Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Last Joy

Here's something super-duper interesting that I actually managed to pull together within the maelestrom of academic papers that has recently consumed my life: the translation of a short collection of poems written by Emmy Hennings in 1913. Some of the poems (still german) can be found by following that link...the rest hide away in the International Dada Archive, listed at right. This collection, "Die letzte Freude" as it was originally titled, is one of the most interesting little objects I have come across...

Start with this fact: Hennings and her husband Hugo Ball founded the Dada movement in 1919 by opening the Café Voltaire in neutral WWI Zurich, and moving it quite far avant the guard. Again, skim through the Dada Archive for more fun facts. It suffices to say, that a mere three years before Ball dressed up as a blue pope-lobster and recited african-inspired word salad to inebriated european ex-pats (see image of performance at right) Emmy Hennings was writing beautiful lyric poetry with lovely, hard-to-translate rhymes.

Her forms stay solid, but her content already picks up the erotic energy and disconnect compromising the rest of the decade. Emmy had been a prostitute. She remained an actress and Kabarett performer. And she wrote about these experiences in her little collection of poems, which are framed from the point of view of an ill, drugged up girl confined to a hospital, swimming away from her body in ether-laced sleep to recall lost loves, streetwalking, and images of mortality. Here are a few of the best:

V. A Dream

We lie in an unfathomed lake
And know no part of grief and ache.
We hold ourselves enclosed
And ringed about by water-rose.
We seek and wish and want no more
We have no kind of longing.
But beloved, I feel this,
I retain some lasting wish:
The yearning after yearning.

VII. With me at home

My grandmother lasted the whole night,
Before a grated window watch
- In the green glassware burned a light -
I saw into her sallow face.

On the blue room’s furniture
Clings all of our grief.
And if somebody is deceased
The clock stands still with sickly whimper.

IX. After the Kabarett

I go home early in the mornings.
The clock strikes five, the sky’s grown pale,
But light still burns in the hotel.
The Kabarett is finally closing.
In a corner children huddle,
To the market farmers travel,
To church goes one silent and old.
From the steeple the bells toll earnestly,
And a whore with hair curled wildly
Still strays about, night-worn and cold.


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