kisses, for an unceasing confession: Yes. Yes. When the confession had been made, I was condemned to love; when one day I was released from love, I had to go back into the water, into that element in which no one builds a nest, raises a roof over rafters, covers himself with an awning. To be nowhere, to stay nowhere. To dive, to rest, to move without effort - and one day to stop and think, to rise to the surface again, to walk through a clearing, to see him and say `Hans´. To begin at the beginning.

`Good evening.´
`Good evening.´
`How far is it to your place?´
`It´s a long way, a long way.´
`And it´s a long way to my place.´

Always to repeat a mistake, to make the mistake by which one is marked. And what use is it then to be washed by all the waters, by the waters of Danube and the Rhine, by the waters of the Tiber and the Nile, the bright waters of the frozen oceans, the inky waters of the high seas and the magical pools? The violent human women sharpen their tongues and flash their eyes; the gentle human women quietly let fall a few tears; they also do their job. But the men say nothing to this. They faithfully stroke their wives´ hair, their childrens´ hair, open the newspaper, look through the bills or turn the radio up loud and yet hear above it the note of the shell, the fanfare of the wind, and then again, later, when it is dark in the house, they secretly get up, open the door, listen down the passage, into the garden, down the avenues, and now they hear it quite distinctly. The note of anguish, the cry from afar, the ghostly music. Come! Come! Come just once!

You monsters with your wives!
Didn´t you say, `It´s hell, and no one will be able to understand why I stay with her.´ Didn´t you say, `My wife, yes, she´s a wonderful person, yes, she needs me, she wouldn´t know how to live without me.´Didn´t you say that? And didn´t you laugh and say in high spirits, `Never take it seriously, never take anything like that seriously.´Didn´t you say, `It should always be like this, and the other shouldn´t be, it doesn´t count!´You monsters with your phrases, you who seek the phrases of women so that you have all you need, so that the world is round. You who make women your mistresses and wives, one-day wives, week-end wives, lifetime wives and let yourselves be made into their husbands. (Perhaps that is worth waking up for.) You with your jealousy of your women, with your arrogant forbearance and tyranny, your search for sanctuary with your women; you with your housekeeping money and your joint good-night conversation, those sources of new strength, of the conviction that you are right in your conflicts with the outside world, you with your helplessly skilful, helplessly absent-minded embraces. I was amazed to see that you give your wives money for the shopping and for clothes and for the summer holiday, then you invite them out (invite them, that means you pay, of course). You buy and let yourselves be bought. I can´t help laughing and being amazed at you, Hans, Hans, at you little students and honest workmen, you who take wives who work with you, then you both work, each of you grows cleverer in a different field, each of you makes progress in a different factory, you work hard, save money and harness yourselves to the future. Yes, that is another reason why you take wives, so that the future is made solid for you, so that they shall bear children; you grow gentle when they go about fearful and happy with the children in their bellies. Or you forbid your wives to have children, you want to be undisturbed and you hurry into old age with your saved-up youth. O that would be worth a great awakening! You deceivers and you deceived. Don´t try that with me. Not with me!

You with your muses and beasts of burden and your learned, understanding female companions whom you allow to speak.... My laughter has long stirred the waters, a gurgling laughter which you have often imitated with terror in the night. For you have always known that it is laughable and terrifying and that you are sufficient to yourselves and that you have never agreed. Therefore it is better not to get up in the night, not to go down the passage, not to listen in the yard, nor in the garden, because it would be nothing but a confession that you are more easily seduced by a note of anguish, by its sound, its enticement, than by anything else, and that you long for the great betrayal. You have never been in agreement with yourselves. Never in agreement with your houses, with all that which fixed and laid down. You were secretly pleased about every tile that blew away, every intimation of collapse. You enjoyed plauing with the thought of fiasco, of flight, if disgrace, of the loneliness that would have set you free from everything at present existing. Too much, you enjoyed playing with all this in thought. When I came, when a breath of wind announced my arrival, you jumped up and knew that the hour was near, disgrace, expulsion, ruin, incomprehensible events. The call to the end. To the end. You monsters, that was why I loved you, because you knew what that call meant, because you allowed yourselves to be called, because you were never in agreement with yourselves.

And I, when was I ever in agreement? When you were alone, quite alone, and when your thoughts were thinking nothing useful, nothing useable, when the lamp looked after the room, the clearing came into being, the room was damp and smoky when you stood there like that, lost, forever lost, lost through insight, then it was time for me. I would enter with the look that challenges: Think! Be! Speak out! - I never understood you while you knew that you were understood by any third party. I said, `I don´t understand you, don´t understand, can´t understand!´This was a splendid time that lasted a long while, this time when you were not understood and yourselves did not understand, didn´t understand why this and why that, why frontiers and politics and newspapers and banks and stock exchanges and trade, all going on and on.

Then I understood the refinements of politics, your ideas, your convictions, opinions. I understood them very well and a bit more besides. That was exactly why I didn´t understand you. I understood the conferences so completely, your threats, proofs, evasions, that they were no longer comprehensible. And that was what moved you, the incomprehensibility of all this. Because in this incomprehensibility lay your really great, concealed idea of the world, and I conjured up your great idea of you, your unpractical idea in which time and death appeared and flamed, burning down everything, order wearing the cloak of crime, night misused for sleep. Your wives, sick with your present, your children, condemned to the future, they did not teach you death, they only showed you little bits of it at a time. But I taught you with one look, when everything was perfect, bright and raging - I said to you, `There is death in it.´And `There is time in it.´And at the same time, `Go death!´ And `Stand still, time!´That´s what I said to you. And you talked, my beloved, in a slow voice, completely true and saved, free of everything in between, you turned your sad spirit inside out, your sad, great spirit that is like the spirit of all men and of the kind that is not intended for any use. Because I am not intended for any use and you didn´t know what use you were intended for, everything was good between us. We loved each other. We were of the same spirit.

I knew a man called Hans and he was different from all others. I knew another man who was also different from all others. The one who was completely different from all others and he was called Hans; I loved him. I met him in the clearing and we walked on like that, without direction, it was in the Danube coutry, he went on the giant wheel with me; in was in the Black Forest; under plane trees on the great boulevardes, he drank Pernod with me. I loved him. We stood on a station for the north, and the train left before midnight. I didn´t wave; I made a sign with my hand meaning this is the end. The end that has no end. It never came to an end. One should have no hesitation in making the sign. It isn´t a sad sign, it doesn´t put a circle of black crape round stations and highways, less so than the deceptive wave with which so much comes to an end. Go, death, and stand still, time. Use no magic, no tears, no wringing of the hands, no vows, no entreaties. None of all that. The commandment is: leave one another, let eyes suffice for the eyes, let a green suffice, let the easiest thing suffice. Obey the law and not an emotion. Obey loneliness. Loneliness into which nobody will follow me.

Do you understand? I shall never share your loneliness, because mine is here, from a long time ago, for a long time to come. I am not made to share your worries. Not those worries. How could I ever recognize them withough betraying my law? How could I ever believe in the importance of your entaglements? How can I believe you so long as I really believe you, believe completely that you are more than your weak, vain utterances, your shabby actions, your foolish casting of suspicion? I have always believed that you are more, a knight, an idol, not far from a soul that is worthy of the most royal of all names. When you could think of nothing more to do with your life, then you spoke entirely truthfully, but only then. Then all the waters overflowed their banks, the rivers rose, the water-lilies blossomed and drowned by hundreds, and the sea was a mighty sigh, it beat, beat and ran and rolled towards the earth, its lips dripping with white foam.

Traitors! When nothing else helped you, then abuse helped. Then you suddenly knew what was suspicious about me, water and veils and whatever cannot be firmly grasped. Then I was suddenly a danger that you recognized in time, and I was cursed and in a flash everything was repented. You repented on church benches, before your wives, your children, your public. Before your great, great authorities you were so courageous as to repent me and to make secure that all that which had become uncertain in you. You were in safety. You quickly set up the altars and brought me to the sacrifice. Did my blood taste good? Did it taste a little of the blood of the hind and the blood of the white whale? Of their dumbness?
So be it! You will be much loved, and much will be forgiven you. But do not forget that you called me into the world, that you dreamed of me, of the others, of the other, who is of your spirit yet not of your shape, of the unknown woman who raises the cry of lament at your weddings, who comes on wet feet, and from whose kiss you fear to die as you wish to die and now no longer die: in disorder, in ecstasy and yet most rational.
Why should I not utter it, why should I not make you contemptible, before I go?

I´m going now.
For I have seen you once again, have heard you speaking in a language which you ought not to speak with me. My memory is inhuman. I had to think of everything, of every treachery and every baseness. I saw you again in the same places; the places that had once been bright now seemed to me places of shame. What have you done! I was silent, I spoke not a word. You must tell yourselves. I have sprinkled a handful of water over those places so that they shall turn green like graves. So that finally they shall stay bright.

But I cannot go like this. Therefore let me say something good about you again, so that we do not part like this. So that nothing is parted.

In spite of everything your talk was good, your wondering, your zeal and your renunciation of the whole truth, so that the half is spoken, so that lights falls on the one half of the world that you just had time to perceive in your zeal. You were so brave against others - and cowardly too, of course, and often brave as not to appear cowardly. When you saw disaster coming from the fight you nevertheless fought on and kept your word, although you gained nothing by it. You fought against property and for property, for non-violence and for weapons, for the old and for the new, for rivers and for the regulation of rivers, for the oath and against the swearing of oaths. And you know that you are striving against your silence, and yet you go on striving. That is perhaps to be praised.
In your clumsy bodies your gentleness is to be praised. Something so particularily gentle appears when you do someone a favour, do something kind. Your gentleness is much gentler than the gentleness of all your women, when you give your word or listen to someone and understand him. Your heavy bodies sit there, but your are quite weightless, and your melancholy, your smile can be such that for a moment even the vast suspicion of your friends goes unfed.
Your hands are to be praised, when you pick up fragile things, protect them and know how to preserve them, and when you carry burdens and clear away heavy things from a path. And it is good when you treat the bodies of humans and animals and very carefully rid the world of a pain. Your hands produce much that is limited, but also much good that will speak in your favourite.
You are also to be admired when you bend over engines and machines, when you make and understand and explain them, till all your explanations turn them into a mystery again. Didn´t you say it was this principle and that energy? Wasn´t that well and beautifully said? Never again will anyone be able to talk like that about currents and forces, magnets and mechanisms and about the core of all things.
Never again will anyone talk like that about the elements, the universe and all the planets.
Never has anyone spoken like that about the earth, about its shape, its ages. In your speech everything was so clear: the crystals, the volcanoes and ashes, the ice and the molten centre.
No one has ever spoken like that about men, about the conditions under which they live, about their servitude, goods, ideas, about the people on this earth, on an earlier and a future earth, it was right to speak like that and to reflect upon so much.
Never was there so much magic over things as when you spoke, and never were words so powerful. You could make speech flare up, become muddled or mighty. You did everything with words and sentences, came to an understanding with them or transmuted, gave things a new name; and objects, which understand neither the straight nor the crooked words, almost took their being from your words.
Oh, nobody was ever able to play so well, you monsters! You invented all games, number games and word games, dream games and love games.

Never did anyone speak of himself like that. Almost truthfully. Almost murderously truthfully. Bent over the water, almost abandoned. The world is already dark and I cannot out on the necklace of shells. There will be no clearing. You different from all the others. I am under water. Am under water.

And now someone is walking above and hates water and hates green and does not understand, will never understand. As I have never understood.

Almost mute,
almost still
the call.

Come. Just once.


"Undine Goes", a story from the stories collection "The Thirtieth Year" (Munich 1961) by Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973), translated into English by Michael Bullock, Holmes & Meyer - New York 1987.

Deep in the Woods

In a dark-wooded forest
Full of creaking, groaning trees
On a clearing by the lake so green,
So puzzling and deep,
Stood a man in his prime,
Not yet old, but aged to weep.

He breathed-in the coolness
Of the after-thundery air,
Stood still for a while there,
Unable but to stare
At the waters smooth as glass,
Feeling helpless and bare.

Where are you, Undine?
I miss you, my Love!
Are you drowned in this lake?
Or riding waterfall sparks?
Are you lost in the sea?
Or fused in the fog?
Where are you, my Heart?
My Undine I have lost ---

He received no response,
But the giggling of the woods,
Nature throwing him coolly
A few pitiful looks,
Raising pain from that past,
Left by hook or by crook.

From that lingering past
Of his lingering fears,
These haunting longings
Of his younger years
Breaking down haimish walls,
Bursting barriers to tears.

Undine, Undine!
I came looking for you.
I have fought my way
Through ignorance and fire,
Crossing landscapes of still
And waves of desire,
Now Myself is my compass -
It´s Hans, your Admirer!

Sunken fay who´d devoured him
With her legs, her mind,
A lost nymph of subconscious
More sweeter than lies,
Her imploring demand,
Wrapped in wrathly kind ---

His temptress of presence,
His challenging minx,
Now he´s ready to face her
To deal with the jinx,
He´s eager to greet
That redemptory sting---

Just look now! I´m coming!!
I´m crossing the line
Of water that lies
Me and me---
Immortality´s sold out, let me
Taste your soul, let me
Feel anything of what
Future could be---

Alice McDuff ~ 17 February 2007
Artwork: Rescate by CasallArt

This poem is inspired by the myth of Undine, the water nypm, the elemental of water.
I wrote this poem as a follow-up to “The Roman Visitor” and as part of a cycle on myths I´m working on, but also as a tribute to the wonderful German poetess, novelist and author Ingeborg Bachmann who died in 1973 after accidentally setting herself on fire. In fact, it is an attempt to reply to her stunning short novel “Undine Goes”, taken out of her book “The Thirties Year”, (first published in 1961) translated into English by Michael Bullock in 1987. I ordered that book via Internet and will post the Undine Goes-novel here as soon as I get it, so that anyone interested can read all this again in that context.
Last but not least, it was Paul Klee´s impressionist painting “Deep in the Woods” (1939) that led to the title of this poem.

February 08, 2007

Aftermath Reflexion

It´s clear: My image has faded.
All that´s left are some negligible memories
More fragile than a flaking painting;
Obviously, this wasn´t made for eternity.

My image is tainted
By too many Maybes and Ought-To-Bes.
With fickle moments of bliss I became acquainted
Hand in hand with gained and lost serenity.

Soon my image will be obliterated.
Closing the book on Misses and Might-Have-Beens,
Just one more opportunity at once tasted, then wasted,
A projection screen for dreaming - or a whole lost entirety.


Alice McDuff ~ 8 January 2007

Blue and Frosty ~ by Amundn