Correspondence on Berryman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 30 17:19:19 MST 1999

Louis, I was intrigued by the
John Berryman poem. Firstly as I have never heard of him at all. I liked
the poem in of itself but also because it reminded me of an East German
poet called Johannes Bobrowski. His poems mostly dealt directly with nature
and its relations to people. He died in 1965, when I was 4 but I've always
felt an affinity to his work, since I discovered it in translation when  I
was a Post Office worker in the mid 1980s. As a typical German of his
period he fought in the German army during the second world war which I
think partly explains the neglect of his work. My selected English language
edition of his selected works dates from 1984 and as far as I can tell, no
more recent edition has been produced, though there is an edition available
on Amazon, but which one I can't remember. In German, most of his poetry
was still available at least in the mid 1980s.

A sample example of his poetry is the following from Shadow lands. Anvil
Press Poetry 1984:

'Bird's Nest'

My sky
interchanges with yours,
so does my dove
it flies over yours,
I see two shadows,
in the oatfield.

We look with
each other's eyes'
we find
a place:
we say
like a story
the half-sentence
I hear:

Your Mouth
with the speech
of birds
carries twigs and feathers
up to my brow.

Another key poem is 'Kaunas 1941' which tackles the guilt of German
soldiers, presumably including himself, who were involved in killing Jews.

The last two paragraphs of which are:

Did my eyes avoid yours
brother? Sleep struck us
at the bloody wall. So we went on
blind to everything. We looked
like gipsies at the villages
in the oak-wood, the summer
snow on the roofs.

I shall walk on the stone banks
under the rainy bushes,
listen in the haze of the plains.
There were swallows upstream
and the woodpigeon called
in the green night:
My dark is already come.

One of the strangest things about Bobrowski was that he never fitted in to
the post war East German mold of poet but at the same time wasn't a
dissident. Most of his poetry seemed to be related back to an earlier
period of German literature and in particular Hölderlin. Nowadays, little
is remembered of Bobrowski as far as I know. However, he is someone who I
think is grossly undervalued.

Louis Proyect
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