For Anna Akhmatova
He who has never been rendered speechless,
I’m telling you,
whoever merely feathers his own nest
and with words –
is beyond help.
Not by the shortcut
nor by way of the long.
To make a single sentence tenable,
to withstand the ding-dong of language.
Nobody writes this sentence,
without signing up.
Verily is © Ingeborg Bachmann, this translation is © Mary O’Donnell
Our land is the sky,
tilled by the sweat of engines,
in the face of night,
dreamt from skullspots and pyres,
beneath the roof of the world, whose tiles
were carried off by the wind—and then rain, rain,
rain in our house and in the mills
the blind flights of bats.
Who lived there? Whose hands were pure?
Who lit the night,
haunted the spectres?
Concealed in feathers of steel, instruments,
timers and dials interrogate space,
the cloud-bushes, touch the body
of our hearts’ forgotten language:
short long long … For an hour
hailstones beat on the ear’s drum,
which, turned against us, listens and distorts.
The sun and Earth have not set,
merely wandered like unknown constellations.
We have risen from a harbour
where to return doesn’t count
not cargo not booty.
India’s spice and silks from Japan
belong to the handlers
as fish to the nets.
Yet there’s a smell,
forerunners of comets
and the wind’s web,
shredded by fallen comets.
Call it the status of the lonely,
for whom amazement happens.
We have arisen, and the convents are empty,
since we endure, an order which does not cure
and does not instruct. To bargain is not
the pilots’ business. They have
set their sights and spread on their knees
the map of a world, to which nothing is added.
Who lives down there? Who weeps …
Who loses the key to the house?
Who can’t find his bed, who sleeps
on doorsteps? Who, when morning comes,
dares to point at the silver stripes: look, above me …
When the new water grips the millwheel,
who dares to remember the night?
Night Flight is © Ingeborg Bachmann, this translation is © Mary O’Donnell
|Ingeborg Bachmann was born in Klagenfurt, in the Austrian state of Carinthia, the daughter of a headmaster. She studied philosophy, psychology, German philology, and law at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna. In 1949, she received her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Vienna with her dissertation titled “The Critical Reception of the Existential Philosophy of Martin Heidegger,” her thesis adviser was Victor Kraft. After graduating, Bachmann worked as a scriptwriter and editor at the Allied radio station Rot-Weiss-Rot, a job that enabled her to obtain an overview of contemporary literature and also supplied her with a decent income, making possible proper literary work. Furthermore, her first radio dramas were published by the station. Her literary career was enhanced by contact with Hans Weigel (littérateur and sponsor of young post-war literature) and the legendary literary circle known as Gruppe 47, whose members also included Ilse Aichinger, Paul Celan, Heinrich Böll, Marcel Reich-Ranicki and Günter Grass.
(Wiki Extract )
Mary O’Donnell is the author of eleven books, both poetry and fiction, and has also co-edited a book of translations from the Galician. Her titles include the best-selling literary novel The Light-Makers, Virgin and the Boy, and The Elysium Testament, as well as poetry such as The Place of Miracles, Unlegendary Heroes, and her most recent critically acclaimed sixth collection The Ark Builders (Arc Publications UK, 2009). She has been a teacher and has worked intermittently in journalism, especially theatre criticism. Her essays on contemporary literary issues are widely published. She also presented and scripted three series of poetry programmes for the national broadcaster RTE Radio, including a successful series on poetry in translation during 2005 and 2006 called Crossing the Lines. Today, she teaches creative writing in a part-time capacity at NUI Maynooth, and has worked on the faculty of Carlow University Pittsburgh’s MFA programme in creative writing, as well as on the faculty of the University of Iowa’s summer writing programme at Trinity College Dublin.