The German Riveter: TWO POEMS by Durs Grünbein from ZÜNDKERZEN (Suhrkamp, 2017), translated by Karen Leeder


Freedom – and the traffic carried on. The idea
Had taken hold en route. A tub of concrete
Stood at the end of the jetty, no one knew why.

Kiosk by the sea, this was it. In the window
Blue-tinged postcards of faded summers.
How did we end up here? Following the surf …
Who can say they are the same after years of egomania?

The swifts sleep beyond the clouds,
Or that’s what the stories say. But what comes next?
I’m sorry, we hardly knew one another. And time
Was not a thing we owned and wanted to preserve, like nature.
Is the sand disappointed when evening falls?

We talk, blinking, as we sit by the fire.
If you see it, give it my regards. Say hello.


Words don’t sleep in dictionaries. They kick about
Aimlessly on street corners, play with munitions,
Like kids that carry war inside even when it’s done.
We never would’ve guessed, Herr Nobel, that dynamite
Might make them interchangeable: material, moral, modern art.
Particles that went flying from that day, articles

In all the scientific journals, thousands per subject –
An arid track of knowledge. And the great gulf
Between this and that meaning of ‘Devotion’,
The satellite pictures of ‘Delirium’ or ‘Democracy’.

Who did this, who destroyed it all? The baby face,
That breathed in smog and blew it out as golden dust.
It’s down to him, who sold the dawn for scrap.
Don’t stop the dictation, you poets. Words don’t sleep.

By Durs Grünbein

Translated by Karen Leeder

Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.

Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.

Durs Grünbein has published fifteen collections of poetry, one diary, a book of memoirs and four books of essays. His work has been awarded many major German and international literary prizes and has been widely acclaimed and translated into several languages.

Karen Leeder is a writer, translator and academic, and teaches German at New College, Oxford University. She also translates contemporary German literature into English, and her most recent translations include Michael Krüger’s The God Behind the Window (2019) and Evelyn Schlag’s All Under One Roof (2018).

Category: The German RiveterThe RiveterTranslationsNovember 2019 - The German Riveter


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